Back to top

The Couple and Family Development Research Lab aims to understand and improve the developmental course of couple and family functioning.

There are three projects housed within the Couple & Family Development Lab. Each project has its own team.

There are positions open for:

  • research assistantships for MSMFT students, and
  • research project opportunities for all grad students and post-docs

Team members may prioritize:

  • accruing clinical hours and experiences, and/or
  • enhancing research skills and completing presentations or publications to enhance their CVs

Weekly meetings include discussions of team project logistics and didactics. Professional development and mentoring is enthusiastically provided as desired.

Principal Investigator: Erika Lawrence, Ph.D., LCP
Director of Translational Science
The Family Institute at Northwestern University

Erika Lawrence, Ph.D.
Violence Intervention Project
Overview

The Violence Intervention Project is a national, empirically supported effort to significantly and dramatically reduce intimate partner violence and sexual misconduct. We are disseminating and evaluating an effective intervention for reducing domestic violence for men court-mandated to treatment​. We adapted the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) model to target intimate partner violence (IPV)​, resulting in a 24-week group intervention called ACTV.

Two RCTs have been completed, demonstrating that ACTV significantly reduces physical, psychological and sexual aggression pre- to post-treatment (whereas standard treatment did not yield change) and reduces one-year recidivism in half compared to the standard treatment​. Iowa became the first state to disseminate ACTV as a statewide, court-mandated, empirically supported intervention for IPV​, and other states and countries are now following suit.

Current Initiatives

We are now working to replicate and extend the results of the RCTs in several states and countries. We are also conducting longer term follow-ups with study participants and testing the active mechanisms of change in our intervention. Finally, we will be assessing the indirect benefits for victims and children still living with the treated offenders. In addition, we are piloting two adaptations of our intervention: one for adolescent boys in juvenile detention, and one for college students who engage in sexual misconduct.

Clinical & Research Opportunities

Depending on your interests and career trajectories, team members (including grad students and post-docs) will have the opportunity to learn Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, run treatment groups or supervise those running groups and/or analyze and write-up results for first- or co-authored presentations and publications.

Tailoring Couple Prevention Programs to Couple Skill Deficits
Overview

Historically, couple prediction models and prevention programs target conflict resolution and communication skills almost exclusively. These models only predict a small proportion of the variance​ and prevention programs are marginally effective. Through this project, we developed and validated the Relationship Quality Interview (RQI) to assess five different domains of couple functioning: emotional intimacy​, partner support, sexuality, respect and acceptance and conflict management. Clinicians conduct semi-structured interviews yielding interviewers' scores of the quality of couple functioning on each domain. Through a series of multi-wave longitudinal studies, we found that different domains of couple functioning at the time of marriage predict different relationship satisfaction trajectories for men versus women, and for couples in community versus clinical samples, suggesting that different couples need help with different types of relationship skills to prevent dysfunction.

Current Initiatives

We are now translating the content of each domain in the RQI into three-hour skills workshops for couples. We will be conducting feasibility and pilot testing of this novel prevention program in which couples are administered the RQI, given feedback on their strengths and limitations, offered the workshops relevant to their specific needs and then followed longitudinally to assess outcomes.

Clinical & Research Opportunities

Depending on your interests and career trajectories, team members (including grad students and post-docs) will have the opportunity to administer and score semi-structured clinical interviews, conduct couple feedback sessions, run couple intervention groups and/or analyze and write-up results for first- or co-authored presentations and publications.

Minority Families & Health Project
Overview

Existing research samples and efficacy testing of interventions have predominantly comprised White, non-Latinx, middle-class, heterosexual, married couples. Nevertheless, the models and interventions developed have been applied to families who are not represented in our published knowledge. The purpose of this project is to determine whether and how to adapt our models and interventions for couples who do not fit into this narrow population. Our goal is to offer culturally competent, tailored interventions for a diverse range of couples at all stages of relationship development​.

