Cognitive-behavioral and emotion-focused couple therapy: Similarities and differences

Guy Bodenmann, Mirjam Kessler, Rebekka Kuhn, Lauren Hocker, Ashley K. Randall

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    2 Scopus citations


    Background: Couples and families often seek therapy to deal with relational distress, which is a result of external or internal factors of the relationship. Two approaches are acknowledged to be most effective in dealing with relationship distress or psychological disorders in couples: (a) cognitive behavioral couple therapy with new directions (CBCT) and (b) emotion-focused couple therapy (EFCT). In this article we investigate how much CBCT and EFCT really differ with regard to working with emotions, which is claimed to be a major focus of EFCT, and whether there exist significant differences in efficacy between these two approaches. Method: This article critically reviews the theoretical background, process, techniques and outcomes associated with CBCT and EFCT in an effort to challenge the assumptions noted above. Results: There is no evidence that EFCT is more emotion-focused than CBCT. Both approaches were repeatedly examined with RCT studies with follow-ups. In sum, no significant differences in effect size were found between CBCT and EFCT. Conclusion: CBCT and EFCT are both effective in reducing couples' distress.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article numbere2741
    JournalClinical Psychology in Europe
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Sep 2020


    • Cognitive behavioral couple therapy
    • Couple therapy
    • Efficacy
    • Emotion-focused couple therapy

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Clinical Psychology
    • Psychiatry and Mental health


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