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Book Reviews   |    
Brief Therapy for Couples: Helping Partners Help Themselves
Reviewed by Nathan S. Keedy, L.I.C.S.W.
Psychiatric Services 2005; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.56.10.1321
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by W. Kim Halford, Ph.D.; New York, Guilford Press, 2001, 279 pages, $31.50 softcover

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If you are a couples therapist seeking an enduring and rewarding relationship with a book that provides a fresh model for flexible short-term couples therapy, Brief Therapy for Couples: Helping Partners Help Themselves may be a very eligible match for you. The author is W. Kim Halford, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology in the School of Applied Psychology at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Halford brings to this book many years of research and direct clinical practice with couples. Halford's experience is evident in the richness of detail and comprehensiveness of his work. Although I am an older and skeptical clinician, after reading his book I was eager to begin applying Halford's model to my practice.

Working within the general school of behavioral and cognitive therapies for couples, the author calls for a "new model of couple therapy," one that does not simply apply behavioral and cognitive skills to couples but that enables couples to change themselves. Building on behavioral self-control theory, Halford calls this self-change approach "self-regulatory couples therapy" (SRCT). He proposes, with some research support, that self-change produces greater relationship satisfaction than when change is directed by the therapist. Self-change is an exciting idea in this book, and Halford takes it and seems to transform much of the tenor of behavioral and cognitive therapies.

The book begins with a research-based description of the nature of couple's problems and the life events, individual characteristics, and contextual factors that can affect a couple. A useful review of several evidence-supported couples therapies follows. Halford has adapted many of these methods to his own approach. Then, after a clear and detailed description of his approach, Halford takes the reader step by step through applying it to clinical practice, and he includes a sufficient number of case examples.

From the beginning of therapy, SRCT "shapes the couple's attention to self-directed change" and offers three different levels of therapy, depending on how capable the couple is for self-change. Self-change depends on what Halford calls "metacompentencies" within a couple. Metacompetencies include such things as "self-appraisal, setting self-change goals, implementing self-change strategies, and evaluating the effects of the self-change efforts." If a couple has sufficient metacompetencies, brief (two to six sessions) self-directed therapy is offered. For couples who cannot self-appraise and self-select goals or who lack certain relationship skills, one or two additional levels of therapy are offered first. Halford's chapters on these other levels are rich in invaluable methods and techniques for working with more distressed couples. However, the ultimate goal of therapy for any couple is the development of adequate metacompetencies for self-change.

Brief Therapy for Couples succeeds nicely in being an understandable presentation of SRCT theory and in providing a very user-friendly clinician's manual. Numerous details, common therapy pitfalls, and problem areas—for example, domestic violence and affairs—are well covered. Many self-report inventories are recommended. This book leaves little for the reader to fill in. One could use the book just for its richness of techniques. But that would be missing its greater value, which is a clear presentation of a brief but comprehensive and flexible form of couples therapy that aims to develop in two people their own ability to change their relationship.

Mr. Keedy is a staff psychotherapist and supervisor in the outpatient psychiatry department of UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

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