Individual Motivation To Seek Couple Therapy:  An Application of the Health Belief Model

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Virginia Tech


Despite the well-established effectiveness of couple therapy for reducing distress and improving relationship satisfaction (Cohen, 1988; Christensen and Heavey, 1999), less than a fourth of couples seek couple therapy prior to divorce (Albrecht, Bahr, and Goodman, 1983; Wolcott, 1986). Rather, the majority of couples wait over 5 years before seeking therapy (Johnson et al., 2002). Barriers to seeking individual therapy are well established and are associated with decreased rates of therapy attendance and the negative consequences of untreated distress and mental health problems (Corrigan, 2004; Killaspy, Banerjee, King, and Lloyd, 2000; Vogel, Wade and Hackler, 2007). It is unclear as to whether the same barriers exist for individuals who are seeking couple therapy. This study examined the applicability of the Health Belief Model (HBM; Rosenstock, 1966), with the addition of demographic characteristics (gender, income, education, and religion) and contextualizing individual factors (relational distress and perceived stigma), to predict an individual in a committed relationship's (N =158) motivation to seek couple therapy. When controlling for demographic variables and contextualizing factors, the Health Belief Model factors of lower barriers and lower benefits were predictive of higher motivation to seek couple therapy. Throughout all iterations of the model, lower income and lower relational distress were also associated with higher rates of motivation to seek couple therapy. This research indicates that barriers, including high levels of relational distress, impact an individual's motivation to seek couple therapy. Further investigation of the application of the HBM factors to mental health, including research into more systemic measurements of these factors, is needed. Future research should also identify other potentially contextualizing factors, as the overall model accounted for a relatively small amount of variation in the individual's motivation to seek couple therapy.



Couple Therapy, Motivation to Change, Barriers, Distress, Stigma, Health Belief Model