Steven R. H. Beach
Steven R. H. Beach is well known in clinical psychology for his extensive contributions to marital therapy and particularly the use of marital therapy in the treatment of depression. His many contributions to the field include elucidation of self-evaluation maintenance processes in relationship contexts; work on forgiveness, gratitude, and religiosity, in marriage; the role of broader family processes, especially parenting, on healthy psychosocial development; and, more recently, examination of the contribution of genetics and epigenetics in combination with family and community factors in predicting inflammatory and health outcomes.
Dr. Beach studied under K. Daniel O’Leary at Stony Brook University where he received his Ph.D. degree in 1985. He then relocated to the University of Georgia where he has been ever since. His initial work was in a psychiatric hospital, in a student metal health clinic, and in private practice. He began his academic career as an assistant professor at the University of Georgia in 1987 and became director of the Owens Institute for Behavioral Research in 2003, and Distinguished Research Professor in 2007. Since 2009 he has served as codirector of the Center for Family Research at the University of Georgia.
Dr. Beach’s early work experiences led him to focus on issues with the potential to advance both the practice of clinical psychology and the prevention of psychological disorder. This led to pioneering work on depression, particularly the way that marital processes covaried with and influenced the course of depressive episodes. Using the large literature on stress and social support, Dr. Beach developed a theoretical framework that both detailed various interpersonal provisions related to depression and underscored the likelihood that spouses could play a central role in recovery from depression. This model, later published in book form (Beach et al. 1990), received many accolades and garnered considerable attention. The treatment model presented in the book, Depression in Marriage, helped to influence the thinking of a generation of researchers and changed the practices of clinicians. Dr. Beach’s success in using marital therapy as a treatment for depression underscored the importance of intimate relationships in understanding this disorder. Over the course of the ensuing decade, his surprising findings were replicated across several laboratories in the USA and across national boundaries.
Dr. Beach began to expand the focus of his research using the self-evaluation maintenance tradition as a useful framework for more detailed examination of the way the interpersonal could affect the intrapersonal. The model is experimental and so had the potential to provide a useful counterpoint to intervention-based research by allowing identification of causal mechanisms. In this research Dr. Beach found that married partners tended to divide decision-making in a manner that protects each partner’s self-evaluation. Further, spouses tend to engage more in activities that supported each partner’s self-evaluation and are more likely to recall satisfying relationship memories when self-evaluation needs were supported. As this line of research unfolded, it became clearer that self-evaluation was commonly and perhaps continuously influenced by events involving the partner. Indeed, as a subsequent line of investigation showed, romantic partners, particularly marital partners, were especially good at adjusting their self-definition to fit with their partner. When outperformed by the partner in a given area, persons in committed relationships showed little negative affect (unlike persons interacting with strangers), instead showing an increased tendency to change the importance of the area to their self-evaluation. Conversely, Dr. Beach discovered that when the opportunity to change self-evaluation was blocked, it resulted in more negative recollections about the couples’ past together and led to more negative problem-solving interactions. Dr. Beach has noted that many apparently intractable marital disputes may be fruitfully conceptualized as resulting from automatic self-defensive processes like those described by the self-evaluation maintenance model.
More recently, Dr. Beach has shifted his research again, focusing increasingly on prevention, the role of biological variables, and ways for families and marriages to protect against the stresses of disadvantage, poverty, and racism. Building on his earlier work, he has designed two culturally sensitive programs to enhance couple functioning. These programs are designed to help sustain couple satisfaction over time, to enhance co-parenting, and to provide health protective benefits for both couples and their children. Dr. Beach has provided evidence that parenting-based interventions decrease parental depression and enhance parental health. Results to date indicate that positive, constructive marital and parenting processes can be promoted by both “in-home” and “group-based” intervention programs and that these changes have the potential to promote the health and well-being of parents and offspring.
Dr. Beach’s work has provided a conceptual foundation that has inspired many researchers to follow in his footsteps and has placed many clinical practices on a firmer scientific foundation. He published seminal papers on the connection between marriage and depression as well as on self-evaluation maintenance in marriage and on the role of epigenetic change in understanding environmental effects on long-term health outcomes. He established a well-described program to help couples dealing with both marital discord and depression. Likewise, he has more recently developed several programs of preventive interventions aimed at couples to help them work together to protect their relationships against the erosive power of external stressors arising from financial strain and from society more broadly.
In brief, Dr. Beach’s research has led the marital area in a number of new, productive areas and continues to do so today.
- Beach, S. R. H., & Sales, J. M. (2016). Refining Prevention: Genetic and Epigenetic Contributions. Retrieved from http://www.frontiersin.org/books/Refining_Prevention_Genetic_and_Epigenetic_Contributions/846
- Beach, S. R. H., Sandeen, E. E., & O’Leary, K. D. (1990). Depression in marriage: A model for etiology and treatment. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
- Beach, S. R. H., Wamboldt, M., Kaslow, N., Heyman, R. E., First, M. B., Underwood, L. G., & Reiss, D. (2006). Relational processes and DSM-V: Neuroscience, assessment, prevention & intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.Google Scholar
- Beach, S. R. H., Brody, G. H., Barton, A. W., & Philibert, R. A. (2016a). Exploring genetic moderators and epigenetic mediators of contextual and family effects: From G×E to epigenetics. Development and Psychopathology, 28(4pt2), 1333–1346. doi: 10.1017/S0954579416000882.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Beach, S. R. H., Lei, M. K., Brody, G. H., Kim, S., Barton, A. W., Dogan, M. V., & Philibert, R. A. (2016b). Parenting, SES-risk, and later young adult health: Exploration of opposing indirect effects via DNA methylation. Child Development, 87(1), 111–121. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12486. NIHMSID 739989.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar