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Marriage Counseling Online May Decrease Resistance To Therapy

Couple Shot, a photo by Vicious Bits on Flickr.

Getting couples into marriage therapy is challenging. Some psychologists report that people are even more likely to resist therapy for their relationship than for individual depression.

A new study is investigating the possibility of providing marital therapy online in order to reduce the barriers to seeking help for a troubled relationship. Dr. Brian Doss, a professor of psychology at Miami University, and Dr. Andrew Christensen, a psychology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, have received a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to study the development of an online marriage therapy program.

The study, currently online and recruiting couples as participants, will deliver therapy to 500 couples in the testing phase. The therapy to be delivered in this way is based on a treatment method called acceptance therapy or integrative behavioral therapy. The focus of integrative behavioral therapy is to help people develop better understanding of their partners and those habits or personality flaws that they perceive as creating problems in the relationship.

The method has formerly been studied in face-to-face therapy settings in Los Angeles and Seattle, in a study that compared it to traditional marriage therapy, which focuses on improving communication and solving problems. In that previous clinical study, both types of treatment were found to provide lasting improvements in about half the couples who received treatment. That study appeared in The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Doctors Christensen and Doss hope that by offering an online version of the program, treatment can reach distressed couples sooner and provide more follow-up.

Online therapy, at least in the current study, won’t provide the same interaction with a therapist that face-to-face therapy does, so Christen says that the goal is not to replace traditional couples therapy. Online therapy, he says, might be less effective than traditional therapy, but he says, “If it’s less powerful but is easily administered to many more people, then it’s still a very helpful treatment.”

Other online methods for assessing marital health are being developed by researchers at Brigham Young University, at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and by researchers in Australia. The next decade seems likely to see a major rise in online therapy for couples.

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