Ackerman’s Response to "Does Couples Therapy Work?"
The article “Three’s a Crowd: Does Couples Therapy Work?” appearing in the New York Times last week, elicited a strong reaction from many faculty and students here at the Ackerman Institute for the Family. The article, writing by Elizabeth Weil, describes the difficulties of being a couples therapist while implying there is little hope or chance of success for couples seeking therapy.
Ackerman Senior Faculty Evan Imber-Black’s response is as follows:
As a practicing couple and family therapist for 35 years, and recent editor of the field’s scholarly journal, Family Process
, I was appalled to read the misrepresentation of the work of couple therapists. Citing outmoded theory and practice, the article sets up a straw man designed to scare away the very couples who may benefit from our work. Suggesting that couple’s therapy is a frightening context for the therapist is an insult to the daily healing of relationships provided by the profession. Decades of research show a 75% success rate in couple therapy, exactly the same as in individual therapy.
Quoting only men, the author derides the critical place of empathy in our work – in competent couple’s therapy, we join with both partners and with the relationship, providing a steady hand to enable them to regain mutual respect and negotiate differences. We are certainly not “ninjas,” an attitude that simply replicates the conflictual patterns that brought the couple to us in the first place.
Ms. Weil article has also drawn criticism from trainees and alumni of Ackerman Institute. Courtney Zazzali, who is currently a trainee at the Institute, says the following:
As a second year extern at New York’s own Ackerman Institute for the Family (AIF), I must offer an alternative perspective that was missing from Elizabeth Weil’s article, “Three’s A Crowd: Does Couples Therapy Work?” Ackerman Institute for the Family’s approach on couples/family therapy maintains that an “empathic, sensitive, calm, and accepting” therapist actually can competently create a holding environment for positive and real change to occur. Although Ms. Weil acknowledged the intense complexities that are usually uncovered in couples therapy, the “violent” metaphors of “therapist ninjas” and “helicopters in hurricanes” are hyperbolic. This article was heavily fear-based for both the budding couples/family therapist and a couple in crisis who need hope when confronting the challenges of our time. One can be calmly complex with distressed couples in crisis, while holding multiple, individual perspectives, and still be successful.
To read the complete article, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/fashion/couples-therapists-confront-the-stresses-of-their-field.html?pagewanted=all