We have already begun a study with couples who identify at Latinx/Hispanic. Couples are assessed annually and we are in Year three of this five-year project. Through questionnaires and clinical interviews, couples are asked about familism, machismo, marianismo, acculturation, religiosity and discrimination. Participant-based research approaches are integrated.

Current Initiatives

We will be starting a new study with LGBTQIA+ couples in Fall 2018. Couples will complete questionnaires and clinical interviews (the RQI). Qualitative and quantitative data are collected and couples are assessed annually over the early years of their relationships.

Clinical & Research Opportunities

Depending on your interests and career trajectories, team members (including grad students and post-docs) will have the opportunity to administer and score semi-structured clinical interviews and/or analyze and write-up results for first- or co-authored presentations and publications.

Publications & Presentations

Representative Publications

Zarling, A., et al. (2017). Evaluation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for domestic violence offenders. Psychology of Violencehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1037/vio0000097

Zarling, A., Lawrence, E., & Marchman, J. (2015). A randomized controlled trial of acceptance and commitment therapy for aggressive behavior. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83, 199-212. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0037946

Langer, A., & Lawrence, E. (2010). Toward an integrated, empirically supported theory of intimate partner violence. In K. Osterman (Ed.), Indirect and direct aggression (pp. 357-374). Peter Lang Printing House.

Langer, A., & Lawrence, E. (2010). Emotion regulation and experiential avoidance in intimate partner violence. In F. Columbus (Ed.), Advances in psychology research, Volume 70. NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Representative Professional Presentations

Lawrence, E. (May, 2017). IF it IS broke, why not fix it? Invited talk at the Departamento de Psicologia, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia.

Lawrence, E. (August, 2016). Using an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy approach to treat domestic violence. In G. Kline (Chair), Applying couple and family psychology interventions to novel settings and populations. Symposium conducted at the American Psychological Association Convention, Denver, CO.

Lawrence, E. (August, 2014). Conducting effectiveness research: The good, the bad and the ugly. Presented in G.A. Benjamin (Chair), Fellows Address: Celebration of their knowledge. Symposium conducted at the American Psychological Association Convention, Honolulu, HI.

Lawrence, E. (Chair). (May, 2014). A randomized controlled trial comparing group interventions for intimate partner violence. Symposium to be presented at Association for Psychological Science Convention, San Francisco, CA.

Lawrence, E., Langer Zarling, A., & Orengo-Aguayo, R. (May, 2014). A Contextual Behavioral Science approach to treating intimate partner violence. In E. Lawrence (Chair), A randomized controlled trial comparing group interventions for intimate partner violence. Symposium accepted for presentation at the APS Convention, San Francisco, CA.

Lawrence, E. (Chair). (August, 2013). ACTV: A novel, ACT-based group intervention to reduce intimate partner violence. Symposium conducted at the American Psychological Association (APA) Convention, Honolulu, HI.

Lawrence, E. (March, 2013). If it IS broke, why NOT fix it? Development and quasi-randomized clinical trial of a statewide, evidence-based intervention for intimate partner violence. Invited colloquium presented at the Department of Psychology, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.

Lawrence, E. (Invited Chair). (July, 2008). Intimate violence. Symposium presented at the XVIII World Meeting of the International Society for Research on Aggression, Budapest, Hungary.

Lawrence, E., Langer, A., Brock, R.L., & Barry, R.A. (July, 2008). Explaining how intimate partner violence against women leads to clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In E. Lawrence (Chair), Intimate violence. Symposium presented at the XVIII World Meeting of the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA), Budapest, Hungary.

Lawrence, E. (September, 2004). A contextual analysis of physical aggression in intimate relationships: Findings from the Relationship Domains Interview. Presented at the World Meeting of ISRA, Santorini, Greece.

Lawrence, E. (July, 2004). Physical aggression in intimate relationships: Using a molecular approach to inform intervention efforts. Presented at World Congress of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, Kobe, Japan.

Funders

This work has been funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The Department of Justice's Office of Violence against Woman (DOJ-OVW), the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), as well as several universities and states.