Deciding whether you should start family or individual therapy can be a big decision and every case is different. As the names imply, individual therapy concentrates on a person’s personal struggles, whereas family therapy looks outside the individual and adopts a holistic approach to treat a problem. Therefore, the main difference between the two is the focus of the therapy. 

What is Individual Therapy?

In the case of individual therapy, the focus is on the development of a one-to-one relationship with the therapist. For instance, an individual might attend therapy for anxiety, and, in that case, the sessions will focus on dealing with his anxiety and the problems it may cause in other areas of his life. Although all therapies seek to create an accepting atmosphere whilst reducing the symptoms and achieving personal development, they differ according to the approach the therapist is using. 

What is Family Therapy?

In the case of family therapy, the focus is on improving the communication pattern within the couple. A whole family may be in therapy together or multiple members of a family may attend a therapy session simultaneously. As opposed to individuals’ therapy, in couple’s therapy the therapist enters the couple’s way of life more directly as the couple brings their habits and routines with each other directly into the session. Since both partners need to be involved in the process of change, it might be more intensive. 

Despite these differences between the two types, both may prove beneficial and, sometimes, a person may be involved in both. For instance, through family therapy, family members may develop a better understanding of that family member who would be experiencing a problem and learn how they can help him. 

The following are specific life problems that are so detrimental to an individual that they should be addressed in individual therapy before therapy can begin.

1. Addiction

Usually, drug, alcohol, and gambling addictions, and eating disorders need to be identified and treated before the family members start family therapy. This also applies to sexual addictions as they too are best treated individually, especially if the addiction would have been identified in the beginning. 

2. Severe mental health issues

These include bipolar, severe depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or other disabling conditions that would need to be treated before the commencement of family therapy.

3. Family violence

In cases of chronic anger, violence, and abusive behaviors, these need to be prevented, controlled, and stopped prior to the initiation of family therapy as, if left untreated, they can do more harm than good.

4. Affairs

Whether secret or not, emotional, and sexual affairs that are ongoing tend to create unbalance and need to stop for therapy to be possible. 

Usually, the safest choice would be to start off with individual therapy as it enables the individual to become more psychologically minded. Nonetheless, family therapy still poses its challenges, especially since putting and keeping the exploration of the relationship at the center of your life is not easy.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Johanna Cutajar is a Master in Counselling graduate from the University of Malta. She works with children and adolescents as a counsellor within the education sector on a variety of issues including relationship issues, trauma, bereavement, transitions, and general mental health.


Hope Murph, J. (2020). Family Therapy Vs. Individual Therapy: Which One Is Better? Retrieved from,during%20treatment%20of%20a%20problem.

Silva-Breen, L. (2011). Family Therapy or Individual Therapy? Four Concerns to Consider. Retrieved from