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Cowan, P.A. Cowan, C.P. (2013). Three Modest Proposals to Repair the Relationship between Couple Therapists and Couples Researchers. Cpl. Fam. Psychoanal., 3(2):133-136.

(2013). Couple and Family Psychoanalysis, 3(2):133-136

Personal View

Three Modest Proposals to Repair the Relationship between Couple Therapists and Couples Researchers

Philip A. Cowan and Carolyn Pape Cowan

For six years, we and our colleague Bob Levenson taught a year-long course in couple therapy for Clinical Psychology doctoral students at the University of California, Berkeley (Levenson, Cowan, & Cowan, 2010). The primary aim of the course was to address what Bob called the “two hats problem”, which is typical of training in the mental health field; students wear their clinical hat in theory courses and clinical supervision, and their research hat while in seminars and conducting their dissertation study. In our course, we explored the research literature on couple relationships, the clinical literature on couple therapy, and a growing literature on evaluations of interventions for couples—very different bodies of information. Next, the students designed a therapy intervention based on key findings in these literatures, sought client couples from the community, carried out couple therapy under our supervision, and used some systematic assessment tools to gather data that might help us make sense of what was associated with improvements or impasses in the client couples' relationships.

In addition to learning how much work is involved in managing a couple therapy course of such breadth—for students and faculty—we learned a great deal about a much-discussed, but still-unresolved, rift between clinicians and researchers who seek to understand and treat troubled couple relationships. Like couples we see in therapy, couple therapists and couples researchers do not often communicate effectively; they tend to blame each other for missing key issues and asking irrelevant questions, project their worst characteristics onto the other, and alternate between periods of no communication and high level friction.

As we struggled with these issues, we began to see that the problem of integrating couple therapy and research is not simply one of individual partners unwilling to make the effort; rather, there are a number of institutional biases and constraints that keep the partners apart.

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