Why would a marriage counselor say they could only treat one of us?
September 1, 2016 9:29 PM   Subscribe

My marriage is long gone, but I often wonder about this. We went to a counselor, and after a couple of sessions they stated that they could only continue counseling with one of us but did not specify whom or why. Any ideas?Are there certain circumstances in which a counselor does not want to treat a couple? Was it obvious that we were doomed to fail due to an individual issue with one of us, for example? Thanks for your input.
posted by Jandoe to Human Relations (12 answers total)
Might they have suspected abuse?
posted by salvia at 9:59 PM on September 1, 2016 [19 favorites]

I had a few counselors say the same to my husband and I. He was refusing to treat or acknowledge his very severe mental illness and he had a clear pattern of abuse. He refused individual counselling and forbade me to go alone (because he wouldn't be able to control what I said if he wasn't in the room), so I never followed up with any of the councelors.
posted by saucysault at 10:25 PM on September 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

Some therapists will bow out of treating a couple when that couple's conflict mode is a bad match for the therapist, who has his or her own relationship history and reactions to conflict and unhealthy emotional patterns. Sometimes they can continue with one person, just not with the dynamic of the couple. But I think they usually tell you why it's a bad match if that's the reason and ideally refer you to a colleague. (Suspected abuse is probably more likely.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:33 PM on September 1, 2016

If I was a councilor, and one spouse admitted continued infidelity with no plans to change or even admit it to the spouse, I would probably have to say something similar, because of my own ethics. I am not a councilor however, nor do I know the professional rules on that.
posted by Jacen at 12:05 AM on September 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Was there one of you who wanted the counselling more than the other? They might have noticed and rather than deepen the divide by saying so outright, have counted on the more motivated one to ask to continue.

Was there one of you using the counselling to "always be right"? It depends a lot on the counselor/therapist, but some don't point it out directly and might have suggested continuing with just one person for basically the same reason as above, except it would have been the other person continuing, more likely. Someone who wants to be right in front of another person isn't generally going to bother with counselling if that other person is no longer present.

Or, as others have suggested, they spotted abuse.
posted by fraula at 4:45 AM on September 2, 2016

All of the above are possibilities, but another reason might be that -at least in my experience -insurance even for couples counseling will be tied to the treatment of just one person. Perhaps the counselor expressed that poorly.
posted by postel's law at 5:09 AM on September 2, 2016

If I was a councilor, and one spouse admitted continued infidelity with no plans to change or even admit it to the spouse, I would probably have to say something similar, because of my own ethics. I am not a councilor however, nor do I know the professional rules on that.

A therapist is there, among many other things, to be able to actively listen to the unspeakable parts of people. The professional rules and training prepare therapists to set aside their personal views on tolerable behavior.

My bet is abuse.

(BTW, couples therapy is a bad fit for abusive situations because it doesn't work and often makes things worse. It has nothing to do with the therapist's personal comfort level with abuse.)
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 6:54 AM on September 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not all relationship problems are best addressed by couples' counseling; sometimes you want individual counseling, and sometimes you want individual and couples' counseling. Sometimes you want each of the two parties in the relationship to get individual counseling. Furthermore, the counselor her/himself might work better doing individual counseling.

I sense that you are carrying away the implication that either you or your ex is primarily responsible for the problems in the marriage. But this is not necessarily implied, for the reasons I mentioned above.
posted by splitpeasoup at 8:33 AM on September 2, 2016

I've heard of something similar happening to a "friend" where the therapist had decided that one of the parties had a psychiatric disorder, that (in their opinion) it was all but untreatable. The therapist was willing to continue to see either party but more or less indicated that the couples counseling was going to be a waste of everyone's time. They ended up having one solo session with the person that didn't have the psychiatric disorder, and the session could be summed as "Run!". They were divorced 2 months later.
posted by ill3 at 11:26 AM on September 2, 2016

A couple possibilities:

As others have mentioned, couples counseling is contraindicated in abusive situations.

Some couples' therapists have "no secrets" policies, which means that if they have an individual session with someone in couple's counseling, and the individual reports that they're (e.g.) having an affair, the therapist will not keep that a secret from the other partner, because it undermines the therapy for the therapist and one client to have a secret from the other client. Some such therapists manage that by saying they'll help the partner-with-a-secret figure out a way to disclose the secret to the other partner. If the partner-with-a-secret still refuses to disclose to the other partner, the therapist very well might refuse to continue therapy with the couple.
posted by lazuli at 2:01 PM on September 2, 2016

My wife and I were scheduled to see the same counselor last February because my wife wanted to leave the marriage. After the counselor saw my wife, the counselor refused to see me.

It turns out my wife had told the counselor I was "verbally abusive" (something that isn't true and is impossible to disprove) so the counselor didn't feel comfortable seeing me anymore.
posted by tacodave at 2:29 PM on September 2, 2016

In addition to the possibilities discussed above, I would echo Lazuli in suggesting that it might have been a policy, not a requirement. People working in regulated professions (medicine, law, etc) need to obey all kinds of spiderwebbed rules, and sometimes three things happen: (1) people misunderstand the rules to be more restrictive than they are; (2) people understand the rules perfectly but nonetheless behave as if the rules are more restrictive than they are, out of caution; or (3) in trying to obey the rules, people create their own "office policies," which often combine misunderstandings with excessive caution.

Last week, someone told me that a major bank was refusing to acknowledge a power of attorney because the account holder's driver's license had expired. Sometimes policies are well-meaning but end up being really, really stupid. I wouldn't overanalyze it or conclude that it must reflect some intelligent assessment of your relationship.
posted by cribcage at 8:54 AM on September 4, 2016

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