5 Types Of Therapy That Can Help Heal Your Relationship

By Michael Puskar

Updated August 28, 2019

There is rarely a perfect relationship that has no problems and challenges whatsoever, and it's completely normal for couples as well as friends and family members to experience rough patches between one another. However, some circumstances may have caused some damage, and while it might hurt right now, it is not irreversible. With therapy, relationships can be mended, and this article will show you some options that might be helpful to your situation.

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What Should I Expect From Couples Therapy?

There are several different types of psychotherapy that aim to solve relationship issues and create stronger bonds. Some of the most common challenges that couples face are:

  • Addressing a lack of communication, listening, and understanding
  • The desire for more intimacy
  • A need for guidance following a significant event (i.e., having a baby)

All types of therapy can, and is encouraged to, be used during any time in a relationship and can be an excellent preventative tool. Contrary to popular belief, couple and marriage counseling is not just for those who are on the verge of separation. It can help improve skills like communication and can stop issues from growing more substantial, or from ever occurring in the future.

Another misconception about couple counseling is that people think the therapist should be a mediator and take the side of one of the individuals. This simply not the case, and instead, sessions will be designed to help you both self-improve.

General counseling exists for couples; however, there are more specific forms that people can choose. The rest of this article will discuss some of the most popular ones with a list of therapy techniques that have been effective for relationships.

Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago Relationship Therapy, or IRT, is a specific type of couples counseling that is designed to improve communication, understanding, and closeness between partners. IRT can be used in private settings; however, group workshops are also quite popular and are typically done on the weekends.

During their sessions, couples will learn new ways to improve their relationship by performing exercises and talk to one another to facilitate meaningful dialogue. This can help them have a deeper understanding of each other's emotions and can help couples reconnect if the relationship has been soured. [1]

This form of therapy was developed by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly in the 1980s, and it was conceptualized based on the theory that the negative experiences and feelings that you experience during your childhood will eventually arise during adulthood, especially in relationships.

By understanding these old wounds, couples can be more understanding and have empathy towards one another which can facilitate healing and a more "conscious relationship" [2]

Imago therapy aims to improve these outcomes by developing the skills and empathy necessary to have positive relationships, and hopefully, couples will be able to stop having negative reactions such as blaming and criticizing. [1]

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Emotionally Focused Therapy

Like the Imago techniques, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), aims at reducing negative feelings between couples such as anger and distrust, which can lead to marital conflicts. There is quite a bit of similarity between IRT and EFT.

Emotionally Focused Therapy was also created in the 1980s by Susan Johnson and Leslie Greenberg and is primarily based on attachment theory, but it also utilizes systemic and humanistic approaches. Attachment theory involves how your relationships with others beginning during infancy will pave the way for how your relationships with others will be in the future. This concept is essential in IRT as well, and it provides the foundation for these types of therapist techniques.

However, the approach between the two is what separates them, and ERT consists of several steps that aim to identify the problems in the relationship and restructure these interactions so that they can discuss how they feel more openly. Here are the steps that Susan Johnson developed for EFT: [3]

  • Step 1: Evaluation, making contact, and then recognition of tensions between couples from the standpoint of attachment.
  • Step 2: Identification of the cycle of negative interactions that sustain anxiety and bring about insecure attachment.
  • Step 3: Discerning the underlying feeling or emotion not yet expressed in couples' interactions that is being concealed.
  • Step 4: Reframing the problems resulting from the cycle of negative interactions, unmet urges, needs, and emotions to explore the cycle.
  • Step 5: Having access to fears and needs of attachment.
  • Step 6: Promotion of acceptance by the other spouse.
  • Step 7: Smoothing the way for expression of needs and wants, and restructuring new models of interaction based on perceptions and knowledge obtained from the process.
  • Step 8: Providing new solutions for old challenges.
  • Step 9: Strengthening new positions and patterns of behavior

Emotionally focused therapy is also empirically supported, and research has demonstrated its efficacy. One study involving infertile couples experiencing marital issues has shown that EFT significantly improved "satisfaction, cohesion, consensus and affection expression of the partners" [3] Its high success rate makes it an attractive option many couples looking to improve their relationship.

Narrative Therapy

Everyone has a story, and in narrative therapy, people's life stories are emphasized, and for change to occur, they will need to be externalized, and this can be done verbally or through writing.

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Narrative therapy is appropriately based on the narrative theory, which states that "people tend to consider their life a consistent and logically important story so that they can advance their goals and expectations for the future." [4]

Patients will discuss their issues by narrating them, and afterward, they will need to rewrite the negative aspects of their story, which have been harmful to their relationship. This makes Narrative one of the unique therapy types that couples can take advantage of.

