Codependency | Symptoms & Treatment Options | Zencare — Zencare


Codependency is a term used to describe a relationship dynamic generally considered to be unhealthy. The concept is used most commonly in the field of substance abuse, which is where the term originated.

Although definitions vary, codependency can be broadly described as an excessive reliance on a relationship to the detriment of a person’s own needs and wellbeing. The partners are usually unwilling to leave the relationship. There may be a one-sidedness to the relationship, where one person is excessively reliant on the other to meet their emotional needs. Codependent relationships tend to be characterized by emotionally manipulative behavior and struggles for power.

That said, the concept of codependency is complex and debated. Currently, there is no one widely agreed on psychological model or theory underlying the concept. Codependency is not a diagnosable mental health condition. However, it is a popular and widespread term which many people find useful to describe their circumstances. It can help people to understand and give meaning to their relationship experiences.

Signs of codependency

People experience codependency in many different ways. It is difficult to clearly identify the signs particularly as definitions of codependency vary widely. However, the following signs are common to many definitions of unhealthy ‘codependent’ relationships:

Prevalence of codependency

Prevalence rates vary depending on how codependency is defined, but some studies found that:

Researchers are continuing to work on defining the concept more clearly. A consistent definition will make it possible to measure more accurately, and give us a better sense of how common it is.

What to do if you think you are in a codependent relationship

It’s important to work closely with your health care professional to figure out the treatment approach that’s the right fit for you. Common elements of a treatment plan include:

Therapy types to consider for codependency

There are a number of different types of therapy that can help people to build healthier relationships and treat any associated mental health challenges. Therapy types include:

What to look for in a therapist for codependency

When selecting a mental health professional to provide therapy, it can be helpful to consider the following factors:

Personal fit

One of the most important things to consider is the potential for developing a strong working relationship with your therapist. This relationship is called the therapeutic alliance, and it’s the number one indicator of treatment efficacy.

Qualifications and experience

Be sure that you find a licensed mental health professional. Ask your prospective therapist ahead of time whether they have specialized training and experience working with couples.

Talk in advance

The best way to judge how you might feel about your prospective therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call (you can do this with our vetted Zencare therapists). Most therapists will be happy to oblige. This gives you the opportunity to ask about:

Try to speak to a few different therapists before making your mind up.

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.