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Tag Archives: Research

Tell Me Again What You Think of Me: Depression and Reassurance-Seeking in Couples

Man comforting his sad mourning friendApproximately 18.1 million Americans adults suffer from depression each year.[1] They experience symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, persistent feelings of sadness, disinterest in once-pleasurable activities, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, and even thoughts of death.  In addition to these symptoms, depression also negatively affects communication in close interpersonal relationships, such as with friends, partners, and family members.

For example, depressed individuals are more likely to engage in reassurance-seeking behavior: asking for affirmation that he or she is lovable, worthy, and valued.[2]  Although most people ask for reassurance occasionally, individuals with depression tend to seek reassurance persistently and repeatedly, even after their partners have already offered it.[3] Some experts even suggest that excessive requests for interpersonal approval may be both a cause and a consequence of depression,[4] due in part to depressed individuals’ tendency to doubt or dismiss positive feedback from others.

A group of researchers at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, led by Dr. Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, studied the links between reassuring-seeking behavior and depression among couples.  In collaboration with colleagues at the University of Illinois and Michigan State University, the researchers investigated the communication behavior of 69 couples seeking treatment for relationship problems and depression.  Results of the study, which was funded by the Randy Gerson Memorial Research Award from the American Psychological Foundation, indicated that depressive symptoms were a primary predictor of reassurance-seeking behavior in couples.[5]  The researchers’ next step is to begin testing interventions designed to help reduce excessive reassurance-seeking, and increase positive communication and validation, among couples seeking treatment for depression.

Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, PhD,  is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, with expertise in couples therapy, premarital counseling, depression and anxiety disorders, infertility and adoption. Additionally, she maintains a clinical research program, with a primary focus on the associations between couples’ interpersonal behavior, relationship distress, and individual psychopathology. 

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester.  The Institute also conducts research which is incorporated into both our Clinical Service and Education Programs. Learn more about our Depression Treatment Program. Visit our website to learn more about our services.


[1] Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 617-627.

[2] Joiner, T. E., Jr., Metalsky, G. I., Katz, J., & Beach, S. R. H. (1999). Depression and excessive reassurance-seeking. Psychological Inquiry, 10, 269-278.

[3] Pettit, J. W., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2006). Chronic depression. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

[4] Haeffel, G. J., Voelz, Z. R., & Joiner, T. E., Jr. (2007). Vulnerability to depressive symptoms: Clarifying the role of excessive reassurance seeking and perceived social support in an interpersonal model of depression. Cognition and Emotion, 21, 681-688.

[5] Knobloch, L.K., Knobloch-Fedders, L.M., & Durbin, C.E. (2011).  Depressive symptoms and relational uncertainty as predictors of reassurance-seeking and negative feedback-seeking in conversation.  Communication Monographs, 78, 437-462.

Same Love: Do the Health Benefits of Relationships Extend to LGB Individuals?

Gay Couple in Love“Findings suggest that the presence of a partnered relationship confers several health benefits to LGB individuals,” writes Steve Du Bois, in his Clinical Science Insight white paper, “Same Love: Do the Health Benefits of Relationships Extend to LGB Individuals?”.

This white paper discusses if the health benefits heterosexuals gain from their intimate relationship are also experienced by LGB relationship. Research on the health benefits of LGB relationships is not as robust as the research on the benefits for heterosexual relationships but there is a dedicated focus to learn more.

Visit our website to read the entire white paper.



Veterans & Relationships: How can we help?

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military_coupleVeterans have their own unique opportunities and challenges when it comes to mental health. A current study at The Family Institute looks at what couples face when they’re reunited after deployment.

From researcher Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, PhD:

“There is an urgent need for research to inform prevention and intervention services for couples during the transition from deployment to reintegration,” Dr. Knobloch-Fedders said. “Experts believe incorporating a service member back into domestic life can be more demanding for military families than deployment itself.”

Read more about this important study in a previous TFI Talks post.

Couples Therapy Is Effective — For Both Men and Women

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male_female_symbolsWe recently posted an article written by Institute Clinician Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW that asked the question “Does Couples Therapy Really Work?” Today we’re taking another look at that very question — this time with research that comes out of The Family Institute.

