The A-Z of Behavioral couples therapy

What Is Behavioral Couples Therapy?

Behavioral couples therapy

Behavioral couples therapy: Behavioral couples therapy finds its origin right in the 1960s where the research was first conducted by Robert Weiss and Richard Stuart. While in the 1970s, Nathan Azin publishes his concept of mutual reinforcement and reciprocity. You may want to read these too: Marriage and Relationship Counseling in Glance, Best December Greetings for Lovers. According to Azin:

1. Human behavior is maintained by reinforcement on the person who performed the behavior.

2. People tend to treat others as they are treated

3. Mutual reinforcement account at least partially for concepts like friendship, joy, and love.

As for the behavioral marital approach, it was Neil Jacobson that pioneered it. He wrote and published a book with Gayla Margolin, which began a social learning model of couple’s therapy. In this model of therapy, partners are taught to be nicer to each other through an exchange of behavior normally known as contingency contracts, communicate better, and improve their conflict resolution skills.

Why Behavioral Couples’ Therapy?

During the research, John Gottman discovered that as long as the ratio of positive and negative interactions remains at least five to one, the relationship is not safe. The case is worse, if the ratio drops below, there is every tendency that 94 percent that a couple will suffer divorce.

When it comes to family therapy, Behavioral marital therapy model remains the most researched because it was found to be effective for treating depression and discordance in women.

With the aim of getting drug-abusing partners into treatment, a method is known as community reinforcement approach and family training was introduced.

During the early research, it was suggested that the idea of behavioral marital therapy actually worked as expected; especially the social exchange aspect of it which led to increases in marital satisfaction in the short run. The communication skill taught to the couples helped a couple to improve their communication and produced more long term changes in contingencies between the partners.

Before this modern approach to behavioral marital therapy, the traditional ruling has been in place however, it could produce more significant results compared to the oriented couple therapy which produced 50% of positive responses from couples.


IBCT is an interactive behavioral couple therapy that was established by Neil S. Jacobson and Andrew Christensen. The concept simply represents the return of contextual-ism, functional analysis, and skinner’s distinction between contingency shaped and rule-governed behavior.

This model is of two senses namely; integrate the twin goals of acceptance and change the outcomes for couples in therapy. If you succeed as couples in therapy, it will help you make some concrete adjustments to accept the need of the other and also show a great emotional acceptance of the other.

Second, IBCT integrates various ways of treatment strategies under a consistent behavioral theoretical framework. This is normally considered as third-generation behavior therapy or otherwise called clinical behavior analysis.

It has been discovered that both integrative and traditional behavioral couples’ therapy models have their roots from behaviorism. As for the traditional behavioral couples’ therapy, it has more roots in social learning principles and the later model in Skinnerian behaviorism. The late-model focuses more on the use of functional analysis otherwise known as psychology and the Skinnerian difference between contingency shaped and ruled governed behavior to stabilize acceptance and change in a relationship.

Phases of IBCT

IBCT has two phases namely, evaluation or feedback phase and active treatment phase. There are sessions during IBCT, the first three stages comprise of an evaluation period in which the therapist takes time to study the concerns of the couples.

The therapist in the first session usually sees the couples together, learns the issue that brought them to therapy, and obtains a brief history of their relationship to find out the conflict and then provide resolution. A therapist at this stage may suggest that the couple should read a self-help book during the treatment session to serve as a quick guideline for IBCT therapy.

During the first session, the therapist develops questionnaires for each partner to answer and bring along to their individual sessions. Note, the individual sessions are the next two sessions. Individual sessions require that the therapist investigates both partner’s relationship concerns and individual history. In the fourth session, the therapist will have to see both partners together for the feedback of his or her questionnaires.

Most of the session is focused on the feedback from the therapist though, he or she might have gathered some final information at the beginning of the session—it is from now that the therapist describes the difficulties and strengths of the couples and how he or she can be assisted.

