What Evidence Based Therapy Should I Consider For Couples Counseling?

By: Toni Hoy

Updated July 30, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

The field of psychology is quite large and complex. Research continues in many different areas of psychology because there’s so much that we still don’t know about how our brains work and why we think, feel, and act as we do.

Studies have brought about many different types of counseling methods. Some of them have been researched more in-depth than others. Research brings some assurance that treatments and protocols are effective. Many therapists prefer to use evidence-based treatments. Others have found specialties within alternative or non-evidence-based treatments. It’s also common for therapists to use a combination of evidence-based and non-evidence-based treatments, especially for people who live with complex disorders.

What Is Evidence-Based Therapy?

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines evidence-based therapy as, “Evidence-based practice is the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences.”

Any kind of treatment is subjective until it’s been through rigorous testing to demonstrate that it works. The scientific method uses real-world testing on new ideas. Therapies that have been backed up scientific evidence have proven to be effective. Therapists are encouraged to use evidence-based treatments because they’re safe, and most people will find improvement from them.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) maintains a list of all evidence-based programs and practices on the National Registry for Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP). The registry only lists treatments that have proven to significant net impact on the outcome of mental health disorders, as demonstrated by extensive research.

Types Of Evidence-Based Therapies For Couples Counseling

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When trouble is brewing in a relationship, couples will usually find help in couples therapy. In many cases, each partner has some things they need to work on within themselves in addition to working on issues that are tough to deal with as a couple.

There’s no right or wrong couples therapy. The only right couples therapy is the one that brings them closer and helps them work through their differences in a mutually respectful and loving manner. The following are four evidence-based couples therapy methods.

Gottman Method

One of the most popular couples counseling methods is the Gottman Method. It was designed, developed, and researched by Dr. John M. Gottman and his wife, psychologist, Julie Gottman. John Gottman is a long-time researcher who spent 40 years researching how to improve relationships for couples. In particular, Dr. John Gottman has researched the predictors of divorce to assist him in counseling couples in the characteristics that necessary to maintain a happy, loving relationship with their spouse or partner.

The Gottman Method consists of nine components of a program called the Sound Relationship House. The therapeutic process entails each partner making a mental map of each other’s world and learning how to break through gridlock.

The Gottmans determined that negative emotions, like being defensive and contemptuous, are more likely to hurt relationships than positive emotions can overcome them to improve couples relationships. The structure of the Gottman Method helps couples develop understanding and skills so that partners can turn towards each other when one of them is hurting rather than turn away. The process helps couples strengthen their fondness and admiration for each other, manage conflicts, and explore each other’s dreams together.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is a type of counseling that helps people isolate their problems from themselves. By giving issues a bit of distance, it’s easier for couples to see other ways that the issue is affecting them. The issue may be protecting them in some way, and it may even be helping them. In being able to see the issue from various new perspectives, couples become motivated to make changes in their thoughts and behavior, so they can reframe their life story in a way that reflects who they are as people and their life’s purpose. Narrative therapy gives couples a chance to rewrite the narrative of their lives while keeping problems separate.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) focuses on the bonding quality of adult relationships. This therapy entails exploring patterns in the relationship and taking steps to create a closer bond and increase trust. EFT is a short-term, evidence-based therapy that helps couples relationships to become stronger and healthier.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic method that helps couples communicate better, improve intimacy, develop rewarding relationship behaviors, and explore the negative and harmful dynamics that are hurting the relationship. Research has shown that CBT for couples is effective, about 75% of the time.

Recent advances in couples therapy suggest that CBT, combined with other interventions, can help couples to change problem behavior patterns and learn to accept their partner’s behaviors that aren’t bound to change. Therapy that focuses on a combination of making changes and acceptance of the other person helps couples deal with conflict and resolve their differences effectively is even more effective than CBT therapy on its own.

Other Types Of Couples Therapy

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There’s no denying the importance of research. Couples may be able to find therapy that isn’t evidence-based yet, that is still helpful to them. It’s important to consider that part of evidence-based treatment assumes that couples will make informed decisions about the status of their relationship and what they need to improve it. Cutting-edge therapies that are still in the research phase of science may be helpful to couples that are open to giving them a try. Following are a few non-evidence-based couples therapy treatments that are showing promise.

Religious-Based Counseling

If one or both of you are a member of a church or religion, you may check with your church leadership to see if they offer to counsel to members. Having faith in a higher power sometimes provides common ground for couples who are going through difficult times in the relationship. Organized religions are typically highly supportive of strong and lasting marriages, and the membership can be a helpful support system.

Imago Therapy

Couples that lack faith in traditional psychotherapy may be more inclined to try Imago Therapy, which looks at each person’s weaknesses and how they choose people that have many of the same weaknesses. Some couples aren’t up for talking about their feelings out of fear of being criticized or feeling uncomfortable discussing difficult topics. Imago Therapy may be instrumental in helping couples assess their relationship dynamics rather than focusing on individual behavior. Therapists use conversations between partners as a basis for helping them understand each other’s needs rather than striving for a particular outcome.

Marriage-Friendly Therapy

Most marriage therapists are trained in an individual model of therapy where the happiness of each individual supersedes the happiness of the couple. The benefits of this type of therapy are that it when it works, it works by resolving problems within each individual, and it tends to work in a fairly quick time frame. This type of therapy doesn’t come without risks. One risk is that each partner may give up rather than be willing to do the necessary individual work that’s needed to move the relationship forward. Another risk is that individual work comes at the expense of the work that needs to be done on the couple’s relationship and the rest of the family.

Customized Couples Therapy

Many types of couples counseling are fixed programs with a specific structure and timeframe that ranges from a weekend to several weeks. These types of programs are helpful for people with healthy or marginal relationships; however, they don’t always work well for couples that are dealing with complex problems and harsh feelings. Some couples will only realize success when they commit to long-term counseling that helps them make gradual and lasting changes to themselves and their relationship.

Concluding Thoughts On Couples Counseling

Not Sure Which Evidence Based Therapy Is Right For Your Relationship?
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Couples counseling works best when couples pursue counseling at the first sign of trouble before bad habits like yelling and screaming come into play. If your relationship is already beyond that, it’s not too late to get help.

Here is some insight as to how couples therapists work-there are no secrets. What you divulge to the therapist will likely be shared openly between the three of you. This is an important consideration because the therapist has to remain neutral for trust to develop. Your therapist will not take sides.

Be aware that while one of you may have an individual problem such as substance abuse or infidelity, couples counseling will explore individual issues for both partners as well as issues in the relationship.

Couples counseling takes time and work. It will be painful at times. Remember that just as a physical injury takes time to heal and there is a period of pain before healing takes place, emotional hurt will be painful in the beginning and will heal over time.

If you’re ready to start tackling the issues that brought you to consider couples counseling, why not reach out to ReGain and ask to be matched with a couples counselor that can get your relationship back on track? To find success with couples counseling, it’s important to select a counselor that you both feel comfortable with. It’s also important for both parties to commit to working on their issues.

Counselor Reviews

“Sessions with Natalie are very insightful and give practical advice on implementing new habits and changes. Be prepared to engage and be challenged to think in a different way. I know that my partner and I can already see improvements in our relationship and feel more positive about working through our issues together.”

“Austa has been wonderful thus far. She has helped my partner and I during an unimaginably difficult time... She has also guided us in communicating effectively and setting appropriate boundaries in our relationship. I was hesitant to pursue counseling at the beginning, but I truly believe that it is making a difference for our relationship. Austa is easy to talk to and she is a great listener. I would wholeheartedly recommend her as a counselor.”


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