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J Fam Psychol. 2011 Oct;25(5):770-4. doi: 10.1037/a0025239.

Premature termination in couple therapy with veterans: definitions and prediction of long-term outcomes.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Miami, FL, USA.


Premature termination (PT) has been identified as widespread in individual, family, and couple therapy. Unfortunately, research on PT utilizes numerous definitions of PT without providing guidance on which definition may be most clinically useful. The current study investigated seven definitions of PT (three based on therapist ratings and four based on quantitative measures) utilizing a sample of 177 couples seeking treatment at two Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers. Results indicated that PT occurred in 50-80% of couples; however, agreement between the definitions of PT was generally only in the slight to fair range, making it difficult to determine whether a particular couple was ready to terminate treatment. Additionally, many commonly used definitions of PT were unrelated to level or maintenance of relationship functioning following treatment. In contrast, two definitions of PT (ending treatment in the distressed range and therapist-rated likelihood of future unhappiness) significantly predicted larger decreases in relationship satisfaction during the 18 months following therapy, as well as lower levels of satisfaction and relationship stability 18 months after termination. Additionally, long-term relationship functioning was especially poor when both these definitions of PT were met, suggesting that both qualitative and quantitative definitions should inform decisions about termination in couple therapy.

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