Christensen and Jacobson laid out the protocol for IBCT for therapists in their 1998 book Acceptance and Change in Couple Therapy: A Therapist’s Guide to Transforming Relationships.
The Long-Term Study
Published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the five-year study followed 134 chronically and seriously distressed couples from Los Angeles and Seattle. Interestingly, the researchers turned away nearly 100 couples because they weren’t essentially unhappy enough. They wanted to test IBCT on the most distressed couples.
Partners were typically in their early 40s, and 68 couples had children. Couples were randomly assigned to either the traditional therapy condition or IBCT. The IBCT couples also read Christensen and Jacobson’s Reconcilable Differences. Couples were stratified based on their distress (66 couples were moderately distressed; 68 were severely distressed).
Both groups received up to 26 sessions. Researchers assessed each couple’s status and their marital satisfaction about every three months during therapy and every six months for five years after therapy.
Immediately after completing therapy, both groups showed the same marital satisfaction. (Researchers ascertained marital satisfaction with a measure that asks about a couple’s degree of consensus on important issues, tension in the relationship, affection and activities and interests shared by the couple.) Overall, almost two-thirds of couples improved.
At two-year follow-up, IBCT was significantly superior to traditional therapy but the difference wasn’t dramatic. At five years, these differences dissolved.
The reason differences vanished? According to an article in APA’s Monitor on Psychology, which interviewed Christensen:
Christensen attributes this decline in IBCT’s impact to a lack of booster sessions, which would be given in the real world when couples report a crisis or find themselves slipping back into old ways. The researchers deliberately did not build in such sessions, he says, because adding them would have overly complicated the research design.
Also, at the five-year follow-up, half of the couples still showed significant improvements, and about one-forth separated or divorced.
Taking IBCT Online
In the near future, IBCT won’t only be offered at a therapist’s office. Christensen and psychologist Brian Doss, Ph.D, a professor at the University of Miami, received a five-year grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to adapt IBCT into an Internet-based program for couples and to test its effectiveness.