Contact five couples who have undergone couple’s counseling to inquire as to the approach their therapists took, and you could very well get five different answers. As strange as it sounds, couple’s counseling is not offered as a single approach to fixing broken relationships. There are as many approaches as there are counselors.
Couple’s counselors are often psychotherapists who have been college educated and formally licensed. Other times they are certified counselors who have only received training in the counseling aspect. Still other times they are pastors and other religious workers with no formal training in counseling at all.
This alone creates an environment in which competing approaches exist. But even within the realm of trained psychotherapists, there are differences. That’s because they learn different approaches in school. Each therapist ultimately chooses the approach they believe works best.
3 Common Approaches
The fact that there are so many approaches to couple’s counseling is not indicative of the belief that counseling doesn’t actually work. Quite to the contrary, the success of couple’s counseling usually has more to do with the attitudes of the participants than the approach taken by the therapist. With that in mind, here are three of the more common approaches:
1. The Gottman Method
Named after its original creator, Dr. John Gottman, this approach proposes that conflicts are the norm between people involved in relationships. Fixing a broken relationship is a matter of identifying those conflicts and figuring out how to resolve them through communication. The Gottman Method identifies four things that are destructive to relationships: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
2. Emotionally Focused Therapy
Abbreviated as EFT, emotionally focused therapy rests on the premise that couples need to form an emotional bond of attachment to one another in order to enjoy a solid relationship. In a broken relationship, that bond is either weak or nonexistent. Therapy sessions are designed to establish and strengthen the emotional bond. The primary tool of success is figuring out each person’s emotional needs and how they can be met by the other person.
3. Imago Relationship Therapy
Last but not least is Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT), a therapy developed by a husband-and-wife team. It is based in the belief that people seek out romantic relationships that in some way remind them of familial relationships. A big part of this therapy is learning to understand how the other person communicates so that there are no assumptions on either side.
Choosing the Right Approach
The therapists at Rye, NY’s Relationships & More explain that there is no black-and-white method to choosing the right approach. They do recommend asking a therapist what their approach is, if there are any concerns about it. Otherwise, couples can begin therapy and see what happens.
Relationships & More therapists also say that formal training exposes a licensed therapist to multiple approaches. Most therapists will tailor sessions to the needs of clients. Therefore, it would not be unheard of for a therapist to change approaches if the current approach does not seem to be working.
It is also worth noting that any approach could work under the right conditions. Establishing the right conditions starts with the couple’s mindset. If they go into counseling expecting a quick fix with very little effort required on their part, no approach will work for them. But if they go in with realistic expectations and a willingness to commit themselves fully, real work can be done.
Therapists have multiple approaches they can take to couple’s counseling. There is no one approach that is always best. In the end, only what works for the couple matters.