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Mike Emery
memery@central.uh.edu
713-843-8186

Center for Couples Therapy Debuts at UHClinical Assessments for Spouses, Partners Available on Campus

August 20, 2009 - Houston - Individuals often undergo regular physical examinations to better understand their bodies and for early detection of ailments. At the University of Houston, couples can also undergo check-ups that will help partners better understand each other and to identify possible relationship problems.

This fall, the UH Center for Couples Therapy will open its doors to spouses and partners and deliver couples check-ups. These assessments are designed to identify both strengths and weaknesses within relationships.

"The couples check-up differs significantly from a first-time visit to traditional counseling," said John Vincent, UH professor of psychology. "It provides detailed information that is essential in understanding relationship problems and developing solutions."

Vincent co-directs the center with fellow UH psychology professor Julia Babcock. Under their guidance, graduate students will assist in delivering couples check-ups, which include relationship-focused questionnaires, interviews and monitored dialogues between partners. Undergraduate students also will be tasked with compiling and coding data gathered during theses assessments.

Taking cues from John Gottman, who pioneered the science of analyzing relationships, Vincent and Babcock will look at specific behaviors that are likely predictors of a relationship's success.

"We'll particularly look for four behaviors," Vincent said. "These are defensiveness, contempt, criticism and stonewalling because they are the best predictors of breakup or divorce."

Based on couples' responses during the check-up, Babcock and Vincent will be observant of such problematic behaviors in addition to signs of possible physical or psychological abuse within the relationship. As part of these dialogues, partners' heart rates and other physiological responses will be monitored to gauge reactions to specific topics or themes.

"The interviewer will try to isolate topics that are emotionally relevant for both partners," Babcock said. "While couples discuss these topics, we will closely focus on topics or themes that may cause their heart rates to accelerate as this often indicates high levels of emotions."

The dialogues also will be focused to help couples identify and understand any problems that exist within their relationships. Many times, partners are unaware of problems or conflicts until they are asked directly about them, Vincent said.

"This process will certainly help identify the issues that might harmful to relationships," Vincent said. "Partners hopefully will learn how specific behaviors have an adverse effect on their relationship. Of course, other couples may very well play the ‘blame game' with neither partner owning up to his or her actions."

Following the check-up, data will be analyzed, then Babcock or Vincent will meet with couples to present a written report on their findings and make recommendations. Data coding and analysis take at least a week.

"We will provide couples' feedback on their relationships strengths and weaknesses," Babcock said. "Because a couple decides to undertake a check-up doesn't mean it will automatically need professional counseling or that all of the results will be negative. The check-up's goal is to develop productive assessments to help couples progress toward healthier relationships."

Couples interested in learning more about check-ups or making an appointment can call 713-743-8600 or visit http://www.psychology.uh.edu/couples/ for additional details on the Center for Couples Therapy.

The Center for Couples Therapy is part of UH's Psychological Research and Services Center, which provides low cost mental health services to the community and serves as a training facility for UH graduate clinical psychology students. For additional details on the center, visit http://www.uh.edu/prsc/.