In a new study, researchers at The Family Institute studied the effectiveness of couple therapy, both for improving relationship adjustment (the quality of the couple’s relationship), as well as for enhancing individual functioning (the ability of each partner to manage well in daily life). The results of this study indicated that both these factors saw a positive response to couples therapy–for both genders.

Our winter edition of Institute News features an article by Lynne Knobloch-Fedders, PhD, Family Institute Director of Research and Kovler Scholar, about this very study. From her article:

Overall, men and women showed remarkable similarities in how they changed over the course of treatment. Although women began treatment reporting more relationship dysfunction than men, men and women did not differ in their changes over time in relationship or individual adjustment. This similarity suggests that couples in treatment improve in unison, with similar pathways and rates of change. 

Visit our website to read the full article and to learn more about our couples counseling services.

Long Distance Relationships: A new research frontier

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long_distance_mapAt The Family Institute, relationships are our passion. Throughout the month of February, we’re exploring all things couples: How couples can improve the quality of their relationships, how couples counseling can be a helpful tool for couples at all stages of their partnerships and how relationships impact our overall mental health. Family Institute experts not only treat couples via our couples therapy services, but also conduct research in an effort to help couples from all walks of life have stronger, healthier relationships.

Today, we look at the Institute’s Relationship and Health Study that examines the health benefits of long distance relationships. This study is led by co-investigators Steve Du Bois, PhD, LCP, the Institute’s Morgan Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow and Tamara Goldman Sher, Family Institute affiliate. Research has already indicated that being in a close-distance relationship is associated with better health. The Institute’s Relationship and Health Study aims to determine whether the same applies to long distance relationships.

Our winter edition of Institute News, our print newsletter, features an article by Dr. Du Bois discussing this exciting new research initiative:

This research will extend the existing research on couples, and will hopefully start a new branch of research — one that investigates long-distance relationships as they relate to individual health. Additionally, our findings may shed light on core, critical ingredients for successful relationships — those qualities that relate to positive individual health even without the luxury of abundant in-person time.

Read another blog post from Dr. Du Bois about how to keep long-distance relationship strong on TFI Talks.

Visit our website to read the full article, or to learn more about the Relationship and Health Study.

TFI’s Epstein Center Goes to Denmark

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In June of this year, Family Institute president William Pinsof, PhD, ABPP, and  Jacob Goldsmith, PhD, staff therapist at the Institute and assistant clinical director for the Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation Center for Psychotherapy Change, traveled to Denmark to participate in a conference. We caught up with Dr. Goldsmith and asked him to tell TFI Talks about his experiences.



Dr. Goldsmith

TFI TALKS: Tell us a little about the conference itself and what you and Dr. Pinsof presented.

JG: I recently attended the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR) Conference in Copenhagen. SPR is a great organization with a focus on all sorts of psychotherapy research, and presenting there allows us to reach a diverse audience of psychotherapy researchers. When SPR meets in Europe it is well attended by academics and clinicians who might not otherwise make it to the conference. As a result, it is an opportunity for us to present to a new and wider audience.

Our panel presentation included brief talks by William Pinsof, myself, and Terje Tilden, our colleague from Modum Bad hospital in Norway. We each addressed different aspects of research using The STIC. I focused on my recent findings about the client-therapist relationship, or psychotherapy alliance. I am conducting ongoing analyses to explore what happens when client-therapist relationships have sudden problems. In this presentation I discussed the relative prevalence with which such problems occur in individual, couple, and family therapy.

TFI TALKS: How do you think the Epstein Center and the STIC are generally received in the field at large?

JG: On the whole, I find that our work is very well received by the field at large. After our presentation we received several inquiries about using The STIC either for research or within a clinic. I think many clinicians and researchers ‘get’ the idea of the STIC at a basic level right away. But what’s really fun is watching people realize just how powerful the STIC can be as a clinical tool. By the end of the presentation people tend to come up and talk about how The STIC could impact their own work.

TFI TALKS: What impact do you think these sorts of presentations have on the STIC and the Institute at large?

