Department of Family Therapy Dissertations and Applied Clinical Projects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Family Therapy


Ron Chenail

Committee Member

Tommie V. Boyd

Committee Member

Douglas G. Flemmons


The purpose of this study is to develop an interpretative understanding of how discursive therapists’ linguistic actions enhance the couple alliance. Additionally, this study includes an exploration of whether these models hold up to a common factors conversation in the practice of couples therapy. The couple alliance is the central relationship in couples therapy. Previous research suggests that therapists’ actions might have an effect on enhancing this alliance by creating a dyadic orientation. In postmodern/discursive models of practice, therapists’ actions have gone mostly unexplored, leaving therapists with little understanding of what is done in the process of couples therapy that enhances the couple alliance and creates a dyadic orientation. Results from a Conversation Analysis of couple’s cases in Narrative Therapy, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, and Collaborative Language Therapy suggest the linguistic actions of discursive therapists appear mostly congruent with the claims they make regarding couples therapy. These actions may produce an enhanced couple alliance based on the empirically supported characteristics of a strong couple alliance. Findings also support model-dependent common factors of discursive couples therapy. In all three approaches the couple alliance appears to be enhanced by: (a) developing a symmetrical structure of the dialogue, (b) developing a contextual understanding of the self and the partner, (c) expanding the changes to the larger system, and (d) using thematic summaries. These findings have implications for practice and training in discursive couples therapy. Recommendations for future research include utilizing deductive reasoning in outcome studies to explore the effectiveness of a discursive couples therapy common factors approach to enhance the couple alliance.

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