Unleashing the love hormone

Couples who've considered counselling to improve their relationship are being encouraged to join a UNSW study testing whether a so-called "love hormone" can help relationships by boosting empathy and communication.

Kissing couple inside

Couples who've considered counselling to improve their relationship are being encouraged to join a UNSW study testing whether a so-called "love hormone" can help relationships by boosting empathy and communication.

Beginning this month, the free trial involves five assessment and counselling sessions by psychologists at the UNSW School of Psychology. The clinic is running assessment trials for heterosexual couples who've been together for at least two years and feel they need some help to improve the quality of their relationship.

Eligible couples will receive four therapy sessions involving assessment and specific suggestions on how they can enhance their relationship. A final assessment is then conducted six weeks later.

Half of the couples in the trial will receive oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone known to enhance sexual pleasure, assist childbirth and promote milk production during breastfeeding. The hormone is released by the brain's pituitary gland in response to physical contact such as hugging and being massaged.

Participants would receive the hormone in the form of a nasal spray, according to Dr Adam Guastella, a clinical psychologist who will lead the novel study.

"We will be testing whether oxytocin influences the counselling process by assisting couples to improve their communication and empathy skills in the therapy room," says Dr Guastella.

"Research reveals that oxytocin can enhance one's ability to notice and correctly interpret emotions in others. The hormone appears to promote trust and to encourage socially cooperative behaviour in humans - attributes that may improve the processes and outcomes of couples counselling.

"Relationship satisfaction is without doubt one of the most important things to an individual's happiness. Couples can fall into certain types of communication patterns that seem to be particularly detrimental to relationship satisfaction.

"Couples can get so entrenched in these patterns they don't know where to start to make positive changes. For couples in the mild to moderate distress range, a five-week assessment and feedback program has been found to be just as effective as longer-term therapy."

Couples interested in participating in this trial should contact Dr. Adam Guastella, the School of Psychology on 9385 8257; e-mail Dr. Adam Guastella on a.guastella@unsw.edu.au; or go to http://www2.psy.unsw.edu.au/Users/aguastella/

MEDIA CONTACTS
Adam Guastella 0401 187 555 or Dan Gaffney 0411 156 015