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An Examination of Change Processes in Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy


In an IBCT intervention called "empathic joining," couples are encouraged to express greater vulnerability around problem areas in their relationship as a means of increasing their intimacy and understanding of one another. In the first study of this dissertation, sessions of couple therapy were coded for the clients' expression of soft emotions (e.g., fear) and hard emotions (e.g., anger) and the partners' validation or invalidation of one another to determine whether these behaviors change over the course of therapy and whether they differ for couples who ultimately improve in couple therapy compared to those who do not. Results indicated that hard expression and invalidation decreased over time for wives and, on average, couples that improved in therapy were more frequently validating of one another in session. The second study examined whether particular therapist behaviors were associated with client emotional expression and validation. Results showed that therapist validation was associated with greater soft expression for both husbands and wives and with more instances of "successful empathic joining," while interruption by the therapist was associated with frequency of invalidation and higher hard expression. Finally, the third study looked at whether processes occurring in session were related to changes in behavior and/or acceptance outside of session, and found that in-session wife hard expression and validation predicted positive change in the frequency of target behaviors outside of session. Overall, the studies suggest that in-session processes around building understanding (i.e, validation) and de-escalation (i.e., decreasing hard expression/invalidation) are important towards changing behaviors occurring outside of session and ultimately in improving relationship satisfaction.

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