Marital Therapy Benefits Couples (And Insurers)

Posted on March 10, 2012


Marital therapy has health benefits.  In a previous post I mentioned that Gottman found that the number of illnesses a wife would experience during a one year period could be predicted by the number of dismissive remarks (and even dismissive looks) from her husband while working on a task together.  There is something about being affirmed by our partner that promotes health.  The absence of that affirmation is hazardous to our health.  Law & Crane (2001) found that couples who received marital therapy had a 21% reduction in the medical services they utilized over the following six months.  That is a powerful effect.  The health benefit of marital therapy and marital satisfaction is well supported by the data (see also Berk & Taylor, 1984; Denton, Reynolds, Burleson, & Anderson, 1999).

But what about for private insurers?  Is providing coverage for marital therapy cost justified or does it just drive up total insurance costs?  Caldwell, Woolley, & Caldwell (2007) provided analysis on the cost benefit of the reduction in medical service utilization.  Essentially, the effect is a decline in medical costs for the insurer of roughly $3000 per year per couple.  The effect is significant enough that insurers could screen couples for marital distress, provide marital therapy for 25% of those couples identified as distressed, and still reduce their overall costs of coverage.  This included the costs of screening, administration, and the marital therapy.  Insurers would find a return of $1.48 for every $1 spent on screening and treatment.

Let’s see, the people we insure benefit.  Our shareholders benefit.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

Next: Is there a benefit to taxpayers of marital therapy?  What a strange question.


Berk, M., & Taylor, A. (1984). Women and divorce: Health insurance coverage, utilization, and health care expenditures. American Journal of Public Health, 74(11), 1276-1278.

Caldwell, B., Woolley, S., & Caldwell. C. (2007). Preliminary estimates of cost-effectiveness for marital therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(3), 392-405.  Retrieved April 5, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1313201091).

Denton, W., Reynolds, D., Burleson, B., & Anderson, R. (1999). The role of marital status in health service expenditures for psychiatric outpatients. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 25(3), 383-392.

Law, D., & Crane, D. (2000). The influence of marital and family therapy on health care utilization in a health maintenance organization.  Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, 26(3), 353-363.

“I work with individuals, couples, and families to help develop secure connections
and craft manageable solutions.”

More information is available on my website  I am also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats

Scott Wood is a registered marriage and family therapist intern (IMF67385) and is supervised by Dr. Melinda Reinicke, Psychologist (Psy11011).