Noe Valley Couples Therapist - Counselor

(415) 550-8725
HomeCommunicationDoes Couples Therapy Work? (And another great Brene video)

Does Couples Therapy Work? (And another great Brene video)

Does Couples Therapy Work” was the (online) title of a provocative article in last week’s Sunday New York Times.  Below is my response, which I sent in as a letter to the editor.

Does weather forecasting work?  Does orthopedics work?  You get the idea.
Individuals are complicated and  when two people become a couple, the issues are multiplied. Couples therapy is therefore extremely complex. Good couples therapists have spent tens of thousands of hours of training and experience honing their craft, and are always thinking about how to improve still. They bring their knowledge, experience and expertise into the room with their clients, working to make sense of the real multidimensionality, emotionality, and non-linear entanglements of any relationship. There are very few (if any) definitive  answers, as is true in many other fields. Relationships and our understanding of them are works in progress and probably will be as long as we are on the planet.

The biases of Ms.Weil and individual online commentators (including mine!) are expressed  in their writing.   Reading through the comments one gets a sense of the breadth of  personality styles, predispositions and  feelings that we work with every day.  As a couples  therapist one of my biases is that it is courageous and positive for us as therapists to be acknowledging our vulnerabilities. After all, this is the courage we encourage our clients to muster.  Brene Brown eloquently describes in her wonderful TED talks (see below for one) how vulnerability is the essence of connection and belonging, which is at the root of how we grow and heal as human beings.  At least some of the quotes in Ms. Weil’s article are plucked out of a broader context which would have a quite different meaning.  Does the fact that therapists sometimes struggle with our experiences in doing therapy mean it’s all hopeless?  I certainly don’t think so.  As with our couples, we therapists have good moments, and bad, but many of us (and our couples) are overall doing good work and making progress. Any relationship has its stutters and stumbles, but we get up again, we try to learn, repair and continue. Therapy  can absolutely be like piloting a helicopter in a storm.  But it can also be like a rainbow in Shangri-La.  And about a billion shades in between, which is where things are most of the time.

Unfortunately–as with any service–there are therapists who call themselves couples therapists without rigorous training and experience.  And there are those who are devoted, but at the beginning of their learning curve. Naturally, clients have to do some work to vet prospects and find a therapist who is qualified and feels right for them.

There’s nothing wrong with raising questions about program evaluation, standards, etc.  But I know Dr. Pearson would not end on the note of “Who wants another serving of that?”  He is one of the most courageous and dedicated therapists I have  known and his quote is simply an expression of part of the humanity of our profession.  In addition to the storms we weather, we also enjoy the immense challenge and excitement of helping despairing people to improve their lives.  And when we get the rainbows, that’s an experience whose reward is hard to measure.

That’s the end of my letter to the editor, but I’ll add a bit here about actual answers to the headline question.  Many, many efficacy studies over the years have shown that psychotherapy in general (as wide a question as that is) is effective.  Sophisticated meta-analyses, combining results of multiple independent studies, tend to find that about 1/3 of therapy clients improve markedly and are very satisfied, another 1/3 have some improvement, and 1/3 drop out or don’t have as much benefit.  Couples therapy results are likely similar at the broadest level.  Some models of couples therapy (e.g., Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy or EFT, and the Gottman model) have success rates in the 80% and higher range.  However, it should be said that there are lots of methodological complications, and defining “success” in therapy (much less couples therapy) is not a simple or easy task.  If you’re interested in more details, a good place to start might be this article by Marty Seligman who is a well-known and respected researcher.

Finally, I also wanted to include another Brene Brown TED video that augments to the previous one posted earlier on my blog.  This one is on the same topic of the importance of vulnerability, is equally eloquent, but is more pointed and has some other elements to it.

Speak Your Mind

One Response to “ Does Couples Therapy Work? (And another great Brene video) ”

  1. counselling in melbourne on April 24th, 2012 10:50 am

    Couple therapy works in majority of cases but its outcome depends upon willingness of couples living with each other. I like this post as it has provided new stream of thoughts which can work for better life of couples in relationship.

Leave a Reply

Top 10 psychologists in San Francisco, CA 2015

Congratulations to Robert Solley PhD for winning the 2015 Patients' Choice Awards in San Francisco Psychologist