Marathon therapy is an intensive form of couples therapy. It can come in many forms depending on the individual therapist’s preferences and approaches. Generally speaking though marathon couples therapy is not that different from standard weekly or fortnightly couples therapy, it just all gets done in a couple of days and creates a more emotionally intense process for the couple. So how do we do it?
At Relationship Institute Australasia we have been offering marathon therapy for the last 6 years and have found a process that seems to work well for both us and for our couples. Like standard couples therapy there are still 3 phases that we take each couple through.
Phase 1 is the assessment phase. For couples who do not live in our local area, we ask each partner to complete a written history of their relationship and a written individual history. To assist them with this we email them an interview schedule that includes a range of questions for each of them to complete. We ask them to do these independently, not together. We also ask each of them to complete the Gottman Checkup online Questionnaire. We request that they provide these assessments at least 3 weeks prior to their 2 days of therapy. This gives us time to read, analyse, interpret the data, formulate the issues and prepare a treatment plan.
The final stage of Phase 1 is the feedback and goal setting session we do with the couple as the first session of their 2 day marathon. In this session we provide feedback from all of the assessment information we received, psycho-education about the Sound Relationship House model of healthy relationships and we collaboratively work together to establish goals and priorities for the two days.
Phase 2 is the therapeutic phase. This is primarily the phase we work through during our two days together. Based on the outcomes of the assessment and the goals and priorities we have established with the couple we begin working on the most important or most difficult issue in their relationship. The rest of the therapeutic phase develops as we make our way through the various areas of difficulty, establishing deeper levels of understanding, creating cathartic and emotionally attuned moments and experiences with them as they traverse the areas of conflict, misunderstandings, old hurts and false negative assumptions they have developed of each other. What this means is that by the end of the second day they have both experienced a range of transformative experiences that result in them having completely new views of each other as well as of themselves and their issues.
During this phase we will be using a range of interventions that are appropriate for each topic area. These interventions will include:
There is no standard program for marathon therapy, it is individualised for each couple and their particular presentation and relational needs.
Phase 3 is the follow-up and relapse prevention phase. Again this will vary depending on the particular couple and their needs. It may include ongoing email contact for several months to track their progress and provide additional resources and information to help them to stay on track. It may include a few ongoing telehealth consultations, it may include referral to a therapist in their area or it may include and agreement to attend additional marathon days. It will all depend on the couple’s particular needs.
Marathon therapy isn’t for every couple just as it isn’t for every therapist. The Marathon Couples' Therapy format may move couples more quickly and intensely into the areas of difficulty. Therefore, the therapist must be highly skilled in managing high emotion and emotional flooding especially in dealing with and addressing strong and uncomfortable feelings like sadness, guilt, anxiety, anger, loneliness, and helplessness. The therapist must be completely confident that no matter what arises in the counselling room they will have a process they can turn to that will help the couple work through it. There is no time for a therapist to obtain supervision or spend time reflecting on the next steps with a couple. The therapist needs to be very experienced, have a sound therapeutic approach and great process skills to be able to support couples through this intensive process.
Difficulties between the couple may become temporarily amplified. Family secrets may be disclosed, unspoken resentments and old hurts may arise, and despite the therapist’s best efforts, therapy may not work out well. Thus, there are of course no guarantees about how the therapy process will be or what the outcome will be for the couple’s relationship. In addition, Marathon Couples' Therapy, as with couples' therapy in general, has limitations and may be unadvisable in the following situations:
Over the past 6 years I have conducted more than 100 marathon therapy sessions, generally of 2 days duration, and without exception every couple has reported immediate improvement in their relationship upon completion and over 80% have continued to report improved satisfaction, closeness and intimacy, and ability to manage conflict at 12 month follow-up.
Most couples have reinforced the gains they made by attending either some follow-up sessions, either in person or via web based counselling, or by attending an Art and Science of Love couples workshop. These couples invariably report that they have learnt that good marriages take on-going work and attention and they have made the commitment to doing this.
For more information about marathon therapy feel free to contact us by emailing Kylie-Jo – firstname.lastname@example.org.
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