Case Study

Case Study

Bursting the Bubble of Individual Therapy: The Need to See Our Clients in a Relational Context

By Laurie Mintz

January/February 2022

Many therapists have long-term clients. Some stay with us for years, even decades. Others see us on an as-needed basis, or simply just to check in. For these clients, therapy is both a familiar touchstone and a regulating force, providing insight and comfort throughout life’s ups and downs.

But as the years pass, is it possible that the more we work with these clients—helping them make progress and establishing a strong therapeutic relationship—the more we might overlook bigger issues that aren’t being addressed in the work? Are there parts of a client’s personality and functioning that we can’t help but miss if we only see them individually? In the end, how much can we really know about how our clients navigate the world outside the therapy room?

These are questions I found myself pondering after my work with Renee, a long-term client I’d been seeing for individual therapy and, taking a risk, for couples therapy as well. Although I thought I knew Renee well from our individual work together, treating her and her partner together allowed me to see new (and disturbing) aspects of her personality that I hadn’t understood previously. Now I know that, as much as a strong bond between therapist and client can further the work, it can obscure our vision of larger problems at play in other relational contexts.


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