The purpose of this study is to advance theory concerning the experiences of couples and therapists involved in online couple therapy and the meanings they assign to them, with a particular focus on the therapeutic alliance. Using constructivist grounded theory methodology, in-depth semi-structured online interviews were conducted with 36 individuals, including 18 couples who had participated in online couple therapy via videoconference. Additionally, 15 couple and family therapists were interviewed in four online focus groups. Our analysis indicates three dimensions that impact the formation of the therapeutic alliance in online couple therapy: (1) emotional closeness, as a conduit for establishing physical or emotional space; (2) limited care, due to the therapist's difficulty providing comfort and security; and (3) body language, as reflected in the lack of physical presence and the close inspection of the face, at two opposite ends of a continuum. We discuss our findings through the lens of the closeness-distance dynamic, which posits that therapists' ability to regulate themselves depends on their clients' emotional needs. We conclude with implications for clinical practice.
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© 2023 The Authors. Family Process published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Family Process Institute.
- couple therapy
- online therapy
- therapeutic alliance