Couples Therapy Continues to Gain in Stature

Couples therapy has come of age. When I first started teaching our Developmental Model of Couples Therapy, couples work was considered to be inferior to individual therapy. Many couples therapists were even embarrassed to admit they liked this work.

I used to start my workshops by saying that I believed couples therapy was often more powerful than individual work, and that it should not be considered a stepchild to “real therapy.” Now the statistics are starting to confirm my subjective experience.

Last month I read the 2006 Annual Review of Psychology, which contained this sentence: “Couples therapy continues to gain in stature.”

Here are just a few of the reasons:

Couples-based interventions have been effective in treating mild to moderate levels of aggression.

A 2003 study by Shadish and Brown demonstrated that the mean effect for couples therapy was usually comparable to or larger than the effect of individual therapy and/or medication.

A study comparing Behavioral Couples Therapy and Insight-Oriented Couples Therapy using 20 sessions of each showed that both were superior to a waiting list and gains were maintained at six months. Four years following treatment, 38% of couples in the behavioral condition had experienced divorce, in contrast with only 3% of the couples treated in the insight-oriented condition. The insight-oriented approach emphasized the interpretation and resolution of conflictual emotional processes related to developmental issues, collusive systemic interactions, and maladaptive relationship patterns.

And just why is couples work needed? Couple distress, particularly negative communication, has direct adverse effects on cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, neurosensory, and other physiological systems that, in turn, contribute to physical health problems.

Maritally discordant individuals are overrepresented among individuals seeking mental health services.

And an especially interesting evolving finding: In the very crucial arena of treating domestic violence, couples group therapy is emerging as an effective form of treatment.

Holtzworth-Munroe (2003) concluded that conjoint couples therapy that has a direct and specific focus on eliminating violence “may be as effective as the more widely utilized gender specific treatments.” Male partner rates of physical aggression at six-month follow-up were highest in the comparison group (66%) and lower in multi-couple group (25%) than in single couples therapy (43%). Moreover, both marital aggression and acceptance of physical aggression decreased significantly among
participants in the multi-couple group therapy but not among participants in either the individual-couple therapy or no-treatment comparison conditions.

For more info, read “Current Status and Future Directions in Couples Therapy,” in “Annual Review of Psychology,” Volume 57, 2006, p. 317, published by Annual Reviews in Palo Alto, California. Read the abstract for free. Or pay and register to read the complete article and others at

I share all of this with you to express my belief that, “What you do is so important and valuable!”

All of us are in the trenches in a violent, scared society trying to help couples create a haven of love, kindness and support. This is no easy task. Yet we must remember that our work will help our clients with their health, their children and the legacy they leave to future generations.

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Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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