Is marital/couples counseling effective?

couples counseling effective psychotherapy lisbon

I’ve been approached several times by people wondering if couples or marital therapy really works. In the past, during the 1980’s, most of the models and techniques used in couples therapy had some effectiveness with the success rate for most couples being around 50% ( Grande, 2017 ). Mostly interventions were around ways to communicate but at a more cognitive level, and they tended to focus on how couples listen to each other and how they can appreciate the other’s point of view. They also involved problem solving tools ( Gottman& Silver, 2015 ). Although these skills were useful ones to develop and couples relationships improved at the time, after a while old habits tended to return and the relationship deteriorated again.

In the 1990’s, EFT ( Emotionally Focused Therapy ) was developed by Sue Johnson in Canada and the success rate for couples therapy increased strikingly into the 75% range and after a couple of years of stopping the therapy the couple was still doing well. This is according to the American Psychological Association.

What is effective about Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy?

As mentioned above, couples therapy previously focused mainly on changing cognitions ( behaviours and thoughts ). EFT, rather than only being concerned with cognitions, is mostly preoccupied with changes in emotional responses, in a way that strengthens the couple’s emotional bond. The goal is to establish a more secure attachment between partners. It acts on the belief that as human beings we need connection and we need this from our romantic partner. We want a sense of being felt and understood and to feel important to the other person. Therefore, the couple will work during the process of therapy not only on increasing their self-awareness in terms of understanding the impact of their own behaviours on their partner, but also on being more emotionally vulnerable to the other, for example by using more “feeling” words. This has been a very important development in the field of couples therapy.

In the next blog I’ll give more details about what is done in EFT. Please contact me if you’ve got more questions about couples therapy, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) or would like to benefit from psychotherapy services in Lisbon.

Inês Moreira Rato
Systemic Psychotherapist in Lisbon


Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (1999, 2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Random House, LLC: New York.

Grande, D. (2017). Couples therapy: Does it really work?.In Psychology Today, Dec. 6th, 2017.

Johnson, S. (2005). Becoming an Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist. Routledge. New York

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