The latest NHS figures [table 7d] show that couple therapy is the most effective psychological treatment for depression and anxiety. Kate Thompson, psychotherapist at couples’ counselling specialists, Tavistock Relationships, explains why.
Research has evidenced that not only are individuals in unsatisfactory couple relationships three times more likely to have a mood disorder than those without, but 30 per cent of severe depressive episodes could be prevented if the quality of the couple relationships was improved.
Couple Therapy for Depression is the evidence-based, NICE-approved treatment of choice where a couple’s relationship is deemed to be causing or maintaining depression in one or both partners. It is also recommended where the relationship may aid recovery or help support a patient’s treatment plan. Data recently released by the NHS shows that, for the third year in a row, it’s the most effective of all IAPT therapies for anxiety and depression.
Best recovery rates
These statistics show that 56.1% of people who receive Couple Therapy for Depression recover from their depression and anxiety, compared to the overall national average within IAPT services of 49.3% recovery. These high recovery rates show the extent to which people’s significant, intimate relationships are intertwined with their mental health and long-term health conditions.
- Learn about best practice in parental mental health at the Mental Health Today Study Day in London on May 16.
The therapy sees the couple relationship as ‘patient’. Each relationship is viewed as unique and needs different therapeutic techniques at different times: from cognitive and behavioural to psychodynamic, emotionally focussed and systemic, to help the couple better understand their own world and history, and thereby promote change.
Sandy and Paul's story
We recently treated a couple, Sandy and Paul, who were experiencing problems after two life-changing events: Paul’s unexpected redundancy and the death of Sandy’s father three months later. The couple relationship suffered as a result of these events and Sandy, unable to cope, retreated into depression. They both felt hopeless and blamed each other. One of their sons started misbehaving at school which prompted them to seek help. Their couple therapy took time and effort and they had to learn to communicate with each other again and trust in their relationship.
When reviewing their treatment after 16 sessions, they were very pleased that their partner’s satisfaction in the relationship was higher at the end of treatment than at the start. They could also see how their depression levels could come down as well as go up during times of stress, which was reassuring to them.
'Co-creation' is the key
Couples are reported to rarely disengage once they embark on Couple Therapy for Depression because it involves genuine co-creation of a treatment plan with their therapist and acknowledges positive and negative values of their symptoms, past couple resilience and ways of coping. It offers behaviour change and problem solving exercises whilst helping the couple to reconnect, understand and manage their difficulties differently.
People who are experiencing relationship distress in the context of mental health or long-term illness need to access this very effective talking therapy through their local NHS service. It is disappointing, that nine years on from the creation of the IAPT programme, only around half of all NHS services provide this effective therapy, recommended by NICE. Nevertheless, at Tavistock Relationships, we continue to campaign for more IAPT services to offer couples counselling and have trained around 85 therapists this year alone to deliver it nationally. After all, yet again the data shows how important it is that we recognise not only the impact of relationships on depression but also the power of relationships to help overcome it.