Past Research Projects

Evaluation of a Couples Intervention Program for Domestic Abuse
Dr. Norman Epstein and Dr. Carol Werlinich

Dr. Epstein, Dr. Werlinich, and Couple and Family Therapy students are conducting a research study to evaluate the effectiveness of types of couple therapy for couples who have experienced problems with conflict and anger control and have experienced psychological and mild to moderate physical aggression in their relationship. In this Couples Abuse Prevention Program (CAPP), couples who seek assistance from the Center for Healthy Families for a variety of relationship issues are assessed for partner aggression and are randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups. The two treatments are the usual couple therapy provided at the University of Maryland's Center for Healthy Families or a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) protocol designed specifically to address partner aggression. The CBT approach is designed to strengthen couples' skills for managing and reducing conflict and to enhance positive couple interactions, thereby reducing relationship risk factors for abuse. The treatment focuses on communication, conflict management, anger management, modification of negative cognitions about one's partner, relationship recovery from prior domestic abuse, and enhancement of relationship strengths and satisfaction.

Relationship Standards and Marital Conflict in Mainland Chinese and American Couples 
Dr. Norman Epstein 
Dr. Epstein established a collaborative cross-cultural research program with Dr. Fu-Guo Chen of Shanghai Second Medical University, China, investigating sources of stress, conflict, communication patterns, and personal relationship standards in U.S. and mainland Chinese couples. Dr. Chen spent 18 months as a visiting scholar in the Department of Family Science, working with Dr. Epstein. Dr. Epstein's visits to Shanghai Second Medical University in the fall of 1997 and in the spring of 2000 were further steps in the collaborative research and training of mental health professionals. Graduate students are actively involved in ongoing studies comparing Chinese and American couples, as well as family interaction and child adjustment in Chinese families. International collaboration in family therapy research and training with Chinese scholars continues. Dr. Xiaoyi Fong of Beijing Namal University, a 10-month Fullbright Scholar, is focusing on couple abuse as well as adolescent test anxiety and depression in China.

Common Factors Influencing the Outcomes of Couple Therapy

Dr. Norman Epstein

A number of theoretical models for conceptualizing and implementing couple therapy have been developed over the years in the Couple and Family Therapy field. Although some approaches became popular among clinicians in the absence of any empirical studies investigating their effectiveness (often because they were disseminated by charismatic leaders in the field), increasingly researchers have been conducting studies to investigate their effectiveness. Outcome studies have examined not only treatment effectiveness for improving relationship distress overall; their effectiveness in reducing specific problems that couples present (e.g., substance abuse, depression, partner aggression) have been studied as well.  Earlier studies typically compared effects of a particular model of couple therapy to a no-treatment or waiting-list control condition. Those studies have tended to demonstrate positive effects of therapy. The second major trend has involved studies that compared effects of different couple therapy models. On the whole those studies have shown similar degrees of effectiveness of alternative therapy models. This has raised the question of whether there are model-specific effects of couple therapies, based on theoretically “active ingredients” in each model. Alternatively, some writers have proposed that most effects of therapies are due to common factors that operate across models. Common factors include characteristics of client couples (e.g., their motivation for therapy), characteristics of therapists (e.g., warmth, empathy), factors involved in a positive therapeutic alliance between therapist and clients (e.g., shared goals for the couple, rapport), and characteristics of interventions that overlap across models  (e.g., actively inducing partners to change negative interaction patterns). Dr. Epstein and his faculty and student colleagues are conducting studies on common factors in couple therapy, using data from client couples who have sought therapy for a variety of relationship issues. Data regarding characteristics of couples and therapists, as well as the types of behavior exhibited by therapists and client couples during therapy sessions, are examined as predictors of therapy outcomes.