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What is a Model Approach to Couples Counseling?

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Couples in abusive relationships often want to maintain their relationship, for a variety of reasons:


  • Have children in common
  • Continue to experience mutual affection and love
  • Lack the financial means to live separately
  • Do not believe in divorce

The Domestic Violence Focused Couples Treatment (DVFCT) is a model treatment program that has been shown to be effective in reducing marital aggression and recidivism, and increasing marital satisfaction.

To enroll in the program, both partners must want couples counseling and the counselor must believe it is safe to do so. Careful screening is essential and safety considerations remain primary. The DVFCT features:

  • No-violence contract
  • Co-therapists
  • Safety plan
  • Negotiated time-out
  • Ongoing assessment whether any violence occurred during the prior week
  • Ongoing assessment of the appropriateness of couple treatment

The Domestic Violence Focused Couples Treatment program follows a two-phase approach:

A 6-week Pre-Conjoint Treatment Program with male-only or female-only groups that covers these topics:

  • Joining, listening, and relationship-building
  • Honoring the problem
  • Introduction to domestic violence
  • Mindfulness and safety planning
  • Negotiated time-out
  • Motivational interviewing about alcohol and drug use

A 12-week Conjoint Treatment Program for couples:

  • One couple with two therapists, or 4-6 couples with 2-3 co-therapists
  • Solution-Focused Therapy – focus on skill-development for safety and violence reduction
  • Careful control of emotional intensity
  • Use community resources as necessary
  • Risk and relapse are constantly monitored
  • Suspend or abandon Conjoint Treatment if necessary



(1) Stith SM, Rosen KH, McCollum EE, Thomsen CJ. Treating intimate partner violence within intact couple relationships: Outcomes of multi-couple versus individual couple therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy Vol. 30, pp. 305-318. 2004.

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