The short answer is; it depends. I often meet couples for the first time, and one, or occasionally both partners are taking medication for the symptoms of depression. It’s a difficult condition to define. It can mean anything from ‘feeling a bit down’, to not being able to get out of bed in the morning, to not feeling that life is worth living anymore. Some depression is better defined as grief, and is the natural consequence of loss or bereavement. Being at home with a small baby who doesn’t sleep, losing your job, money worries, retirement, ill-health, can all make us depressed, and a relationship that is not working can have the same effect.
As a couple therapist, I am happy to work with a couple on how the depression is affecting their relationship, but I need to check first of all that they have been to see their GP recently and that they feel well enough to look at their relationship issues. If a client is already having individual therapy for depression, for example seeing a CBT therapist to work on their symptoms, then I would suggest that couple counselling needs to wait awhile. It may be that the couple relationship is contributing to the depression; it may even be the main cause of it, but a basic rule of thumb is that it’s better not to have two lots of therapy at once. Couple therapy is always about how we negotiate the boundaries between our individual needs and the needs of the couple relationship, so if we are feeling better about ourselves, then we are better able to negotiate effectively with our partner. It works the other way too; if we are starting to communicate better in relationship, then we mostly start to feel better inside, so sometimes clients say, half-way through their couple counselling, that they are no longer taking medication, because they are feeling better. You can start with the couple work or with the individual work; the important thing is to ask for the help you need.
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