Baucom, Donald H. – Research
Thank you for your interest in UNC’s clinical program and your interest in my research. I know that literature searches can be behind in informing you about faculty members’ current work, so let me tell you a bit about my current research program.
My research, teaching, and clinical involvement all flow from my major professional interests involving (a) intimate relationships such as marriage, (b) psychotherapy, and (c) the integration of those two areas. I have a passion for work in these areas, and I attempt to involve graduate students in a variety of ways in these domains so that they can develop their own careers in ways that are rewarding for them and also benefit society.
For several decades, I have been intrigued by trying to understand how people develop the important close relationships in their lives, and how these potential sources of joy and support can unexpectedly become major stressors as these relationships deteriorate. I study relationships from a broad cognitive-behavioral perspective and have spent many years observing how partners in a relationship interact with each other and how they think about and interpret these interactions. This involves such strategies as bringing couples into our laboratory to watch them interact and code their behaviors, obtaining self-report measures from community couples through the internet, and collecting daily diary reports through automated telephone dial-in systems. Thus, we use a variety of approaches to try to understand the complex phenomena involved in couples’ relationships over their life span, ranging from dating couples to newlyweds to aging couples.
My major reason for trying to understand intimate relationships is to have an empirical basis for developing and evaluating a variety of interventions for couples in different contexts. That is, I conduct psychotherapy outcome research with couples. During my research career spanning more than 30 years, I have helped to develop the theoretical, empirical, and clinical base for cognitive-behavioral couple therapy for assisting distressed couples. In several treatment outcome investigations, I have demonstrated the effectiveness of these interventions; these findings along with those of other investigators have made cognitive-behavioral couple therapy the most well validated treatment for distressed couples. I also am strongly committed to translating these interventions that I have developed into practical guides for practicing therapists. Therefore, in addition to publishing empirical findings, I have co-authored two books for therapists detailing how to conduct cognitive-behavioral couple therapy.
In addition, I have a strong research interest in a particularly traumatic form of relationship distress– infidelity. Along with colleagues elsewhere, we will soon begin an intervention study for couples in which one partner has had a recent affair; this will build on a treatment we have developed and piloted to demonstrate initial validity for this treatment. We also recently completed a self-help book for couples experiencing infidelity, based on our empirical findings in this area. We currently are completing a treatment manual to train clinicians in assisting couples experiencing this most difficult problem.
Couples and Individual Functioning: Health and Psychopathology
More recently, I have taken what I have learned about healthy and maladaptive relationships and applied those findings to a variety of specific contexts. For example, I am quite interested in how relationship functioning and each partner’s psychological and physical well-being/distress interact and affect each other. As a result, I have been involved in a number of treatment studies exploring one partner’s health issues in a relationship context. This has involved a wide variety of couple-based intervention studies on different types of cancer, cardiovascular difficulties, arthritis, and smoking during pregnancy.
At present I am in the midst of a large scale treatment study offering a couple-based intervention, called CanThrive, for couples in which the female partner has breast cancer. This is a two-site study at UNC and Duke, and we also are collaborating with colleagues in Germany on a similar investigation study there.
Similar to my interest in health and relationship functioning, I also am interested in how individual psychopathology and relationship functioning influence each other. Related to these interests, I am beginning two new couple treatment studies, involving individual psychopathology. First, along with Cindy Bulik and Jennifer Kirby at UNC, we will soon begin a treatment study for couples in which one of the adult partners has anorexia. Similarly, in collaboration with Jon Abramowitz at UNC, I am beginning a couple-based intervention study for couples in which one partner has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Consistent with these interests, along with a colleague in Germany I recently completed a therapist manual on assisting couples in which one partner is experiencing psychopathology.
All of my treatment studies in this area are based on the notion that individuals with health and psychological concerns can make better progress if they have the assistance and support of loved ones, such as a partner or spouse. In addition, psychopathology and medical problems can create significant stress for a couple’s relationship, and the couple must learn how to adapt to that stress.
Whereas the above interests focus on relationship and individual difficulties, I also am interested in how couples develop optimal relationships and can prevent the development of relationship discord. Therefore, I am conducting a longitudinal study exploring the impact of a prevention or education program, called BOOST, for engaged couples. We offer weekend workshops to engaged couples to help them get their relationships off to a good start and then follow the progress of their marriages for five years.
My primary teaching interests at the graduate level are reflected in my research interests. Thus, I teach graduate level courses both in couple therapy and individual therapy, largely from a cognitive-behavioral perspective. I teach graduate students how to assist couples through the Couples Clinic that I help to run at UNC. This is a two semester practicum that involves the integration of theory, research, and clinical application of interventions to assist couples in a variety of contexts. For students who have a particular interest in couples, some of them assist me with running the clinic as they become more advanced students. As a result, they learn how to develop and operate a couple therapy clinic, should they enter academia or another setting where this would be valued. I also provide students with the opportunity to learn how to develop and run intervention and prevention programs for couples, such as those described above, gathering empirical data on the efficacy of these interventions while providing needed clinical services.
I also enjoy teaching a graduate seminar on empirically supported interventions with adults. This course teaches students about the empirical support for various therapeutic interventions with adult individuals, along with an introduction and exposure to how to implement these techniques with different client populations. My approach to psychotherapy involves understanding the theoretical basis for various interventions, helping to develop or be aware of the empirical status of these interventions, and learning how to provide these interventions in a thoughtful, sophisticated manner. I attempt to pass these same values, knowledge, and skills on to the students in my courses.
I have maintained my own clinical work with couples for over 30 years, and I find it serves as an excellent source of research ideas and is essential for me to provide high-quality clinical supervision. I enjoy supervising students in the Couples Clinic, as well as therapists involved in our various treatment outcome studies. I also get fulfillment from offering a variety of clinical training workshops to professionals outside of academia, focusing on various applications of couple-based interventions.
WORKING WITH GRADUATE STUDENTS
Working with graduate students and young professionals is one of the most rewarding aspects of my professional life. I view them as junior colleagues in training and involve them in all areas of my professional life described above. For example, graduate students typically are involved in all of my research studies, at times helping to develop treatments, serving as therapists, coding couples’ interactions, and conducting assessments. Frequently students develop research hypotheses within the context of these projects which they then pursue; other students developing research questions outside of any ongoing studies, and this can lead to our lab conducting new investigations. Not only do graduate students take the courses that I teach, but they also assist in these as well as teachers. Frequently more advanced graduate students help me to conduct the couple therapy clinic, and at times they help to teach my adult psychotherapy course as well. I also believe that it is important for students to get to know other researchers in the couple field. It is common for students working with me to be involved with collaborators elsewhere in the US and in other countries. At times we make international trips to visit other researchers and present our work, and we frequently have researchers from other universities visiting our lab. Students in our lab typically attend and present at national conferences, along with international presentations as well. Within our own lab, students have the opportunity to learn from three faculty members with expertise in couple research, including Drs. Jennifer Kirby and Tina Gremore, in addition to me.
Like almost everything of value in life, I believe that graduate study and the profession of clinical psychology are demanding. I also find the study of relationships and psychotherapy to be extremely rewarding and a great deal of fun. Just as in all relationships, the “match” between adviser and student is important, and I hope the above information is helpful to you as you explore where you might most productively pursue this next stage of your career development.