Online program gets to the heart of the matter

By Kelly Montoya

Online program gets to the heart of the matter

By Kelly Montoya
A website designed to help couples improve their relationships offers support and ways to reduce communication conflict, partner violence, and potential break ups.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, online searches for “best Valentine’s date ideas” and “Valentine’s gifts” are on the rise. Coincidently, phrases such as “What does a healthy relationship look like?” and “How to save your relationship” are also commonly searched.   

OurRelationship, an online program co-developed by a University of Miami clinical psychologist and administered by graduate student coaches, can help those in relationships who perhaps are not expecting to have such a “happy” Valentine’s Day.

“Students, faculty, and staff who are looking to strengthen their romantic relationship or improve a relationship problem can learn how to better communicate with each other by completing online activities, so that they can work together to solve their problems,” said Brian Doss, an associate professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-developer of OurRelationship.

In a time when people are just as likely to meet a romantic partner online than through personal contacts and connections, having self-help platforms easily accessible through the web can be beneficial. “People who are comfortable starting a personal relationship online are also more comfortable seeking help online. They are often looking for ways to keep their relationship healthy and strong,” said Doss.

“Relationships during college and graduate school are often strained, with frequent breakups. College students are also at high risk for relationship violence, especially when they’re dealing with problems that they don't know how to solve,” he added.  

OurRelationship offers the University community a confidential way to work on their relationships without the expense and hassle of counseling.

“The program teaches you to examine why you react to certain things in certain ways, how to avoid triggering certain reactions, and how to have a more constructive conversation without setting off any of the triggers that immediately turn into a fight,” said an OurRelationship user. 

Program participants work through most of the activities individually at their own pace. Then, both partners are brought together for a structured phone call facilitated by a graduate student who helps them apply the skills and lessons they have learned in the online activities to their relationship. 

With telehealth practices on the rise, entering the counseling field upon graduation with this type of hands-on experience is both invaluable and gratifying for the graduate students. 

“Telehealth allows consumers to overcome significant barriers to care that exist in the U.S.—such as financial cost of services, health care access, transportation, work schedule, and childcare,” said Karen Rothman, a predoctoral psychology trainee in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“I believe telemedicine and teletherapy services will continue to grow exponentially, and I feel extremely fortunate to have essentially been part of building the future of the field, under Dr. Doss’ mentorship,” said Rothman. 

For Stephen Hatch, another graduate student and OurRelationship coach, getting to the root of the problem as efficiently as possible is key. 

“Because couples are required to complete a lot of the online content on their own, it allows us as coaches to get to the heart of the issue quickly. We can distill all the noise and help distressed couples drill down into the most meaningful bits of information that they need in order to really start changing their relationship in a meaningful way,” he said. 

The OurRelationship program also offers a tailored version for the LGBTQ community. Visit the OurRelationship website for more information about the program.