Depression is one of the most common mental health problems people face today. When stress levels increase, coping mechanisms fail, the psyche decides to withdraw completely into numbness. Depression used to be treated with a combination of drug and individual therapy. Couples therapy is proving to be very successful in treating depression. I want to look at the advantages of couples versus individual therapy for depression.
While researching the efficacy of couples therapy with depression, researchers came up with an unexpected result. During couples parcoach therapy, while the symptoms of depression lifted from the ‘patients’, the partners tended to become depressed. As the sessions continued the partners recovered as well. In the follow up the couples expressed increased marital satisfaction in addition to being free of depressive symptoms.
Anna was diagnosed with depression and her GP referred them for couples therapy. When her husband John was invited for sessions at first he was puzzled. He felt blamed in some way. Often the partners approach defensively until they realise there is something positive in it for them too.
Anna was able to recognise and express her needs and feelings in the therapy. John discovered new dimensions about Anna even though they have been married for 26 years. Her inability to assert herself was explored. Her father was a violent man who could not handle any extreme emotion. Anna was encouraged to take responsibility for her needs. In the meantime John realised how his fear of not being good enough for her turned him into an oppressive man. This was the point John became depressed for a while. Over time Anna was able to reassure him of her love and commitment for him. This became the turning point of their therapy.
I believe couples therapy is a more ethical choice of treatment for depression. Problems arise in relationships and they are best resolved in relationships. If Anna was referred for individual therapy she would have worked on her ability to express her needs, but John would not be have been able to make sense of her changes and might have been even more threatened and more restrictive and angry as a result. With couples therapy, however, both John and Anna had some insight into the way they have been relating to each other. They were also able to use the safety of the therapy context to replace old patterns with more fulfilling ones.
So John was not the reason of her depression. Their past experiences, fears and the way they related to each other was part of the reason. Couples therapy works as a catalyst that brings out the problems in a relationship and then, as they are worked through, it brings couples closer.
Sharing difficult times, being vulnerable with each other, expressing the effect of past wounds on the present during therapy increase the couples’ intimacy and as a result marital fulfilment. I strongly advise couples therapy if one partner suffers from depression, this is an opportunity for increased well-being for both parties in the relationship.