6 Common Counseling Approaches In Couples Therapy And How They Can Help Your Relationship

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated October 19, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Dawn Brown

Couples therapy is a great way to make sure that your relationship can stand the test of time. Every couple has problems at some point, and sometimes it takes an outside third party to help you through those trying times and come out on the other side with a stronger relationship.

There are many different avenues that a couple’s therapy can take, depending on your situation. There are four main types of counseling approaches, and each can be applied to couples therapy in different ways. It can help you understand the different counseling approaches that your couple’s therapist might take you to resolve their issues.

What Is Counseling?

The APA dictionary definition of counseling is “professional assistance in coping with personal problems, including emotional, behavioral, vocational, marital, educational, rehabilitation, and life-stage (e.g., retirement) problems.”  In the context of mental or behavioral health, relationships, family life, and other similar concerns, going to counseling means attending sessions with a licensed professional counselor or another similar provider. Typically, someone who goes to counseling will have something in particular that they’d like to talk about or work on. For example, if someone has an anxiety disorder, they may seek counseling to help them reduce anxiety symptoms. Counseling is very broad, and there are many different types of counseling.

You can see a counselor one-on-one for individual counseling. Still, you may also choose to receive group counseling, family counseling, or see a provider with your partner for couples counseling or therapy.

What Is Couples Therapy?

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Couples therapy or counseling is when a couple goes to a counselor or therapist together. Most people go to couples therapy because they have a specific topic or several specific topics they want to talk about as a couple. Sometimes, couples go to therapy because they have a problem that needs to be addressed, such as infidelity, mistrust, lack of communication, etc. However, some couples choose to get counseling to strengthen their relationship. For example, a couple may choose to attend premarital counseling, or they may go to counseling to work on affection, emotional expression, family planning, concerns related to parenting, or something else.

Counseling is not one-size-fits-all. Every couple out there is unique, so it only makes sense that there’s a vast assortment of approaches that can be used in couples therapy or counseling.

4 Main Types Of Counseling Approaches

There are four main types of counseling approaches, which are often used in couples counseling. With each type of counseling approach, there are various methods used in individual and couples counseling.

Psychodynamic

Psychodynamic counseling was first developed from the research and findings of Sigmund Freud, that popular psychiatrist, from days gone by. This counseling approach is based on the idea that true knowledge and understanding of people and their problems is possible by understanding three human mind areas. These three areas are the conscious, the unconscious, and the subconscious. The idea of this counseling approach is that by bringing the unconscious and subconscious into the conscious, the three elements of the mind are working in harmony.

Humanistic

The humanistic counseling approaches are based on a person’s individuality. This counseling approach is based on the belief that it is not the life experiences that cause problems but how one experiences these events. How one experiences life then also affects how one thinks about themselves and others. Therefore, humanistic counseling approaches aim to explore thoughts and feelings to work out solutions to their problems.

Behavioral

This counseling approach is based on the fact that the environment of a person affects their behavior. Counselors who use this approach believe that behavior is learned, and therefore, it can be unlearned. It focuses on individual behavior and helps people to change unwanted behaviors. For couples struggling with behavioral issues from one or both sides of the relationship, this can be effective in couple’s therapy.

Integrative

An integrative approach to counseling takes some elements from each of the other three types of counseling approaches. The idea behind an integrated approach is that there is some truth to each of the three types of counseling approaches. Only a combination of the three will be effective in treating the whole person or relationship.

Tried And True Counseling Approaches For Couples Therapy

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Many different methods are employed using the four main types of counseling approaches. The following approaches and methods have been based on the four types of counseling approaches discussed above. These approaches and methods have been tested and approved through clinical trials. This is, by far, not an extensive list of the counseling approaches and methods that might be used in couple’s therapy. However, this will give you a starting point for understanding how a therapist might initiate and conduct couples counseling.

Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples

EFT for couples or emotionally focused therapy for couples is a highly regarded and well-researched modality. It is an example of a humanistic approach. Developed in the 1980s, EFT is very much so what it sounds like. This form of therapy focuses on emotions, emotional responses, and, in the case of romantic partners, creating positive patterns of interaction and strengthening the bond between the individuals in a partnership. EFT for couples is meant to help people feel more secure in relationships, and it can help couples address a wide range of concerns within their partnership.

Cornerstone Approach

The Cornerstone approach developed and researched by counselors with Howard University is an integrative counseling approach to couples counseling. This approach is based on four cornerstones of a good marriage or relationship. These four cornerstones are resiliency, social support, adaptability, and self-fulfillment. These cornerstones are defined, explored, and reinforced to allow couples to reach fulfillment individually and together.

