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Does Couples Therapy Work?

Posted Mar 09 2012 8:07am

A client reported a comment she heard from a therapist, “Couples’ therapy doesn’t work.”  I was sure that the remark had been altered in translation and probably had been uttered by a therapist who got out when things got rough. I’m sure that many clients wonder when they set up their first appointment for couples’ therapy if something worthwhile will result.

When I say “worthwhile” I choose the word carefully.  What may ensue may not be the result they had imagined or thought they wanted when they decided to pursue counseling.  The therapy process consists of the interaction of many variables.  The first order of change is often straightening out the misinterpretations and the misunderstandings that  contribute to feelings of anger, disappointment and hostility.  I see enormous change in couples’ relationships every day when the misattributions are cleared up.  Recently The New York Times featured an article titled, Does Couples Therapy Work?  The story explained how couples’ therapists need to deal effectively with volatile situations where there are a lot of strong emotions hurtling back and forth.

I agree that a couples therapist needs to be very skilled at managing strong, complex emotions in a way that allows the safe exchange of conflicting points of view. And this requires a tolerance for volatility on the therapist’s part.

Certain therapists are drawn to the challenge of working in highly dynamic, fast moving exchanges and these are the therapists that are drawn to couples’ work and are usually the best practitioners for it. They have to be able to dig deep under these strong emotions while managing the effect on their patients. Some therapists find the intensity of this balancing act unnerving and they are the ones that probably are better with the one on one work.  So yes, couples therapy does works, but finding the right person to work with makes all the difference.

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