In my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist, most of my sessions with clients are individual ones in which I meet with one client dealing with particular issues. However, a significant minority of my sessions with clients are those in which more than one person attends and participates. In the following sections, I discuss circumstances under which having other people attend therapy with you is recommended and when it is better to attend alone.
When it is good to have other people attend therapy with you
1. When working together helps to address collective issues
Sometimes having more people in therapy helps to address collective issues. This includes a couple working together to improve their relationship through learning and practicing skills to communicate constructively about issues and working to build or maintain connection and intimacy. It also includes parents working with their children in family counselling to discuss ways to address issues along with exploring ways to build the connection part of the parent-child relationship.
2. When one or more people can help you to address your individual issues
Sometimes having one or more people attend with you as the client can help you to address your individual issues. This is often the case with clients who come with a supportive friend or family member.
The supportive person can be helpful in a number of ways including helping the person come to therapy initially and attend consistently. They may also offer helpful input into sessions in order to help the therapist help the client more effectively such as by sharing information or opinions regarding the individual’s issues. They can also help the client to follow through on homework which the therapist assigns.
One or more supportive people attending therapy is a frequent occurrence with my adult clients although the majority of my adult clients attend sessions alone. For my clients who are young children and teens, one or more parents attending to offer support is the norm although many of the sessions involve my meeting with young clients individually.
When it is better to attend therapy by yourself
1. When the issues being addressed are primarily individual ones
If the issues to be addressed are individual in nature, it is often better to attend sessions by yourself. One reason is that it is often easier for an individual to open up to their therapist by themselves compared to when someone else in the room with them.
That is, there is often self-censorship by the client as a result of a concern over how the other person might respond to them or what they may think of them. This impedes the therapist getting full and honest disclosures. In turn, this makes it more difficult for the client to make progress.
2. When having the other person attend is not helpful in addressing the issues
Sometimes the attendance of additional people in therapy is not helpful to progress. This can occur whether the issues being addressed are individual, couple or family in nature.
For example, if a couple is coming to couples counselling ostensibly to work on their relationship and one of the two partners makes is clear verbally or behaviourally that they are not prepared to do the necessary work in sessions or between sessions, the therapy time could be better spent working with the one partner who does want to work on the relationship. In some instances such as this, a partner who is unwilling to participate productively in a couples session may be more open to doing so by meeting individually with the therapist.
In individual therapy, the presence of another person to give support to the client may not be helpful if the person brought in for support does not provide either emotional support or does not help the client in a tangible manner with attendance at therapy or in helping them to follow through on homework assignments. In such instances, it would be better for the individual to attend without such a person.
May you choose the right number of people to attend therapy with you,