Couple Therapy: The Three Dimensions of Success

Sam Schaperow, MSMFT, LMFT, the counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, returns for his third column. Previously he wrote about evaluating children who were misdiagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, then how psychotherapy can help people reach new levels of efficiency and productivity at work while reducing work stress. Now he will help readers to understand how successful couple therapy involves many factors that you will want to understand before choosing to help or enhance your marriage or intimate partnership.

There are many dimensions to good couple therapy. To simplify our understanding, we will focus on three dimensions: “The Assessment”, “The Couple Therapist”, and “The Couple”.

The Assessment: In order for a couple therapist to be helpful early on the couple is assessed. The degree that the assessment is thorough is often up to you. You can request that one session is used to assess the couple, or even multiple sessions so that the couple is best understood. Individual assessments are recommended. Though the couple is a unit with a life of its own, it is composed of two individuals. Understanding each person, how they think and feel, allows for a more thorough understanding of the couple. Beyond these assessments comes psychological testing, such as the MMPI-2 or Rorschach. A trained psychologist, such as Tracy Colsen Schaperow, Psy.D. can administer these tests to enhance the understanding of the personalities of each partner/spouse and how their personalities can lead toward synergy or dissonance.

The Couple Therapist: Finding the right couple therapist for you is important. Specialization is key because couple therapy requires a different approach than individual counseling. Some therapists have years of specialized graduate-level training on family and couple dynamics, while others have no formal training (not even a single class in couples). Some ways to learn about a therapist are to see a résumé (you can ask for one or see if the therapist’s web site has it) or see his or her credentials. For example, the credential “LMFT” means “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist”, a license that can only be obtained from years of rigorous videotaped (or live supervision) family/couple training and practice. But note that even if a therapist lacks the LMFT, extensive study and numerous trainings can lead to proficiency.

If you go with a therapist without the “LMFT”, you can also ask about experience, certifications, professional memberships, or even ask around to see if the therapist has an excellent reputation specifically in couple therapy. You can also ask about the approach to see if the therapist likes to give out a lot of advice or elicit answers from within your selves. Lastly, it is important that you find a couple therapist who will work with you until your underlying patterns are found and changed, otherwise the couple may revert back to their old ways soon after the therapy ends.

The Couple: The degree to which even the best couple therapist can help a couple correlates with the degree to which the couple is willing to fully participate. Highly motivated couples have a much higher success rate than those who come in with a list of demands involving pricing, time availability or demands, limited willingness to try out suggestions, a partner/spouse persistently laying too much blame on the other spouse, choosing shorter assessments, etc. In summary, there must develop enough trust and motivation; otherwise interventions are ineffective.

All three dimensions are critical to the process: beginning properly with a thorough assessment and ending with results elicited by a highly trained professional working with an attentive and motivated couple. For more information on how to approach couple therapy please contact the Schaperow Psychology Center of CT, by visiting


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