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

1 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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