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Technology a Key for Assessing Couples and Improving Therapy

December 09, 2020

During a keynote session presented on Wednesday at the Evolution of Psychotherapy virtual event, John Gottman, PhD, and Julie Gottman, PhD, co-creators of the Gottman Institute shared with attendees how they have used technology not only to better assess the problems that are causing couples to seek therapy, but to also help them address and overcome those issues.

The Gottman Institute conducted an international study of more than 40,000 couples—including heterosexual, gay, lesbian and other couples—who were entering therapy. Questions in the survey covered 10 areas:

  • Happiness and stability within the relationship
  • Loneliness
  • Trust and commitment
  • Friendship and emotional connection
  • Romance, sex and intimacy
  • Conflict management
  • Individual life dreams
  • Shared meaning system
  • Co-morbidities
  • Individual issues

Participant answers were fed into research-based algorithms and a summary of outcomes was generated. Findings from the study were published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. What the Gottmans found in their research was nearly all couples are having serious problems around conflict (particularly with regards to criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling), trauma stemming from individuals’ primary family growing up (especially among gay and lesbian couples) is often a trigger for conflict, and overall, more powerful intervention tools are needed, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To that end, Dr. John Gottman said, the institute created Gottman Connect, a telehealth platform that connects couples to a therapist either together at home or from separate locations. The telehealth intervention starts with an assessment, which is a step often skipped by many therapists, often because they don’t know what to assess or how to conduct an assessment or they feel assessments can be intimidating for clients, Dr. John Gottman said. With the Connect platform, however, the institute has found couples enjoy quizzes, assessment is expected and adds credibility among clients, plus it gives direction and focus for therapy. Assessments pinpoint strengths and challenges of relationships, plus co-morbidities. The platform’s “Love Lab” component reveals interaction dynamics within a couple and measure physiology.

Ultimately, the platform generates two reports: One for the therapist and one for the couple. The clinician’s report includes essential co-morbidities and detailed treatment recommendations. The couple’s report includes relationship-level information and can be used in feedback sessions.

Dr. Julie Gottman then highlighted six intervention tools also included within the platform that can.

  • Provide access to a library of interventions and handouts
  • Build couple’s relationship skills with a relationship coach
  • Build physiological calm
  • Conduct emotion check-ins
  • Work on co-morbidities with video replays to identify triggers
  • Make therapeutic change last between sessions

“The point of all of the interventions is that they empower the therapists of any orientation,” she said. “There are many tools on this platform, but whatever orientation you bring into the session is honored as the central part of the therapy. These interventions can serve as supplements or, if you like, the main part of therapy.”

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