8700 Manchaca Road, Suite 306, Austin, TX 78748

Marriage Counseling or Personal Counseling: That’s the Question

Marriage CounselingUnderstanding how people in a marriage or family interact is important in addressing concerns in the counseling office. My introduction to this dynamic came more than 30 years ago. My wife and I began working as House Parents for a children’s home. We saw the influence we had on the behavior and emotions of children, and how they impacted us. We saw how the dynamics in the house changed when children came in and when they left. Each of us played a role in the overall functioning of that family system.

Marriage and Family Counseling

So how does training in marriage and family counseling relate to working with clients? Even when talking with one person the therapist is looking at:

  • the quality of relationships in the marriage or family,
  • communication patterns,
  • family roles and rules,
  • boundaries, and
  • the structure of the marital or family system.

All of these impact how a person responds to stress, depression, anxiety and current relationships.

You can be talking with a personal counselor but be referred to someone else for marriage counseling. Or can talk with a counselor about your relationship, but be referred to another counselor for personal concerns. While a marriage and family counselor can accommodate both requests, many clients find that working with one person to address personal, marital and family concerns provides a more consistent context for counseling.

How does Counseling Proceed?

In the session, clues can highlight how people are effected by events and other family members. How does a person talk about relationships in the family? What behavior is allowed or not allowed? Is a person free to express any emotion?  How are emotions expressed? How does a family cope with stress? What significant events effected the family thru the years? This information provides a more complete picture of the environment in which a person lives. It can help to understand the depression, stress or when trauma occurred and can provide direction for how to help.

Knowing that a family coped with death by not talking about it can help us understand a depression.  Addressing the silence may be an important factor. Alcohol or drug addiction leads to a lot of stress in families.  Understanding how the family responds to these events can help identify other behaviors that trigger anxiety, outbursts or depression.  Does the addicted person become angry? Do other family members experience depression? Does the home feel safe? If not, what do family members do to feel safe?

Personal, Marriage and Family Counseling

When seeing a couple or family, it is common to also schedule personal sessions.  We may address issues such as grief, depression, anxiety, or emotion management. Growth in one person impacts how he or she interacts with a spouse or other family members. To support these changes couple or family sessions can enhance new ways of interacting and understanding one another. If any part of the system is neglected, growth and change can lead to misunderstanding and additional stress. Working with every part of the family system is a larger perspective that supports, enhances growth and change for everyone.

To borrow and paraphrase from a poem by John Donne, “No ‘person’ is an island.” Marriage and family counselors understand and bring a larger perspective into the counseling session. This helps when working with just one person, or when working with other parts of the marriage or family.

To learn more about marriage and family counselors you can go to the website for the American Association for Marriage and Family therapy. Of if you have specific question about how we might work together in counseling to address your concerns, please call me at 512-468-2365.

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