Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Psychotherapy, Family psychotherapy, Couples therapy, Self psychology, Interpersonal conflict, Use of self, Family therapy, Clinical specialization


This qualitative study examines social workers' perspectives on the similarities and differences between individual and couples/family therapy. Particular attention is given to similarities and differences between individual and couples/family therapists' use of self, orientation towards conflict, and relationship factors. The investigation is based on semistructured interviews with 10 master's level social workers who specialize in either individual or couples/family therapy. A number of interesting trends emerged in the findings of this research. Therapists in both modalities perceived couples/family therapists' use of self to be more active and directive than individual therapists, and described more behavioral interventions when working with couples/families. Therapists also perceived a qualitative difference between management of conflict with couples/families versus with individuals, and described conflict in individual therapy, where the clinician is targeted as the object of the conflict, as more difficult and uncomfortable to manage than conflicts located in the client family system. The results to questions about relationship factors and therapist traits demonstrate that therapists perceive a wide range of characteristics and approaches to be viable for both individual and couples/family therapists. Additionally, the exploratory interviews generated some interesting results regarding the variables that influence specialization, and clinicians' biases around their own and other practice modalities. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.




iv, 55 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2012. Includes bibliographical references (p. 46-48)