What is Gottman Method Couples Therapy?

Gottman Method

By: David Lechnyr, LCSW

Some patients prefer to use a specific type of Relationship Counseling called the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy. Based on Dr. John Gottman’s research from the 1970’s, this type of therapy is designed to help teach specific tools to deepen friendship and intimacy in one’s relationship.

Officially, the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy relies on a specific structure and approach. Which is interesting in that Dr. John Gottman is also a vocal advocate for making modifications and adaptations to his techniques as each therapist sees as appropriate.  The structure involves a series of assessment phases, followed by treatment and then specific termination sessions phased out over a period of time. During different phases of therapy, the therapist works with the couples together to help them appreciate the relationship’s strengths and to gently navigate through its vulnerabilities.

Two of the main reservations that I have about this technique are that it is built upon correlational-based evidence (as opposed to cause-and-effect) and that in its popularity, it has become somewhat larger than life (emphasis is often placed on the brand name itself rather than the specific techniques involved). However, it is a solid and well-founded theoretical framework that I have found to produce reliable and consistent results.

In the assessment phase of couple’s therapy, couples are given some homework and/or written materials to complete that will help the therapist better understand the couple’s relationship. Once the issues and goals for therapy have been identified, the real work of treatment can begin. Most of the work will involve sessions where both partners are seen together as a couple. However, there may be times where individual sessions are recommended. The therapist may also give exercises to practice between sessions.

As the couples progress in their relationship, the couples will begin to phase out of therapy and meet less frequently. This allows the couple to test out their new relationship skills, to make sure that it is not too soon to stop, and if successful, to prepare for the termination of marital/relationship therapy. Although couples may terminate therapy whenever they wish, most find it to be helpful to have at least one session together to summarize progress, define the work that remains, and say good-bye.

This termination session gives the couple a sense of closure and helps to remind them of their new skills and need for continuing to practice these skills. Finally, in order to prevent falling back into old habits, the couples arrange to meet with the therapist again after six months.

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