Everyone in your life—from your boss, to your mom, to your husband—is potentially a part of your therapy. This doesn’t mean they have to come to sessions with you; in fact, it doesn’t mean they even have to know you are in therapy. What it does mean is that because so much of therapy is about relationships, how you participate in these relationships is a subject that will most likely come up time and again.
Of course, there may be times when a spouse or parent could help you better achieve your goals if they do sit in on a session with you. Or specific relationships themselves might be an integral part of your reason for being in therapy. If that is the case, the therapist may recommend that one or more of your family members join you in therapy for one or more sessions. (This should be discussed and written down in your treatment plan.)
For example, *Mark moved back home after college. He felt that the stress of living with his parents made him more depressed. Although he contributed to the household bills and chores as any responsible adult would, his parents still set strict limits on Mark’s activities. Mark felt this to be demeaning. His therapist, Andy, had initially decided that Mark should work on his depression in individual therapy, but he wrote a note in the treatment plan that after sixty days had passed, Mark and he would revisit the idea of bringing one or both parents in for a session.
At that point both Mark and Andy agreed that he had made enough progress that he could comfortably invite both parents to a session. Mark’s parents genuinely wanted their son to be strong enough to move forward (and out!). They were very willing to come to a session or two. With Andy’s help, Mark was able to tell his parents that he wanted to be free to make his own mistakes and learn from them. Mark was so pleased with the reasonable compromise he and his parents negotiated with Andy’s help that he felt much happier and stronger than he had in a long time. His parents were true partners in therapy, and his therapist helped Mark make the most of the partnership.
Of course, sometimes, for any number of reasons, those invited to participate in your therapy session may not want to participate. They might believe you have unresolved anger toward them and fear a confrontation, or they don’t feel that their point of view will be heard. Or they may simply feel that you are the one with the problem and not them. Some people might just not feel comfortable with the idea of therapy and are afraid of the outcome. There are many reasons significant others in your life might not want to join you in a session. Sometimes they will come to therapy sessions for reasons that might not be very productive. They might come in order to show that they are right and you are wrong, and that any problems in the relationship are because of you.
No one can be forced to participate in therapy unless by court order. If the relationship is highly contentious, yet is an important relationship in your life, you may have to accept the fact that for now that person won’t participate. In this case your therapist should help you develop coping skills that can carry you through the relationship until it is ready to become “unstuck.”
Other, more impersonal partners in therapy could include an employer, a spiritual advisor, a medical doctor, or another type of therapist. These people, while usually on the peripheral of your personal life, are nonetheless often an important part of your life. The ways in which they can partner in your therapy are numerous. For example, your employer could be asked to give you extra time off to accomplish therapeutic goals. You may want to give your therapist permission to talk about your situation with your spiritual advisor or have a different reason for another person’s involvement.
Adapted from Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On (HCI)