September/October 2003 Living Now
|Dr. Steven Cohn|
Will couples therapy help your relationship? Although that depends on the effort that you and your partner are willing to put forth, it also depends on the skill and experience of your therapist. One of those skills is knowing what doesnt work.
Heres a fact that many couples therapists might prefer you didnt read: Consumer Reports Magazine reported that couples therapists got very poor ratings compared with other therapists. Why the low marks? Couples therapists often attempt to teach couples how to communicate better by using reflective listening techniques. In fact, trying to improve relationships just by teaching couples to communicate better is probably the most widely practiced relationship intervention in the United States. Guess what? Its an intervention that hasnt proved to be particularly successful. Maybe thats why the nationwide relapse rate for typical marital therapy runs as high as 50 percent.
Another reason for these poor ratings and high relapse rates is that not every therapist is really cut out for the emotional and intellectual rigors of couples work. According to the Journal of Couples Therapy, inexperienced "therapists are attempting to master the skills of becoming couples therapists which is no easy task. . . . This particular method of psychotherapy does not lend itself well to all therapists."
So how do you choose a competent couples therapist? First, understand the difference between a general practitioner and a Relationship Specialist.
Most therapists with MA or PhD credentials practice as generalists. That is, they have a general, rather than a specialized, understanding of how to work with individuals, couples, children, and families. Relationship Specialists, on the other hand, have focused on becoming expert at working only with couples. Relationship Specialists devote their training, experience, and education to having a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of couples than would be expected of a general practitioner.
General practitioners who work with both couples and individuals also tend to treat fewer couples than individuals. Why? One predominant reason is that individual clients tend to stay in therapy longer than couples. As a result, general practitioners often find their practices filling up with individuals with little space left to treat couples. Does this make a difference? It might, remember the 50 percent relapse rate for couples. A general practitioner who spends ninety-five percent of their professional time working with individual clients, for example, and five percent of their professional time working with couples, ultimately builds ninety-five percent of their skills working with individuals and only five percent of their skills working with couples.
As you consider which therapist to trust with your relationship, remember that not all therapists who advertise couples treatment are Relationship Specialists. The only way to find out whether a therapist is a generalist or a Relationship Specialist is to ask questions. General rule of thumb: A Relationship Specialist treats only couples and does not work with individual clients.
If you are in a relationship where you are being either emotionally or physically abused, or if you are concerned that you might harm yourself or someone else, please phone the 24 hour per day Crisis Line at 503-988-4888. A trained counselor will help you through your crisis.
Dr. Steven Cohn is the Director of the Portland Couples Counseling Center and Co-Founder of the Irvington Counseling and Healing Arts Center. He specializes in treating couples from all backgrounds. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Cohn or if you would like to request a complimentary brochure, please phone 503-282-8496.