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Will Couples Therapy Help?
by Dr. Steven Cohn
Dr. Steven Cohn

Will couples therapy help your relationship (married or not)? That depends on the effort that you and your partner are willing to put forth, but it also depends on the skill and experience of your therapist. One of those skills is knowing what doesnít work.

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? Itís also the most widely held misconception about happy relationships. Maybe thatís why the nationwide relapse rate for typical marital therapy runs as high as 50 percent. Hereís another fact that many typical couples therapists might prefer you didnít hear: Consumer Reports Magazine reported that couples therapists got very poor ratings compared with other therapists.

One of the reasons 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. Dr. Pascoe, writing in the Journal of Couples Therapy, wrote that inexperienced ďtherapists 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. . . . It is this writerís firm conviction that not all individuals should attempt to practice couples therapy.Ē

So how do you choose a couples therapist? First, understand the difference between a typical general practitioner who sees couples and a Relationship Specialist.

Most competent 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 generalist.

General practitioners who work with both couples and individuals tend to treat fewer couples than individuals. Does this make a difference? It might, remember the 50 percent relapse rate for couples. A general practitioner who spends eighty percent of their professional time working with individual clients and twenty percent of their professional time working with couples, ultimately builds eighty percent of their skills working with individuals and only twenty 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 215-7082. 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. For an appointment or to request a complimentary brochure, please phone 503-282-8496.

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