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The Short Version: Dr. Kathy McMahon, better known as Dr. K, is serious about offering science-based techniques to help couples make informed decisions about their relationship. Her practice, Couples Therapy Inc., employs dozens of therapists who host marriage retreats and provide online counseling to struggling couples from around the world. Most therapists at Couples Therapy Inc. have trained in the renowned Gottman Method, which includes scientifically proven strategies designed for couples, as well as Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.
Couples may seek counseling for a variety of reasons. Some face communication issues, which can result in a lack of trust or discussions that swiftly turn into arguments. Others start keeping secrets from one another, or they don’t know how to share significant issues in their lives.
Still, couples therapy is not a quick fix, and, even if partners want to change their dynamic, they may be unsuccessful. One study set out to analyze the success rates of “chronically and seriously distressed” married couples after receiving couples therapy. Following 26 weeks of treatment, only 48% of those couples had developed happier relationships, and 27% of participants were separated or divorced five years later.
One contributing factor to those numbers could be that clinicians aren’t always equipped to give couples the tools they need to find happiness together.
According to Dr. Kathy McMahon, also known as Dr. K, Owner and President of Couples Therapy Inc., so many of those partnerships fail after therapy because the therapists haven’t been trained in relationship-strengthening psychology.
That’s why Couples Therapy Inc. only deploys methods proven effective in rigorous studies completed by experts, including Doctors John and Julie Gottman, who developed the Gottman Method of couples therapy, and Dr. Sue Johnson who pioneered Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT).
“When I started my practice in 1998, I was fascinated by the work of couples counselor John Gottman,” Dr. K said. “I used the strategies I learned and applied those practices to couples who weren’t getting better. From there, couples started to work together more effectively.”
Today, Couples Therapy Inc. provides couples around the world with the effective counseling they need to not just survive in their relationships, but also thrive.
Couples therapy is one of the most intense forms of psychological evaluation because of the complexity involved. Both partners need to feel comfortable sharing what they want in a relationship while also accepting responsibility for some of the issues in the partnership.
When couples begin working with Couples Therapy Inc., they need to decide if their partnership is worth saving. As statistics have shown, merely signing up for therapy isn’t enough; couples need to put in the work to realize success.
They also need to be on the same page about whether they’re willing to move forward together.
“Even though they have struggles and fights, are they still in love with each other and want to work it out?” Dr. K said.
To decide if a partnership is worth saving, Dr. K starts by asking new clients to describe the time they first met. From there, she has them explain the issues they have in the relationship.
“We start from the beginning by answering the questions including, ‘How well do you understand the problems and the gripes your partner has with you?” she said.
This question encourages each partner to take responsibility for the ways they may have contributed to the relationship’s hostility.
“I learn a lot about what one partner thinks about the other. Someone might say, ‘Sometimes I get irritable and just crack.’ or ‘I know my partner wants me to cook more, and I hate to cook,’” Dr. K said.
From there, she encourages the couple to experiment with what she calls “structured arguments,” which can reveal much more about the underlying relationship dynamic. Dr. K said that she can often determine whether a couple will stay together or get a divorce based on those structured arguments.
But, in the end, she hopes that couples will be motivated to stay together.
“Problems between you and your significant other are a given,” Dr. K said. “We give you the tools to compromise and give a little more back and forth.”
Dr. K didn’t always know that she wanted to be a couples’ therapist. Instead, she began her career with the intention of becoming a generalist — a psychologist who works with clients of all ages.
But she had always been interested in the underlying complexities in relationships.
“I’ve always liked working from a systematic perspective and looking at our relationships with other people,” she explains.
Her career turned to couples therapy when her marriage began to fail. She and her then-husband went to a psychologist who suggested that their marriage was hopeless. She was grateful for this therapist’s honesty and, soon after, was inspired to develop her own counseling practice to help couples make real decisions about their futures.
“I used all the resources and materials available to learn what I could about couples therapy,” Dr. K said.
Many of the clients that come to Couples Therapy Inc. have already tried counseling and failed to see any improvements in their relationships. When couples counseling fails, the therapist often ends up in what Dr. K calls “the role of a referee.” During those sessions, partners each describe something the other does wrong while failing to implicate themselves in relationship struggles.
Instead of battling with her clients, Dr. K uses scientific methods to help improve their relationships. Her first inspiration was the Gottman Method, a practice she and her team of therapists still use today. One of the key takeaways from the method is that 69% of the problems couples have never get resolved; they just find more effective ways of dealing with them.
And Dr. K reminds her clients that every couple has problems; the difference between happy couples and unhappy couples is a matter of mindset.
“What’s the difference between couples who are happy together and miserable? It’s the way they’re approaching those problems,” she said.
Couples that Dr. K and her team work with often fall into the “seriously distressed” category after trying — and failing — with other therapy methods. Those couples often struggle to see the benefits of their relationships, focusing on their problems instead.
With Couples Therapy Inc., they can quickly learn proven strategies for improvement. That’s because most therapy takes place through brief, intense couples retreats held around the world. These private retreats remove couples from their everyday lives and encourage them to work out their problems in a refreshing setting.
The practice has therapists in every region of the U.S. — from New Jersey to Hawaii — as well as in Puerto Rico, South Africa, and Australia.
Before a couple attends a retreat, Couples Therapy Inc. therapists do a critical assessment of their personality, relationship style, and communication strategies.
“We consider the degree to which their problems arise from differences in personality or interests,” Dr. K said. “Is the couple saying the problem is him or the problem is her? Couples may need to change things to relate to each other better.”
When the couple comes to the retreat, they spend the time discussing how they want their relationship to change. Afterward, the couple can continue to work on the skills they learned through online therapy with the same practitioner they met during the retreat.
Couples Therapy Inc. is effective because it gives couples tools to change their lives and solve their relationship issues.
“Couples therapists don’t just switch problems around; they help couples create a dialogue about what they need to change,” Dr. K said. “The feedback we’re giving couples is focused on the specific parameters they need to change, and on the work they need to do.”