Comprehensive couple therapy: what is it and how does it work?

Relationships are not always easy. Conflicts often arise in them and are difficult to resolve without professional help. For this, there is traditional couples therapy, behavioral in nature, which focuses on promoting changes that increase the well-being of the relationship.

After it appears the integral therapy of the couple (TIP), created by Jacobson and Christensen (1998). This type of therapy includes, in addition to promoting change, emotional acceptance of the other as an essential component. Let’s see what are its characteristics, components, strategies, as well as the empirical evidence that supports it.

    What is Comprehensive Couples Therapy?

    Comprehensive Couples Therapy (TIP), also known as Comprehensive Behavioral Couples Therapy (TICP), was developed by Jacobson and Christensen (1998) and is an evolution of traditional couples therapy. More precisely, these authors named it Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy.

    Jacobson and Christensen observed that traditional couple therapies, focused on promoting change in couple members, produced positive treatment results in only 50% of couples. These traditional therapies used positive behavioral exchange strategies and training in problem solving and communication.

    The authors opted for a new model of couples therapy, integral couples therapy, which in addition to including all of the above (especially promoting change), he introduced a new element: emotional acceptance of the other.


    We have already seen how integral couples therapy was born. But what exactly is it and what are its characteristics?

    This type of therapy it is based on the idea that the differences between the members of the couple should not be obstacles in the relationship. Moreover, these differences are not necessarily intolerable. On the other hand, accepting the other will be an important step in the therapy, which will be carried out when the person stops fighting to change the other person or to have them be as they see fit.

    Complete couple therapy, in addition, considers it important to visualize relationship conflicts as possibilities for fostering intimacy between the couple. As one of the central elements of Integral Couples Therapy, we find the natural reinforcers of the couple, that is, the things or aspects of the relationship that produce well-being and pleasure in the couple.

    These reinforcers are found in the daily life of the couple, in their context and in their communication, and promote empathy between the members of the couple, increasing the well-being within the relationship. For its part, empathy is also another of the central elements of integral couples therapy, and is used as a tool for acceptance and change.

      Areas of intervention in romantic relationships

      This type of therapy focuses on two areas of intervention: the area that promotes acceptance and tolerance of the other, and the area that promotes change.

      1. Acceptance and tolerance

      This first axis focuses on two types of strategies: those which promote the acceptance of the members of the couple and those which promote the tolerance of the other.

      The first to be applied are those who encourage acceptance, because the goal of comprehensive couples therapy is that the two members of the couple accept each other as they are; in the event that this would be difficult or impossible to achieve, we opt for the second type of strategies, those which target at least the members of the couple being tolerated and respected.

      1.1. acceptance

      When we speak of the acceptance that promotes Integral Couple Therapy, and by extension, of the therapist who develops it, we do not mean that the members of the couple must absolutely accept each other / a, unconditionally.

      We speak rather of accepting the other as he / she is, with his / her faults and virtues, as long as the virtues that one appreciates in him / her are superior to the faults, and that it is therefore worth the trouble of ‘invest in that person.

      It will always be a personal decision (the balance we are talking about), but also the acceptance it helps to see the positive aspects of the other, valuing them as they are, an imperfect being who is also wrong, but who is ready to love us as we are. That is, integral couples therapy is engaged in a realistic view of the other and promotes emotional acceptance as a tool for therapeutic change.

      1.2. tolerance

      As for the strategies which encourage tolerance of the other, they are applied when the preceding ones did not work. Thus, Complete Couple Therapy aims to allow us to tolerate our partner as he is, especially in the aspects that we don’t like so much or that initially cause us a certain rejection. They also promote respect for each other.

      2. Promotion of change

      Change promotion strategies aim, as the name suggests, to promote change in both members of the couple. This change (or these changes) will help to understand the other, as well as promote a healthier relationship and increase mutual well-being.

      Many times moving forward it is necessary to review what is happening in the present and observe how past events have affected the relationship. to facilitate this change which resolves current conflicts and improves communication in the couple.

      In the strategies of change of integral couple therapy, we find two types of components:

      1. Behavioral exchange

      Behavioral exchange is a type of strategy that aims to change dysfunctional behaviors that appear in the relationship. Modification of the same will be geared towards establishing positive and adaptive patterns of behavior.

      This type of intervention is carried out through instructions, which is carried out by the therapist through a very managerial role.

      2. Communication and problem solving

      The second component in the area of ​​change is communication and problem solving training. This type of training aims to improve communication between the couple, analyzing beforehand how he communicates through his verbal and non-verbal language.

      On the other hand, the training also includes problem-solving strategies, which aim to provide the members of the couple with the tools allowing them to manage their conflicts in a healthier way, without engaging in absurd or especially intense fights.

      It’s about listening and understanding before entering into conflict. For this, dialogue will be used a lot, and importance will be given to listening, to put oneself in the other’s shoes, to show empathy, to understand, to learn to communicate without reproach, etc.

      empirical evidence

      Comprehensive Couples Therapy is therapy that has empirical evidence for resolving couples conflicts and increasing the well-being of its members, although more research is neededAs the available studies are rather scarce.

      Specifically, it was Jacobson and Christensen, along with other collaborators, who conducted a series of studies to test the effects of comprehensive couples therapy. These studies have indicated that comprehensive couples therapy is just as effective as traditional couples therapy (traditional behavior therapy). In other studies, they also determined that the long-term effectiveness of complete couples therapy was superior to traditional therapy.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Mañas, I. (2007). New Psychological Therapies: The Third Wave of Behavioral Therapies or Third Generation Therapies. Journal of Psychology, 40: 26-34.
      • Morón, R. (2006). Comprehensive couple therapy. Journal of Psychology and Educational Psychology, EduPsykhé, 5 (2): 273-286.

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