Does Couples Therapy Really Work?
posted: Jun. 09, 2022.
My cellphone felt hot next to my ear. This initial consultation with a prospective client ran longer than usual. We discussed the reasons for her call and the relationship goals she would like to accomplish, we talked about the process of online couples therapy and video sessions, and now the voice on the other end of the line hesitated, struggling to formulate her question. “And, how long have you been doing this?” she asked. “I have had my Los Angeles based private practice for 12 years and was practicing couples therapy even before I moved to California” I replied. She paused – “So you are a couples therapist…and you have been doing it for a while…from your experience, doc, does couples therapy work?”
Marriage counseling and couples therapy is an intricate process involving few important variables. First, we have to look at the idea of couples therapy “success.” What does it mean when couples therapy “works?” Therapeutic success is rooted in the desires and goals of the couple. For some couples therapeutic success means a transformed relationship in which both of them enjoy renaissance of intimacy and connection, while for others couples therapy success would be a conscious uncoupling in which each partner is supported and helped through the break-up. Clients come with different goals in mind and all of them are important and valid. For our purpose let’s define success as the degree to which the couple meets their own personal couples therapy goal.
Now, although a competent and experienced couples therapist is an important ingredient for successful treatment, it is not a 100% guarantee of therapeutic success. More specifically, in addition to the therapist there are 2 other people in the room, or in my case – on the screen. Each partner comes with their own “baggage” of past unresolved negative emotions, trauma and limiting beliefs that shape their experience in the relationship. Each of them may show different degrees of openness to therapeutic process, of willingness to honestly look at their personal relationship patterns and behaviors, and of their own readiness for creating change in their life. Combination of all of these factors tends to predict the success of couples therapy.
I paused before answering her question – “Well, it truly depends…What I can guarantee is my full and unwavering dedication to your success in reaching your goals. I will bring to the table all of my knowledge, skill and experience. If both of you can meet me with same degree of commitment, focus and openness to change, you will absolutely get what you came for.” “Ok, doctor Harel” – her tone was firm with decisiveness – “when is the soonest we can start?”