It is entirely possible for people to re-create their lives by creating different narratives with unique outcomes. A therapist will assist them in the process of creating a new story by helping clients build more "coherent and comprehensive narratives" [3] This will then help individuals change any of their negative thoughts and values, and instead, turn them into positive ones.

Until they externalize these negative feelings that have been causing conflicts, many couples are unaware that they have hidden parts of their story that have been contributing to their emotions. Because of this, not only has narrative therapy been useful for relationships, but it has also shown success in helping people with depression, anger, and body image issues, to name a few. [4]

Gottman Method Therapy

The Gottman Method is another effective treatment method that can help solve common relationship issues and Dr. John developed it and Julie Gottman who states that there are nine different components to healthy relationships: [5]

  1. Build Love Maps - knowing your partner's psychological world - such as their worries, what makes them happy, etc.
  2. Share Fondness and Admiration - for these to occur, the couples must show respect towards one another, instead of contempt
  3. Turn Towards Instead of Away - needs should be communicated and responded to
  4. The Positive Perspective- using a positive approach to solving problems and repairing relationships
  5. Manage Conflict - Instead of resolving conflicts, they should be managed because conflict is an ordinary, functional, and sometimes positive part of relationships.
  6. Make Life Dreams Come True - each person should be able to speak openly about their hopes and aspirations
  7. Create Shared Meaning - understanding every aspect of the relationship, such as visions, narratives, myths, and metaphors
  8. Trust - the person knows that their partner has his or her best interests in mind, not just their own
  9. Commitment - this person is part of your lifelong journey, and both parties are committed to cherishing each other's positive qualities instead of focusing on the negative ones that often get magnified in conflicts.

According to the Gottmans, conflict can either be perpetual, or it can be solvable, and just under 70 percent of them will be part of the relationship's lives forever; hence why management is emphasized by these types of therapists, rather than solving every single problem that arises. [5]

By using the Gottman Method, people can strengthen their relationship by reducing negative verbal communication and replacing them with positive dialogue, increase empathy, intimacy, and respect, and break down any barriers that can be creating a sense of stagnancy in the relationship. [5]

Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy

Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT) is one of the more recent types of therapies designed for relationships, and it was based on an early form of counseling known as Traditional Behavioral Couple Therapy (TBCT), which was, at the time, the most empirically-supported options. [6]

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While TBCT focused on positive to negative exchange ratios, professors Andrew Christensen and Neil Jacobson expanded on it by focusing on positive behavioral change through communication and solving problems, which led to the creation of IBCT. Couples' distress can be conceptualized and explained through a simple mnemonic device: DEEP.

D: Differences between partners such as personality, interests, and goals

E: Emotional sensitivities and vulnerabilities

E: External circumstances, such as stressful events

P: Pattern of interaction that couples get into when trying to address the problems created by the DEE parts.

IBCT protocol will consist of two separate phases - an evaluation/feedback phase (usually lasts for three sessions), and an active treatment phase. In the first one, the therapist will learn about the couple's concerns and what brings them there, and in the second one, which often lasts for over 20 weeks, the therapist will take an active role with both partners to help improve communication and how they interact with one another. [7]

Conclusion

If you are experiencing issues in your relationship but don't know where to begin, hopefully, this article has given you some types of therapy to look into.

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At ReGain, online counseling and therapy sessions are available from licensed family and marriage therapists (LFMT) and can help you overcome the problems that have been plaguing your relationship.

Even if there are not any blatant issues in your relationship, different types of therapists can help you prevent them from occurring by strengthening the bond between couples by improving communication and understanding. Your connections with people are valuable - don't hold off on treatment when problems until they become unreconcilable; start today!

References

  1. Psychology Today. (n.d.). Imago Relationship Therapy. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/imago-relationship-therapy
  2. Imago Relationships. (2019, July 16). Imago Relationships Worldwide. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from https://imagorelationships.org/
  3. Najafi, M., Soleimani, A. A., Ahmadi, K., Javidi, N., & Kamkar, E. (2015). The Effectiveness of Emotionally Focused Therapy on Enhancing Marital Adjustment and Quality of Life among Infertile Couples with Marital Conflicts. International Journal of Fertility & Sterility, 9(2), 238-246. doi:10.22074/ijfs.2015.4245
  4. Hamidi, P., Bahari, S., Mostafavi, S. A., & Shamohammadi, M. (2016). The Efficacy of the Narrative Therapy Approach in Reducing Couples' Conflicts Through Couples Therapy. Thrita, 5(3). doi:10.5812/thritaj.36606
  5. Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (n.d.). The Gottman Method - About. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from https://www.gottman.com/about/the-gottman-method/
  6. Christensen, A., & Doss, B. D. (2017). Integrative behavioral couple therapy. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 111-114. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.022
  7. UCLA. (n.d.). About IBCT. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from http://ibct.psych.ucla.edu/about.html

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