4 Common Models of Couples Therapies

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Couples counseling is a type of psychotherapy in which a licensed therapist works with partners in a romantic relationship to improve their union. A couples therapist usually holds a certification in a specialty or couples counseling model.

The therapist will meet with the couple and take them through a series of questions and surveys to assess the relationship and provide a treatment plan. These plans can include attending a couples retreat in Chicago or some other large city, private individual sessions and private couples sessions. 

Couples therapists practice different types of therapy methods. At times, experienced counselors will weave in concepts from multiple types, or models, into a session and treatment plan.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is a form of individuals, couples and family counseling. Clinicians who use this method collaborate with clients and empower them to create a coherent narrative of his or her life. 

“Through storytelling, clients are able to gain a better, objective picture of their own lives and are less likely to see themselves as passive observers of their own lives,” according to goodtherapy.org.

Narrative Therapy was developed by psychotherapists Michael White and David Epston in the 1980s.


  • Partners develop self-awareness. 
  • Partners stop defining themselves by their problems.
  • Partners uncover dreams, values, goals and skills that define who they really are.
  • Partners become empowered to rewrite the future story or their lives.
  • Partner learn to externalize issues.

The Gottman Method

The Gottman Method is a form of therapy and education with a focus on couples. It utilizes the pioneering studies of psychologist Dr. John Gottman and his colleagues conducted in the 1980s. It was developed by both Dr. Gottman his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, who is also a psychologist.

What makes The Gottman Method unique is that it is based on the most extensive studies and data on relationships than any other couples therapy type. This science-based approach formed the nine components of the Gottman’s Sound Relationship House Theory which outlines critical behaviors for a lasting, happy relationship.

Therapy is conducted with both partners present.

The Gottman Method has spawned events like marriage couples retreats in Chicago and parenting workshops in Colorado.


  • Partners trust in the process and are more likely to “buy in” because it is science-based.
  • Partners learn various relationship skills such as managing conflict, calming one’s self, and identifying underlying issues.
  • Partners are able to repair past hurts.
  • Partners understand the signs leading to stagnancy in the relationship.
  • Partners improve their friendship and intimacy.
  • Partners develop and work towards life dreams.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Emotionally Focused Therapy, or EFT, is used to improve relationships for couples and families. Therapists help clients create new “patterns in the relationship and take steps to create a more secure bond and develop more trust to move the relationship in a healthier, more positive direction,” according to Psychology Today.

EFT helps couples and families cope with distressing situations, such as anger, betrayal and illnesses. Couples learn skills to engage in conversations and interactions based on honest feelings.

EFT is an approach formulated and tested by psychotherapists Dr. Sue Johnson and Dr. Les Greenberg in the 1980s.


  • Partners learn to de-escalate negative cycles of interactions.
  • Partners learn to become more open and responsive to each other.
  • Partners learn to change negative patterns of behavior.
  • Partners find the cause of the conflict and create a secure bond between them.

Imago Therapy

Imago Relationship Therapy, a form of couples counseling and coaching, takes its concepts from the Latin word “image” and encourages partners to explore their “unconscious image of familiar love.” This means that counselors help clients explore their early relationships and identify how they, as individuals, related to love.

“Much of the work in Imago workshops and private therapy involves learning to recognize how early childhood relationship experiences affect how we communicate, behave, and respond to others in adult relationships,” according to Psychology Today.

In the late-1970s, clinicians Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt began developing this evidence-based model on counseling to facility healing and growth in relationships.

Imago Therapy or coaching is facilitated through group workshop and private counseling.


  • Partners learn exercises to improve meaningful conversions, explore emotions and reconnect on a deeper level.
  • Partners feel more positive about their relationship.
  • Partners understanding how negative experiences from childhood affect their adult relationships.
  • Partners learn skills to transform themselves and their relationship.
  • Partner learn to stop blaming, criticizing and negatively reacting to partners.

A Final Word

Interview therapists and ask them about their methods to help transform relationships. Make sure the counselor has the proper training for couples work and is applying a valid method rather than spewed his or her own untested notions.

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