All about Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy

February 6, 2019

According to Riva (2012), integrative behavioral couple therapy is one of the third generation therapies. This therapy is focused on private experiences (emotions and thoughts), acceptance, and mindfulness. It also pays special attention to the functional analysis of behavior as a way of evaluating problems, considering the context in which they arise, the background, consequences of maladaptive behaviors, and both persons’ personal history.

As Cordova (2002) mentioned, it’s called integrative behavioral couple therapy because it combines acceptance techniques with those of traditional behavioral couple therapy.

That being said, integrative behavioral couple therapy considers the advancement in traditional behavioral couple therapy (Jacobson and Margolin, 1979). The reason for this is that it incorporates an emotional acceptance component and doesn’t really focus on behavioral change.

Certain studies point out that this treatment is different than traditional behavioral couple therapy. In addition, they mention that the underlying change mechanisms make it more appropriate to treat couples issues.

A psychologist taking notes during couples therapy.

Integrative behavioral couple therapy as a third generation therapy

Acceptance

Acceptance techniques are useful to help couples meet in the middle. In other words, it allows them to work through their differences so that they don’t become sources of chronic conflict. According to Dimidjian, Martell, and Christensen (2008), the main strategies to help accomplish this are:

Empathic union: The goal is to try to reduce the couple’s negative behaviors. In order to do this, the therapist asks the patients to express the pain that said behaviors cause them without making accusations nor blaming anyone. Getting one party to realize how their actions affect their significant other is the main goal of this strategy.

Unified detachment: Its main goal is for the couple to identify the interactions that give rise to their individual frustrations. Its goal is to help the couple see their problems from a different perspective. In this strategy, the therapist thoroughly analyzes what reinforces behaviors that create problems. To do this, the therapist encourages the couple to talk about these issues as if they were spectators.

Tolerance: This is the technique the professional resorts to when the previous two don’t work. The therapist helps the couple expand their tolerance levels. This isn’t about going back to the ‘idealization’ stage when the couple is first falling in love. Instead, it encourages the couple to be fair with each other and recognize the other’s qualities.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a new technique based on very ancient approaches. It’s rooted in different religions and Eastern and Western philosophies. However, Buddhism is the religion that exerts the most influence on this technique. It refers to being attentive and aware of the here and now without making any kind of judgment.

According to O’Kelly and Collard (2012), relationships are always subjected to different tests over time. With this therapy, the individual will be better able to handle these situations by alleviating the effects that said tests provoke in the relationship. Additionally, it helps each person be aware of how they usually relate to the other in specific emotional states. It also improves self-control. This model is based on natural reinforcement (a smile, a nice comment, etc.).

A happy couple during integrative behavioral couple therapy.

Studies on integrative behavioral couple therapy

Jacobson, Christensen, Prince, Cordova, and Eldridge (2000) compared traditional behavioral couple therapy with integrative behavioral therapy. The data obtained in their study indicates that participants treated with integrative behavioral couple therapy showed greater couple satisfaction than those treated with traditional behavioral couple therapy.

Perissutti and Barraca (2013) obtained similar results in a later study. They analyzed 12 studies and found a slight improvement in patients who underwent integrative behavioral couple therapy, both at the end of treatment and after a year. However, these same authors found that, after 5 years of follow-up, integrative behavioral couple therapy and traditional behavioral couple therapy yield very similar results.

Conclusion

This type of therapy combines cognitive therapy techniques with new strategies to encourage acceptance. It allows both parties to get to know themselves and their partner better. Integrative behavioral couple therapy considers that people are emotionally reactive to their partners’ different behaviors. This is why its goal is to improve trust, intimacy, and complicity in the relationship.

One thing’s for certain: when there’s greater acceptance, people are more willing to make changes to improve, adapt to the other, communicate in a better way, and solve conflicts.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

-Stephen Covey-

  • Álvarez, M. P. (2006). La terapia de conducta de tercera generación. EduPsykhé: Revista de psicología y psicopedagogía5(2), 159-172.
  • Jacobson, N. S., & Christensen, A. (1996). Acceptance and change in couple therapy: A therapist’s guide to transforming relationships. New York, NY: Norton
  • Gaspar, R. M. (2006). Terapia integral de pareja. EduPsykhé: Revista de psicología y psicopedagogía5(2), 273-286.