What Makes Couple Therapy Effective?
What is Couple Therapy?
Couples Therapy is a form of psychotherapy with couples who are involved in a romantic relationship. However, beware…the term “Couple Therapist” or “Couple Counsellor” is not protected in the UK. This means generically trained counsellors can advertise themselves as a “Couple Therapist”…. and many do! Be careful of people who talk about “providing a safe space”, yet without the additional Active Interventions shown through research to be most effective.
Effective Couple Therapy is so much more than offering a safe space to talk.. it’s about providing an active intervention, hypothesising, teaching and disseminating psychological knowledge to empower clients to create healthy, respectful relationships
What Makes Couple Therapy Effective? =Active Interventions
A fantastic study by Benson (2012) reviewed 40 (!) years of couple therapy and found the most effective couple therapy included the following 5 Active Interventions:
1. Relationship Problems in a Context – The Therapist encourages and educates clients to view their relationship difficulties within a specific context, identifying causal factors that have resulted in the clients interacting as they do, by gathering data from present day interactions, learning about each clients history and presenting this back to the clients as a working hypothesis.
2. Naming Dysfunctional Behaviour – The Therapist has a balance of assertiveness, empathy and strength to name behaviour and communication styles they see in front of them that may be toxic to a healthy relationship. For example the Gottman Relationship Research Institute are famous for being able to predict with 95% accuracy the long term success of a relationship based simply on the couples use of Contempt, Criticism, Defensiveness and Stonewalling in every-day conversation. An effective Couple Therapist will compassionately name these communication styles if they are present.
3. Reducing Emotional Avoidance – The Therapist has the knowledge and skills to identify struggles in Attachment that stem from a client’s childhood and how this plays out in a couple relationship; educating partners on how to relate (through body language and words) in reciprocal ways to reduce the negative influence of these Attachment behaviours in the relationship. In other words, identifying the root cause of Emotional Avoidance and through gentle education, creating a framework for the avoidant partner to begin to reveal their most vulnerable thoughts and emotions.
4. Promoting Resilience – The therapist helps identify the resilience that is embedded (yet not always seen) within the relationship, providing practical homework on how the clients can build on these positive areas and change the sometimes stuck narrative of their relationship story.
5. Teaching Psychologically Informed Communication Skills – The Therapist disseminates useful information based on the vast array of psychological knowledge regarding healthy communication and teaches this to clients through role plays, homework and practical exercises.
These Active Interventions should always be provided within a safe psychological space by a warm friendly Therapist. However, the safe space is the starting point…. the foundation; the Active Interventions create the change.
For more information on Couple Therapy please view my Video Blog on www.doctorabigail.co.uk.
To book an appointment with Debra Lewis, Couple Therapist who specialises in Active Interventions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 07835 177 251.