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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A comprehensive discourse analysis of a successful case of experiential systemic couples therapy Newman, Jennifer Anne


This study investigated how a therapist and clients created couple change over the course of 15 sessions of Experiential Systemic Therapy (ExST) for the marital treatment of alcohol dependency. The aim of this research was to explore how change occurred during a single case of successful ExST and to refine and expand ExST theory. ExST has been shown to be an effective treatment for couple recovery from alcohol dependence yet little research has focused on how change occurs in ExST. The case selected for analysis was an exemplar of successful ExST couples therapy. The case met several criteria for success including therapist and client satisfaction with therapy, the cessation of alcoholic drinking, increased marital satisfaction at posttest and follow-up periods, and evidence of in-session couple change. Two therapy episodes containing relational novelty (couple change) were analyzed using the Comprehensive Discourse Analysis procedure. The results of this study highlighted the existence of a subtype of relational novelty called syncretic relational novelty. Syncretic change refers to the generation of intimacy by therapist and couple where initially there existed disparate beliefs and behaviour that isolated system members. The study found that the couple’s distance oriented beliefs and practices were reconciled and intimacy was enhanced through the employment of intense experiential activities and the provision of a collaborative therapeutic atmosphere. These two activities fostered increased couple intimacy by encouraging clients to engage one another through self disclosure, empathy, shared vulnerability, increased cooperation and greater personal awareness. Couple intimacy was fostered during experiential activity through a carefully paced intensification of clients’ thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. In addition, intimacy was facilitated by the therapist when she accepted clients’ experiences and adopted clients’ language styles. As well as working collaboratively, the therapist acted as a therapeutic guide interceding during harmful spousal interactions, altering the therapy agenda at client request, promoting joint decision-making and valuing marginalized client experience. Recommendations based on these findings were made for the refinement and expansion of ExST theory.

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