Couple therapy is a dyadic or conjoint treatment, which means that most of the time both partners are seen together rather than alone. The emphasis is upon the interaction or communication between the partners rather than on the problems of either partner. However, individual problems are addressed to the extent that they affect the couple. Research has repeatedly shown that couple therapy can improve relationships so that partners communicate more constructively and feel happier in the relationship. Research has also shown that couple therapy can positively impact individual problems such as depression.
The most widely researched type of couple therapy is behavioral couple therapy. In a number of studies done in several countries, behavioral couple therapy has been shown to improve satisfaction in couples relative to control groups of couples. Although a majority of couples respond to this therapy and improve their relationship, many couples deteriorate or relapse after the end of therapy. Because of the limitations of behavioral couple therapy, Dr. Christensen and his late colleague, Dr. Neil Jacobson, developed a new treatment called Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT), which incorporates the strategies of behavioral couple therapy but also incorporates new strategies for promoting acceptance in couples. Dr. Christensen has investigated this newer treatment with grants from the National Institute of Mental Health. The data from these studies indicate that the new treatment is somewhat more powerful than traditional behavioral couple therapy. Dr. Christensen uses this newer treatment in his work with couples.
IBCT involves two phases: an evaluation period and a treatment period. The evaluation phase typically consists of a joint session, an individual session with each partner, and then a feedback session in which the therapist explains his or her understanding of the problems the couple has presented and outlines the goals and process of treatment. After this evaluation phase, the couple can make an informed decision about whether they wish to proceed with treatment. During the treatment phase the therapist is actively involved in altering and improving the way the couple understands each other and interacts with each other. The focus of treatment is typically on current issues and incidents in their life. Research on the IBCT has shown that 26 total sessions (evaluation and treatment sessions) lead to improvement in most couples.
Dr. Christensen has published a number of articles based on his research on IBCT. For more information on this treatment and to download the research articles, please go here. Dr. Christensen and Dr. Jacobson have also published a self-help book for couples that describes this treatment: Reconcilable Differences. You are encouraged to read this book during your therapy. If you desire more information about the treatment that Dr. Christensen uses or about other alternative treatments for couple problems, please feel free to ask him.
Although couple therapy offers the promise of a better relationship, there are risks. First of all, the therapy may not improve the relationship. Second, because couple therapy focuses on relationship problems, it can create distress in one or both partners, particularly if one or both have dealt with the problems by ignoring them or avoiding discussion of them. In some cases, partners become aware of their enduring incompatibilities and of their inability or unwillingness to adapt to each other, and then they decide on separation or divorce. However, in Dr. Christensen’s experience, this is an uncommon outcome, and in most cases couples find the therapy a benefit to themselves and their relationship.