Relationship Enrichment

The Journal of Counseling Psychology published a study by E.L. Worthington et al. in 1997 about strategic hope-focused relationship enrichment counseling. This is a humanistic approach to couple’s therapy. This method is for couples who already have a healthy and stable relationship and want to strengthen and enrich that relationship to new heights. The study showed that it was extremely effective, and overall outcomes for those who did enrichment therapy were better than the control group who did not have the therapy.

Walker’s Model

Walker’s model used in couples therapy is a behavioral approach to couples counseling designed for couples who face violent* or angry behavior from one or both partners. The method includes both individual and couples counseling to address, understand, and change behaviors personally and in relationships.

*Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) if you or someone you know is experiencing abuse. The hotline is available 24/7, and chat options, as well as information on abuse, how to create a safety plan, how to support others, and more, are available on https://www.thehotline.org/

Postmodern Narrative Therapy

A post-modern approach is a humanistic approach to couples counseling. According to a Counseling Psychology Quarterly study, this approach works best for couples from different cultural backgrounds. It may also be helpful in use with couples from different economic backgrounds. While there are three different postmodern counseling approaches, the study included in the study was a narrative therapy approach.

This approach evaluates thoughts and behaviors in the context of their culture or background and the story they have written for themselves. This can help couples go through together because it can bring a new understanding of the relationship. You will also learn more about your partner and how they relate to you and the world around them based on their background.

Christian Approach

The Christian approach outlined in a study by Everett Worthington in 1990 is a psychodynamic approach with some behavioral elements. It uses cognitive behavioral therapy as well as structural and strategic marriage therapies. This approach was based on Christian beliefs and a sharing of those beliefs between partners and the therapist.

Behavioral Couples Therapy

According to the National Institute of Health, behavioral couples therapy is a treatment approach developed specifically for couples where at least one partner has a substance use disorder**. It attempts to reduce usage by restructuring destructive couple interactions that often lead to substance use. This type of couples therapy will be part of the individual’s treatment plan, a strengthening of the relationship, and an understanding from the other partner about their partner’s illness and how it might be managed.

**If you or someone you know lives with a substance use disorder or might be, please contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.

Choosing The Right Counseling Approach For You

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Choosing the right counseling approach should largely be left up to the counselor or therapist you and your partner decide to see. After a session where the counselor will get to know you and your partner and an overview of why you seek therapy, the counselor will decide what counseling approach will work best for you and your situation.

If you want to suggest a counseling approach based on this information and your situation, this can be helpful for your therapist. Even if they do not want to take that approach, you are suggesting it will give them more insight into what you feel the problems are and how they might be fixed. Additionally, if they don’t work with the approach you need or the concern you want to address, a therapist may be able to refer you to someone who does.

It is also okay to look for a therapist without knowing what approach or modality you want a therapist to use. You can look for a provider who works with couples as a whole or someone who specializes in the concern you and your partner want to talk about. Asking questions about a therapist or counselor’s experience, the approaches they use, and any other questions you have about how they work as a provider can help you see if they might be a good fit for you.

As with any therapy or counseling, of course, remember that the same approach doesn’t always work for all couples and situations. Sometimes, the beginning approach does not give results, and another approach is tried midway through therapy. This is normal, and there’s no need to feel discouraged. If you and your partner find that the first therapist you see isn’t the right fit, it is perfectly okay to seek a new one. When you find a professional that you click with, it can make a world of difference.

Moving Forward With The Next Step

Now that you know a little bit about some of the different counseling approaches that a provider might use, it’s time to take the next step. In some ways, it’s easier than ever before to find a therapist. You can use a search engine to find a therapist by typing in terms that meet your needs (IE, “EFT for couples near me” or “premarital therapy near me”), find services through a church or another religious institution if applicable, use an online directory to compare and look through therapists in your area or sign up for an online therapy platform like ReGain that offers couples counseling.

Online Couple’s Counseling With ReGain

When you get therapy through ReGain, you can have a group chat with your partner and your therapist through text, voice, or video. All you need to participate in is a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. You can access it from anywhere with data or an internet connection, and your ReGain account is available to log into24/7/365. ReGain also offers individual counseling for those who wish to work with an online therapist or counselor one-on-one. The platform makes it easier and faster to start services and change providers if you need to.

If you have questions about getting counseling through ReGain, visit the FAQ page or contact us today. Whether you work with a provider through an online therapy platform or face-to-face, you and your partner deserve to get the quality care you’re looking for.


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