The Right Fit: Exploring Different Styles of Couples Counseling

The counseling format you choose will depend on your circumstances and relationship needs.

The counseling format you choose will depend on your circumstances and relationship needs.

The counseling format you choose will depend on your circumstances and relationship needs.

In the past few years, many couples therapists have begun to offer multiple modalities ranging from
weekly 1-2 hours of couples therapy, “intensive” or “marathon” couples therapy, and weekend couples retreats. We’ll explore the benefits of each type and the differences between them.

Weekly Couples Therapy

This modality is best suited for individual therapy and for couples without complex conditions. Research on frequency and outcome in couples therapy suggests that Massed Sessions with Fading may be ideal for many couples. Massed sessions means lots of upfront therapy because couples often arrive in high distress and display a high motivation for change. Once the couple has stabilized, sessions are spread further apart each time to ensure partners practice the skills from therapy in their everyday lives. This model addresses issues up-front and gradually tapers off.

Intensives or Marathon Couples Therapy

Marathon couples therapy refers to therapists counseling couples for extended hours at a time.
Intensives are highly customizable, usually occurring over 10-15 hours with 1-2 therapists, typically
starting on a Friday afternoon and ending on Sunday.

Helping professionals have used intensive therapy for treating critical conditions such as addictions,
family systems in crisis, and post-disaster trauma work. This intensive approach can yield significant results. Dr. John Gottman says that to build hope or confidence in couples therapy, the couple has to see rapid, dramatic change in a relatively short time. When done well, an intensive session can demonstrate resolution for even the most gridlocked issues.

As a couples therapist, intensive is my favorite way of working with couples: it matches what research
has successfully shown, it produces results in a short period of time and it gives me and the couple
time to explore and understand deep-seated problems for meaningful progress.

Weekend Couples Retreat

Weekend couples retreats combine many benefits of weekly and intensive approaches. A retreat can be helpful for premarital couples (possible gift registry idea!), for couples who want to enhance their relationship, and for those who need immediate help but cannot access a private intensive. Couples retreats offer an experiential, psychoeducational weekend with a combination of both individual and group attention.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman famously developed a weekend couples retreat called the Art and Science of Love (ASL). This two-day program is designed for couples who want an opportunity to get away from
ordinary life to focus on their relationship. Based on over 40 years of research, the curriculum is taught by approved Gottman workshop leaders around the world. The retreat teaches couples key Gottman findings and includes exercises to apply these skills. Research shows that couples who attended the Art and Science of Love experienced significant improvements in their friendship, conflict management, and shared meaning even at a one-year follow up.

Similar to intensives or marathon couples therapy, Art and Science of Love retreats are a chance to give your relationship attention with the guidance of a Certified Gottman Therapist. Couples learn about each other while applying research-based tools in a relaxing, romantic setting.

Keep an eye out for upcoming Art and Science of Love couples retreats. You will find them throughout the US as well as internationally and they are often held in beautiful retreat spaces. Remember, practice makes perfect, so take the opportunity to refresh your relationship every year with a new ASL retreat in a different part of the world!

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Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas. Vagdevi has over 25 years of experience as a therapist, consultant, and educator. She has also been a certified Gottman Couples Therapist and a certified Gottman Workshop Leader since 2006. She offers the Art & Science of Love Workshop for couples twice a year in Austin and has presented clinical trainings in the US, Canada, and India.