Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy: What Is It?
Integrative behavioral couples therapy is the brain child of Andrew Christensen and Neil S. Jacobson during the 1990s. It’s an intervention that promotes acceptance of the other, emotional openness, and change. In addition, it belongs to the third generation of therapies and is evidence-based.
This means that integrative couple therapy promotes self-change, taking into account the context of the problem rather than the problem behavior. In addition, evidence is considered to improve the effectiveness and efficacy of the treatment.
In this article, we’ll tell you what this type of couple therapy consists of, how it works, and what it involves.
What is Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy?
Most relatinship conflicts have to do with the development of incompatibilities. Thus, this type of therapy assumes that the problem is not these differences (which are inevitable), but how they are managed.
Poor management of incompatibilities leads the couple to interpret that the problem is what the other does or does not do. Consequently, attempts are made to modify the other’s way of acting or being. This increases the polarization and distance between the two.
That said, integral couple’s therapy promotes acceptance between the two, which is achieved when the members stop fighting to change their partner according to their desires.
To work on acceptance, this therapy focuses on empathy, assertive communication, and tolerance. The objectives are to come together around the problem and to see the conflict as an opportunity to generate more intimacy and transform the partner’s negative behaviors into less painful ones.
How does integrative behavioral couple’s therapy work?
Firstly, the therapist must formulate the problem and share it with the couple. Therefore, during the first sessions, the multiple dimensions of the relationship come under evaluation and are subsequently explained to reflect the causes of the current situation.
This formulation is not the same for every couple or conflict. Therefore, it can be modified as the intervention progresses. Ideally, it should be useful for the couple and help them to overcome the problem. Three components are included, which you will see below:
1. The theme
This is the main theme of the couple’s conflicts. In other words, it reflects the central axis of the arguments. The most common topics are the dichotomies of “proximity vs. distance”, “control vs. responsibility“, “conventional vs. inconvention” or “artistic vs. scientific attitude”.
For a better understanding, we will say that in the case of the first dichotomy, the problem lies in the fact that both conceive a different level of intimacy as optimal for the relationship. So, in this case, the arguments are usually due to the fact that they talk very little on a daily basis or one of them wants to do something together while the other wants to spend more time on their own.
2. The polarization process
This refers to the interactions that take place whenever conflict arises. It’s essential to keep in mind that the discomfort isn’t caused by the differences or disagreements with the partner, but by the ways of responding.
In the case of polarization, incompatibilities are interpreted as deficiencies of the other person. In addition, the couple begins to analyze their conflicts and concludes that the other partner is to blame, labeling him or her as “bad,” “selfish,” or “immature.”
3. The mutual trap
This is the result of the polarization process. The main characteristic is the fact that each member feels trapped and hopeless about the conflict situation. They assume that they have to try to stop criticizing the other’s annoying behaviors, but that they can’t just accept them, either. They believe that the relationship is no longer going to improve, despite their attempts.
The types of interventions in integrative behavioral couple’s therapy
This therapy includes three intervention strategies:
1. Acceptance strategies
These are tools for working with and accepting differences, including those that seem irreconcilable. It should be noted that acceptance does not mean resigning oneself to the current form of the relationship or surrendering to the status quo. In this context, accepting the other implies considering and adopting healthy alternatives to manage and resolve the problem.
These strategies allow couples to see problems as opportunities to improve their intimacy and closeness. In addition, they make the couple renounce the idea that differences are negative and the pretension of molding the other according to an ideal man or woman.
The most commonly used techniques to achieve acceptance are the following:
- Empathic communication: This involves the partners learning to express their pain and discomfort without accusing and without fear of accusations.
- Unified separation: This helps the couple to distance themselves from their conflicts and arguments through a rational analysis of the problem and emotionally unburdened dialogues. This encourages joint coping with the problem.
2. Tolerance strategies
These are common when acceptance strategies don’t work. In this case, the goal is for the couple to recover as soon as possible from the conflict.
The objective is that both partners learn to tolerate the behavior of the other, as much as possible. The techniques used to promote tolerance are the following:
- Focusing on the positive aspects of a negative behavior.
- Practicing the negative behaviors in the session and faking them at home.
- Encouraging self-care for each partner.
3. Change techniques
Change techniques in integrative couple therapy consist of training the couple in communication and problem-solving skills. The aim is to increase or decrease certain behaviors and improve communication and joint decision-making.
There are various types of integrative behavioral couple’s therapy to choose from
There are different types of psychotherapy for couples whose interventions will depend on the training received by the therapist. Thus, it’s important to note that the types mentioned in this article falls within the behavioral paradigm, and there’s no proof of its effectiveness.
When deciding which psychotherapy is the best option to solve the problem, the key is to know the professional’s training and what interventions he/she works with. The couple should also decide who to see by taking into account their needs.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
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