A fundamental part of the feedback session is the aspect of the therapist formulating the couple’s problems, a conceptualization of the main subject in the couple’s struggles, the understandable reason why the couples face these struggles, how their efforts to resolve the conflict reigning between them have failed, and how the therapist can help their matter. The couples have to be active throughout the feedback by giving their reactions, adding information, and correcting the impression of the therapist as necessary.

At the end of the feedback session, the couple can make it known whether the therapist and treatment are right for them. If their decision is positive, it will determine the continuation of the active phase of treatment. At this point, it should be noted that sessions are done jointly with both partners and the therapist. The focus of this session is more on the important recent issues, whether positive or negative that replicate their major concerns or concerns.

For instance, the major issue could be that a partner has difficulties in achieving emotional intimacy, the couple will have to discuss the recent incident that brought them close to each other or one or both reached out to each other but get snubbed.

Sometime, the major concern of the couple could be that they are struggling frequently on decision making, they are allowed to discuss recent events where they were able to agree on certain matters or an incident where they got into argument because they disagreed.

There could be some upcoming incidents that are related to the couple’s concern, such as a difficult upcoming decision, that couple must undertake, and bigger issues related to a couple’s theme, for instance, how partners in a couple that makes effort to achieve emotional bond react when their feelings are hurt, are also a major focus in the discussion.

The therapist is often active in this discussion by helping partners communicate openly, directly, and clearly—effective communication. This discussion will help the couple identify their real mistakes in the relationship and therefore will be able to make the necessary adjustment.

IBCT has a standard protocol that is defined in a treatment manual written for therapists. This protocol contains 4 sessions for the entire assessment and feedback phase and then additional 20-22 sessions of active treatment. A session is normally conducted every week and lasts for an hour. However, as the treatment is reaching an end, the sessions are often spaced, mostly; a thorough course of therapy lasts between 6 and 12 months.

Traditional Behavioral Couples’ Therapy in Glance

Traditional behavioral couples therapy focuses more on change. This is more of an attempt to balance change and acceptance between the members of the couple. This is normally achieved by training the couple to understand each other learning history and produce more contingency shaped changes in session and less rule-governed changes for the couple.

The accomplishment of this session is as a result of the interventions of the therapist by turning the problem into something that occurs to the couple. There is research that pointed out that contingency shaped behavior is easier to maintain compared to the rule-governed behavior for couples.

Talking about the behavioral function, the greater the amount of withdrawal behavior a member of the couple displays during the demand of the situation, the tougher the stress. Integrative behavioral couple’s therapy addresses topics that include intimacy in a couple’s relationship, and forgiveness in couples.

Examples of Disorder that can be treated through Behavioral therapy

There is several emotional disorders that can be treated through behavioral therapy. They are listed below:

• Anxiety disorders

• Bipolar disorder

• Depression

• Personality disorders

• Eating disorders

• Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD)

• Schizophrenia

• Post-Traumatic stress disorder

• Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Behavioral therapy can also help treat the following conditions:

• Autism

• Substance abuse, e.g drug, and alcohol

• Chronic pain that is caused by an existing disease or ongoing treatment for a new condition

• Emotional distress.

How does the procedure of behavioral therapy work?

Behavioral therapy uses different methods until the therapist arrives at the best technique most suitable for the specific condition of the patient. For instance, if the primary techniques are not working for the selected couple, the therapist can apply another one until it works for them. Some of the techniques used are as listed:

• Development of coping mechanisms

• Roleplaying

• Relaxation methods, i.e. breathing exercises

• Positive reinforcement

• Journal writing

• Training in social skills

• Response modification

• Virtual reality therapy

• Contingency contracting

• Response costs

• Token economies

• Biofeedback

• Shaping and grading task assignments

• Habit reversal training

With the brief information we have been able to tender for you, we hope that you will be guided to some extent about the basic requirements needed in behavioral couple therapy.

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