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
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
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
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.