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Discourse Analysis of Constructions of Couple Therapy



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Under-utilization, premature termination, and lack of between-session engagement have been discussed in the couple therapy literature in terms of how they negatively impact the course and outcome of couple therapy. The goal of the present research was to investigate the discourses that people use when (1) constructing meaning about the act of engaging in couple therapy; (2) constructing what constitutes a positive couple therapy experience; and (3) constructing the influence of couple therapy on daily living. Discourse analysis, with a particular focus on interpretative repertoires (Potter & Wetherell, 1987), was used as the methodology for the three studies reported here. The data included eight semi-structured interviews with individuals who had participated in couple therapy and postings from three different online discussion forums. In study one, two interpretative repertoires -- the “relationship breakdown” repertoire and the “commitment” repertoire -- were constructed from the interview data. The premise of these repertoires is that couples seek couple therapy when they believe their relationship is broken and when they are committed to remaining in the relationship and resolving the problems. I argue that these interpretative repertoires can help us understand the decision or reluctance to enter couple therapy. In study two, one interpretative repertoire -- “the shoe must fit” repertoire -- was constructed from the interview and online data. This repertoire suggests that a particular “fit” between the couple and their therapist needs to be present in order for the couple to have a positive therapy experience. I argue that this interpretative repertoire facilitates understanding the decision to remain in or drop out of couple therapy. In study three, the interpretative repertoire “therapy life is not real life” was constructed from the interview data. According to this repertoire, couple therapy runs alongside daily life, but rarely influences it significantly. In this study, I argue that the “therapy life is not real life” repertoire helps us to better understand between-session engagement in couple therapy. Conclusions and implications for therapists and researchers are discussed.



couple therapy, interpretative repertoires, qualitative research, clinical research, discourse analysis, process of couple therapy, client constructions



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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