At Couples Therapy Inc., we see many of our clients in online couples therapy. Couples often wonder how many weeks of online couples therapy it will take before they notice a shift in their relationship. I tell them that many couples with straight forward communication issues can clear up these issues in as few as 8 to 12 sessions. We know this because evidence-based couples therapy is strategic, and is always focused on helping a couple achieve specific relational goals.
“All Purpose Therapists” (APT) have little or no overarching plan a plan or specific goals in mind. With a sloppy “problem of the week” mindset, some in-person couples therapy sessions can become a verbal hockey game of attack and defend, while the therapist hangs back passively and helplessly.
Unfortunately, conflictual couples can spin their wheels for a long time without making any real changes. Some couples in couples counseling with All Purpose Therapists (therapists who lack specific training or experience in evidence based couples therapy) can literally spend years wandering in a therapy desert, 45 grueling minutes at a time.
The solution to this problem is not solved just by using evidence-based models of online couples therapy. However this is a good start. Our clients are typically very busy, successful people. Finding time for couples therapy can be a real challenge. Research shows that online couples therapy sessions are every bit as effective as in-person sessions. However, the important variable that makes online couples therapy so attractive… is the ability to use time well.
Regular attendance provides traction. The easier it is for you both to do couples therapy, the more traction you will get.
With online sessions you can be apart, or traveling on business. If a session is particularly difficult, you don’t have the awkward, silent ride home. And there is no time wasted driving back and forth, or being recognized by acquaintances in the waiting room.
And at an hour and twenty minutes, Couples Therapy Inc. online couples therapy sessions can help you safely get into conversations that matter. These are sometimes difficult, but always intimate conversations. Any skilled couples therapist has the confidence and specialized training to win the “battle for structure.” Online couples therapy sessions must be sufficiently long enough (80-100 minutes versus 45) to allow for a therapeutic encounter capable of listening deeply to two people in relationship, fairly and equitably. In Science -based couples therapy we act as if the relationship is the client.
A strong therapeutic bond can emerge from online couples therapy sessions that are of sufficient duration. The added time allows the therapist to guide couples through a process that will lead to the emotional processing within the session, providing space for measurable growth and change. While the goals and aspirations of therapy will differ from couple to couple, an evidence-based approach allows our therapists to make sure that the couple are engaged in the developmental tasks necessary to heal and repair their relationship.
There a number of important factors that impact how long marriage counseling takes. The big ones are:
1. The evidence-based model being used by the therapist. Leading evidence-based models include the Gottman Method, Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy, and the all but extinct Integrative Couples Therapy that Gottman Method built upon. These models provides the method and the therapeutic road map.
2. What are goals of the couple? The longer you have had problems, the greater the possibility that you will slip into a mutually inconsolable position. The best therapists lead, but also collaborate with their couples on therapeutic goals. Sometimes, frankly, the couples therapist is the primary custodian of hope. Long standing resentments usually take longer to process.
3. Do we know what the social science tells us about the problem? Do the nature of their problems suggest a possible recovery arc (i.e. the first year after disclosure of an affair is the toughest on the hurt partner, many extra-marital infatuations burn out between 18 and twenty four months in).
4. Other factors peculiar to the couple can impact how long it takes.
Some couples have been positively impacted by only one or two online couples therapy sessions. Many couples see improvement in as little as 4-6 sessions. Often these couples simply need help with clear communication, or the day to day division of household management, parenting, budgets, or common family goals. Some couples face more complicated issues, or have underlying problems that require an investment of more time and effort.
But the sweet spot for most couples seems to be 10 to 12 sessions, weekly.
In some situations, couples will confront the need for changing long-standing patterns in the marriage. Sometimes these problems go back to our family of origin, and were baked in the cake long before our partner showed up and asked for a slice. Family of origin attachment deficits can be particularly stubborn, and may require more couple therapy to overcome. These kinds of couples could see up to 24 sessions.
Sometimes in the Big Big Book, we discover that part of the problem impacting the marriage is that one or both partners may be struggling with more serious individual issues. For example, Depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Substance Abuse can wreck havoc on marital satisfaction. Depression is a tragically common symptom in couples therapy, affecting just over 40% of all couples asking for couples therapy. There are times when it is best that individual therapy precede or accompany online couples therapy. Medical Issues are also important. Did you know, for example, that taking acetaminophen has been correlated with a neurologically measurable reduction in feelings of empathy? Careful assessment is at the heart of excellent science-based couples therapy.
This is huge. Couples who are highly motivated (take notes, do assignments, work hard etc.) are going to get more out of therapy faster than more passive couples. Your couple therapist is not a miracle worker. You are not showing up at church for a laying on of hands. The only magic we have is in how to bring it out in you. Expect to work.
Couples who are committed to regular weekly attendance will move through therapy much more quickly. Personally I am a fan of brief therapy. Attending weekly, 8-12 sessions will give you the traction you will need move through the process with an end in mind. You could be more or less essentially done with a significant issue in your life in 90 days.
Unfortunately, sometimes I can only see a couple sporadically– every other week, or every three weeks. They start and stop the process so many times, that it may take a year or more for them to see improvement in their marriage.
It’s harder to get buff when you only go to the gym once every two or three weeks.
Irregular attendance is frustrating for everyone, and is generally much less effective. The science is clear on this. You want brief couples therapy? Attend faithfully, and work hard for at least 8-12 sessions. If you want to have successful marriage counseling, just decide. Pick an evidence based specialist. Be determined. Have a solemn agreement that it is a mutual priority. Decide that you will stubbornly outlast your differences.
Couples typically start out by attending weekly, then as therapeutic goals begin to be met,they may then drop to bi-weekly and later perhaps even taper off to monthly. Gottman firmly believes that the art of being a couples therapist is to know when to get out of the way, and let the couples do most of the talking and apply what they learned. In evidence-based couples therapy, there is a great deal of attention paid to relapse prevention and skill building.
Ambivalence should be acknowledged front and center because ambivalence saps motivation. Entering couples therapy means agreeing to work on the relationship. Ambivalence is wondering whether it’s worth working on at all. At Couples Therapy Inc.,, Discernment Counseling is how we work on ambivalence. It’s not Couples Therapy. But at one session at a time, and a limit of 5 sessions, it sure is brief.
To enter couples therapy requires commitment. Expect to cry, laugh, and be prepared to experience some discomfort. And please be willing to work hard.
Loving well and being loved well are two of the greatest joys in life. Human beings were built for connection. Science based online couples therapy can help you get there.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.