Couples therapy

Couples therapy


Couples therapy is a form of psychological therapy used to treat relationship distress for both individuals and couples.


The purpose of couples therapy is to restore a better level of functioning in couples who experience relationship distress. The reasons for distress can include poor communication skills, incompatibility, or a broad spectrum of psychological disorders that include domestic violence, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. The focus of couples therapy is to identify the presence of dissatisfaction and distress in the relationship, and to devise and implement a treatment plan with objectives designed to improve or alleviate the presenting symptoms and restore the relationship to a better and healthier level of functioning. Couples therapy can assist persons who are having complaints of intimacy, sexual, and communication difficulties.


Couples who seek treatment should consult for services from a mental health practitioner who specializes in this area.

Patients should be advised that honesty, providing all necessary information, cooperation, keeping appointments on time, and a sincere desire for change and improvement are all imperative to increase the chance of successful outcome. Additionally, a willingness to work “towards” and “with” the process of treatment is essential.


Couples therapy sessions differ according to the chosen model, or philosophy behind the therapy. There are several models for treating couples with relationship difficulties. These commonly utilized strategies include psychoanalytic couples therapy, object relations couple therapy, ego analytical couples therapy, behavioral couples therapy, integrative behavioral couples therapy, and cognitive behavioral couples therapy.


Couples should be informed that cooperation is vital for the process. Couples should have a desire to modify and/or change dysfunctional behaviors. Honesty and emotional openness is a necessary component for treatment. Results cannot be guaranteed. The psychotherapist would typically provide an extensive assessment process during the initial appointment. This couples assessment process usually includes in-depth information gathering concerning the presenting problem, and assessment of occupations, schooling, employment, childhood development, parental history, substance abuse, religion, relational, medical, legal, and past psychological history, in the form an interview. The psychotherapist can then devise the best course of treatment planning. Further psychological tests and measurements may be indicated initially or as the need arises during the treatment process.


Treatment usually takes several months or longer. Once the couple has developed adequate skills and has displayed an improved level of functioning that is satisfactory to both, then treatment can be terminated. An awareness of relapse prevention behaviors and relapsing behaviors is important. (Relapsing behaviors refer to the return to the behaviors that the couple is trying to change or eliminate.) Patients are encouraged to return to treatment if relapse symptoms appear. Follow-up visits and long-term psychological therapy can be arranged between parties if this is mutually decided as necessary and beneficial.


The major risk of couples therapy is lack of improvement or return to dysfunctional behaviors. These tend not to occur unless there is a breakdown in skills learned and developed during treatment, or a person is resistant to long-term change.

Normal results

A normal progression of couples therapy is relief from symptomatic behaviors that cause marital discourse, distress, and difficulties. The couple is restored to healthier interactions and behaviors are adjusted to produce a happier balance of mutually appropriate interactions. Patients who are sincere and reasonable with a willingness to change tend to produce better outcomes. Patients usually develop skills and increased awareness that promotes healthier relationship interactions.

Abnormal results

There are no known abnormal results from couples therapy. At worst, patients do not get better because they cannot break away from self-induced, self-defeating behaviors that precipitate marital dysfunction and distress. The problems are not worsened if treatment is provided by a trained mental health practitioner in this specialty.

Source: Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.

Relationship counselor or couple’s therapist

The basic principles for a counselor include:

  • Provide a confidential dialogue, which normalizes feelings
  • To enable each person to be heard and to hear themselves
  • Provide a mirror with expertise to reflect the relationship’s difficulties and the potential and direction for change
  • Empower the relationship to take control of its own destiny and make vital decisions
  • Deliver relevant and appropriate information
  • Changes the view of the relationship
  • Improve communication
  • Set clear goals and objectives

As well as the above, the basic principles for a couples therapist also include:

  • To identify the repetitive, negative interaction cycle as a pattern.
  • To understand the source of reactive emotions that drive the pattern.
  • To expand and re-organize key emotional responses in the relationship.
  • To facilitate a shift in partners’ interaction to new patterns of interaction.
  • To create new and positively bonding emotional events in the relationship
  • To foster a secure attachment between partners.
  • To help maintain a sense of intimacy.

Source: Wikipedia.