Updated May 11, 2020.
I get this question a lot…“Does couples counseling work?” I answer that most couples in evidence-based couples therapy will experience significant and measurable improvement in their relationships.
Evidence-based couples therapy is all we practice here at Couples Therapy Inc. We believe in science and research.
The latest research reports that over 75% of couples report complete relationship recovery and over 90% realize what research describes as “significant improvement.”
Another point to consider when asking, “Does couples counseling work?” is the therapist’s level of training.
You may be shocked to hear that overwhelmingly even therapists who claim to have expertise in couples counseling have received absolutely no training. They simply (and arrogantly) believe their knowledge and skills as an individual therapist will suffice.
That is why only 12% of these “General-Purpose Therapists” have even so much taken a single college course, or have had any clinically supervised experience in couples therapy. They have no formal training working with couples.
Most of our clients have tried General-Purpose Couples therapists in the past. I hear horror stories almost every day. If a therapist is incompetently trained, they can’t control the tensions that arise during sessions.
Bad therapists can even allow themselves to become sucked into the drama of relationship problems, and have opinions about who’s right.
Sometimes you can easily spot a bad therapist. They take sides. You sometimes feel that they’re playing both ends against the middle. They are in way over their head. Or they proclaim your marriage as utterly hopeless after three sessions. A burned-out therapist at this point, may even give up, and suggest individual therapy.
They are looking for what’s wrong with you and your partner individually because they are more comfortable with that angle.
It fits their training as “General-Purpose Therapists.” They do not want to look at your toxic couple dance. It’s too exhausting.
Sometimes these “General-Purpose Therapists” waffle back and forth; sometimes being an individual therapist to one partner, and sometimes playing around with couples therapy when they “think they can help.”
Marriage counseling work is more than conflict resolution. A romantic relationship has to be carefully unpacked to improve communication.
Does couples counseling work? Not if you have a poorly trained Couples Therapist.
Often they just give up on you. They want you to return to individual therapy. It’s more comfortable for them if you do. They at least know how to do that. If you resist the suggestion to abandon couples therapy and seek individual counseling, you may be labeled as “resistant.”
But keep this in mind. Once you relent and enter individual therapy…it’s a small step to say that the marriage itself is the problem.
An individual therapist has no responsibility whatsoever to be friendly to the marriage. And kids are resilient… they’ll get over it ..right?
Mental health professionals such as licensed marriage and family therapists are not always adequately trained. The most significant training for a marriage counselor is after they graduate.
You can go to school to be a social worker, mental health counselor, even a psychologist. You will not typically have a single class in couples therapy. But when they pass their licensing exam, and their phone rings, 40% of the time is a couple looking for help with marital problems.
When selecting a couples therapist, you want to have the best shot at changing things around.
Always ask about the prospective therapist’s level of science-based training. Make sure they are well trained, and that you both feel comfortable moving forward.
Gottman Method Couples Therapy and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) are the most widely practiced evidence-based methods of conducting couples therapy.
In Gottman Method, they should at least be at level 2. And if they prefer Emotionally Focused Therapy, they should have at least completed the externship. It is also not unusual to find that the couples therapist who specializes constantly seeks out the best training and consequently gets the best results.
When you are interviewing a therapist, if they say “I didn’t do their training, but I read their books…or I did a weekend general interest workshop’….or brags “I took couples therapy in college”…you’d be much better off with a more formally trained couples therapist.
Scientific couples therapy teaches couples specific strategies that the couple can use on their own. Couples apply what they learned in therapy to the real interactions that happen between sessions, and bring back their results into treatment for discussion.
Learning how to avoid sliding into a conflictual dance, and acquiring the ability to speak differently, breaking negative patterns are the hallmarks of progress.
Does couples counseling work? It works when couples notice what they have been doing, and with conscious awareness and great courage, they learn to behave differently and become a different sort of partner.
But you have to want to work on your marriage. Your heart has to be in the right place. Couples therapy is not a place to “phone it in.”
Dors couples counseling work? Look at the research.
The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy says that the majority of couples that regularly attend marriage counseling do so with the clear intent to drastically turn things around.
They report that science-based couples therapy was the crucial factor in resolving their emotional gridlock. We’ve known for a long time that premarital counseling reduces the risk of divorce by 30%. The earlier you get help, the better the chance for saving the relationship.
Unfortunately, according to research from the Gottman Institute, most couples typically endure an average of six years and a half years of marital distress before seeking a couples therapist. Some couples wait because they’re apprehensive about the cost.
Unfortunately, this delay sometimes makes therapy a somewhat longer, harder slog. Dr. K says it is like ruts in a road.
The emotional ground can be hard at first. Disappointments and resentments can make moving forward a bit creaky and slow at times, making it harder to resolve conflicts.
But the important thing to remember is that science-based couples therapy was designed specifically for such couples.
The work may be harder, and it may take a bit longer than if they came in earlier, but change is still often well within reach.
As I mentioned earlier, research says that over 75% of couples report complete relationship recovery.
And over 90% realizes what researchers describe as “significant improvement.”
Many of these couples have been in acute distress for over six years.
Does couples counseling work? It does if it is science-based. And some of you can even get it at home online.
Are both of you committed to stepping out of the toxic dance you’re both in?
Do you really want to do better?
Are you willing to learn how to calm yourself down during arguments?
Do you want to learn how best to calm your partner down?
Can you take a fearless self-inventory of what you are doing that is not helping… or may even be making things worse?
Are you willing to work on yourself in the presence of your partner? Are you willing to be your best self most of the time?
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the Blog Editor. He currently works online seeing couples from Massachusetts at Couples Therapy Inc. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.