JG: First, these presentations raise the profile of the STIC. A broad research audience gets to hear about what we are doing, and The STIC becomes a bigger part of the ongoing discussion about how to improve psychotherapy. Perhaps even more importantly, we often make connections with researchers and students who wish to use The STIC – our goal, of course, is to parlay these initial meetings into partnerships, to continue the validation and dissemination of The STIC, and to cement its use worldwide.

By raising our research profile, and garnering attention for the STIC, our hope is to raise the profile of The Family Institute as a whole. Our talks are well attended, and many people get to hear about the work that we are doing, as researchers and clinicians. I believe this exposure will increase the likelihood that when therapists around the world think about referring a client in Chicago, they will think about The Family Institute.

Why Mindfulness?

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Mindfulness has become a major topic of conversation in our culture–it’s meaning, it’s benefits, and the ways individuals can incorporate the practice into their relationships, careers and everyday lives. What is it about this age-old technique that has captured the attention of so many?

Today we’re posting an article from our Fall 2013 newsletter Institute News to explore how mindfulness relates to mental health and therapy. Written by The Family Institute’s Director of the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapy Program, Michael Maslar, PsyD, the article defines mindfulness, discusses the ways it can impact health and relationships, and the different therapies that use mindfulness-based principles to help people with a variety of problems.


Mindfulness: Enhancing Lives

Over the last few decades, researchers and therapists have realized the benefits of an age-old meditative practice called mindfulness. We can define this form of mind-body medicine as focusing awareness on the present moment in an accepting way. This simple yet effective way of getting to know ourselves, our behaviors and our relationships more intimately can have important effects. Research shows that practicing mindfulness can have a range of physical and psychological benefits including reduced stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and chronic pain.

Mindfulness practice can also improve relationships. Increased marital satisfaction, better communication, improved empathy and compassion, increased acceptance, better awareness of interactional patterns, a deeper sense of safety in relationships, and increased experience of unity with others have all been associated with mindfulness.

Here at The Family Institute, we offer a number of therapies that use mindfulness practice, behavioral skills derived from mindfulness, and principles based in mindfulness to help people with a variety of problems.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches people a collection of behavioral skills to address multiple, complex problems that have not responded well to other therapies, including self-injury, suicidality, eating disorders and depression.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps people live life more full in the present moment, be better able to act on important values, and be less focused on painful thoughts and feelings. ACT is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety, among other problems.

In our own research, we have found family-based DBT can help teenagers with multiple problems and their parents reduce their symptoms. In another study, groups of dementia patients and their caregivers who learned mindfulness practice showed reduced depression and stress, and improved quality of life.

Together, Mindfulness and Behavioral Therapies help to enhance the lives of individuals, families, and couples struggling to cope with intense emotions and impulsive or difficult-to-control behaviors.


For more information on the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapies Program at The Family Institute, please visit our website.

The Family Institute also offers two continuing education programs involving mindfulness:

Advanced Intensive Training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy: This intensive, three-day training will take place Wednesday, July 23rd through Friday, July 25th. Training includes:

  • Strengthening Skills for Teaching DBT Skills in Group
  • Treating Secondary Emotions and Emotion Dys-Regulation
  • Targeting Shame and Self-Criticism
  • Strengthening Skills for Weaving DBT Skills into Individual Therapy
  • Including Parents and Partners in Treatment
  • Targeting Teammate Therapy-Interfering Behaviors in Consultation Team

Visit our webpage for more information.

Cultivating Wisdom in Relationships: The Mindfulness & Behavior Therapies program at The Family Institute at Northwestern University and the Family Action Network (FAN) are proud to present this Insight Dialogue Retreat, the first of its kind in Chicago.

Date: June 17-22, 2014

Time: Check-in for this 5-day residential retreat will begin on June 17 at 4:00 p.m. On June 22, the last session ends at 12:00 p.m., followed by lunch and check-out by 1:00 p.m.
Location: Cenacle Retreat and Conference Center, 513 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago, IL
Cost: $645 – shared accommodations; $745 – private accommodations
Dana: We invite participants to offer dana (free will donation) at the retreat to support the teacher and the teachings

For more information, contact Michelle Gossett at 847-733-4300, ext. 780 or

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