Jacobson and Christenson's Integrated Behavioral Couples Therapy (IBCT) is a newer model based on traditional models of behavioral couples therapy. The traditional model is based on a few basic ideas:

  • talking about how you feel and think about problems is not very helpful; rather, doing something about them is what helps
  • most partners can learn ways break bad patterns of behavior that cause problems
  • most partners can learn new ways to compromise and resolve problems, and thus make each other happier
  • as a result, most any couple can be happy and content
    When traditional models of behavioral therapy for individuals are applied to couples, therapy tends to produce significant improvements in functioning initially in just over half of couples. While in the past, this treatment appeared to be extremely effective, more recent studies have shown that it is not as effective as previously thought, and a few smaller studies may have made it appear overly effective. Further, other studies have found that at the end of therapy, only about a third of couples recover from their problems well enough to look like happily coupled partners. The rest are still distressed and unhappy. Two years later, a fourth to a third of behavioral therapy couples say they are worse off then when they went to therapy, and after four years over a third are divorced. Thus, the initial improvements do not appear to last. The addition of a "communication skills" module to traditional therapy seems to help improve the lasting effect of treatment to some extent though.

Jacobson and colleagues have done research to improve the effectiveness of behavioral therapy by adding an element of "emotional acceptance." Jacobson and colleagues argue that some problems can be resolved by compromise, but some likely can not. The greatest harm to the couple comes not from the incompatibilities; rather, the greatest harm comes from the rigid, negative, and excessive emotional responses that develop from these unresolved issues. Thus, the IBCT model is based on a few simple ideas:

  • talking about how you feel and think about problems sometimes is necessary before you accept them
  • most partners can learn ways to alter the negative emotional responses they have to problems, responses that make them, as well as their partners, unhappy
  • most partners can learn new ways to resolve problems and the emotions that come with them
  • as a result, most any couple can be happy and content

There have been three promising studies showing the IBCT approach is better than the traditional one. Christenson and colleagues conducted a fourth study though that is especially interesting, in that for this study they purposely took the most distressed couples they could find. They treated 134 couples for an average of 23 sessions over 36 weeks, half with the IBCT approach and half with the traditional approach. They found that about two-thirds of couples reported significant improvements (slightly better than traditional behavioral therapy), half were able to recover from their problems well enough to look like happily coupled partners (again, better than traditional behavioral therapy).

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