What is Switch Therapy?

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Never heard of Switch Therapy? Dr. Jessica Griffin and Charles J. Orlando reveal why it may be the future of happy relationships.

What is Switch Therapy?

Charles J. Orlando: Switch Therapy removes people from emotionally damaged situations and partners them with someone going through similar issues. It allows for two positive outcomes: they stop the continuous reinforcement of bad patterns with their partner, and they practice positive behaviors in a clean (or untainted) environment, devoid of judgment and fear.

Dr. Jessica Griffin: Switch Therapy is not an evidence-based treatment but a concept created within the context of Seven Year Switch. Individuals struggling in their marriages are partnered with “experimental spouses” who hold the qualities they think they want in their partner or qualities they hold themselves. Through this out-of-the-box social experiment, couples will ideally strengthen their marriage, or make the difficult decision to part ways.

How does it work?

Dr. Griffin: During the switch therapy process, individuals are charged with the task of focusing on themselves and their marriages while also trying to encourage their new “spouse.” Both spouses need to work hard during the process. This isn’t a vacation from your marriage. This is not “wife swapping.” We do not encourage “hooking up” with your experimental spouse. That said, there are no rules. Each individual decides how seriously to take this process, their marriage and their wish to save it.

Who’s a good candidate for Switch Therapy?

Orlando: Someone who sees that they have disconnected from their partner — and their partner has disconnected from them — but aren’t looking to leave. They’re looking to improve things.

What’s the desired outcome?

Orlando: Perspective, pattern shifting and clarity. When you’re in a situation, it’s not always possible to see what’s wrong or how to fix it. By removing people from a damaging situation, negative behaviors and patterns are also removed. From here, the participants get insights into their and their partner’s behavior, as well as how to shift things. Partnering with a like-minded individual going through a similar process, they get twice the perspective.

Dr. Griffin: As a relationship expert, I believe in love and in marriage. However, I want people to be happy. There are circumstances when love is not enough and the marriage is simply not salvageable. The desired outcome is that our couples leave with stronger, happier and committed marriages, and that those who make the decision to leave can be at peace knowing they did everything they could — including something as radical as participating in this experiment on national television. Making the decision to divorce does not mean that a couple failed at marriage. Saying that divorce means you failed at marriage is akin to saying that if you don’t win the Super Bowl, you fail at football.  

What would you say to critics of Switch Therapy?

Dr. Griffin: The concept of Switch Therapy didn’t exist until the first season of Seven Year Switch and wasn’t any more of a “therapy” than “Wine Therapy” or “Driving Too Fast Therapy.” In my field of psychology, we value evidence-based treatments, which have an established evidence base with the same sort of clinical trials that we use to test medications. There are no randomized controlled clinical trials for Switch Therapy, and it’s not an evidence-based treatment.

That being said, some of the most groundbreaking pioneers of the field of psychology made incredible breakthroughs by trialing radical approaches — some of these approaches raised serious eyebrows at the time, criticism and even disbelief. Yet, without radical innovations leading to what are now the gold standard psychological treatment approaches (for example, behavioral therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy), the field wouldn’t be what it is today. After watching each individual and couple grow over the last two seasons, I was surprised to see how much change can occur in such a short period of time and that, guess what? Under the right conditions, Switch Therapy can work to produce phenomenal results.  

What else were you surprised to learn during the experiment?

Orlando: I was surprised by how quickly Switch Therapy accelerates things that would normally take weeks or months to show themselves. If someone is willing to work on their marriage, the space Switch Therapy provides will speed up their understanding and help them evaluate things faster and with more accuracy. In contrast, if someone is already disconnected or not willing to invest in their marriage, that will also show up instantly.

Dr. Griffin: We typically only get information about what’s happening during the experiment from the participants, because we aren’t always there. If someone is untruthful to me, I don’t find out until I’m watching and am just as baffled as the viewers are! I was surprised at how, with some couples, one spouse was highly invested in the process while the other partner struggled to take the experiment seriously. My observation is that their attitude toward the experiment mirrored their attitude toward their spouse and their marriage, in real life. They didn’t respect this process any more than they respected their spouse. Spouses invested in the experiment benefited from the empowerment and insight they achieved. They were able to find their “voice,” which had been muted during the relationship. Just like in marriage in the real world, success during the switch requires work, negotiation and compromise from both partners.

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