P&E Oct2013_225


To kick off the 2013-2014 “Academic Year,” Pete and I presented a Bonus Call for group members on the therapist's role as a leader.  We are pleased to share it with you here to add to our ongoing discussion of your role in leading change.


On this page we give you the audio recording of the call. In addition, we've included a brief written summary of what the call covers. Listening to the call will provide you with more depth, including an exercise to develop your own leadership skills. There are also additional discussions and examples from sessions with couples.

Click To Play

Or Click Here to Download


Summary of Pete and Ellyn's Bonus Call

This summary of our call was written by Nancy St. John, a therapist from Tullamore, Ireland, who participates in the Online Training Program.

The Three Cornerstones of Good Therapy:

  1. Theory – how we think about problems
  2. Interventions – what we actually do, say, interpret etc.
  3. Who we are as people, as an individual who actually helps create change and transformation – this is the part we’re going to focus on; who we are as the driver of transformation, bringing your heart into the work as well as the theory and technique 

Different Styles of Leadership – Creating change in systems: what kind of traits make up a good leader?

  • Assertiveness, decisiveness, extraversion – traits that may be innate, traits that can be developed
  • Situational Leadership – the situation creates the leader who steps in at the needed time and place and fill the space successfully
  • Behavioral Leadership – emerges based on experience from their own history; may have the ability to be swift and take decisive action
  • Democratic Leadership – involving the input from constituents to create a more collaborative process
  • Laissez faire Leadership – a hand-off approach, allows the constituents in a system to make decisions
  • Leadership based on power/influence – the use of reward or punishment to bring about change, developing a strong sense of expertise and personal charisma
  • Transformational Leadership – every time you enter the room with a couple part of your role is you are a transformational leader. Transformational leaders are able to focus outside of themselves on what needs to be transformed. They don’t get hung up when they’re in the system on trying to act in a particular way, or they’re not so focused on the use of power or reinforcement. They draw on a wide range of skills and abilities and are able to see and respond to what’s going on in front of them.

James McGregor Burns originated the concept of Transformational Leadership. He says that one of the characteristics of transformational leaders is they work with whoever is in the system to advance to a higher level of morale and to a higher level of motivation and that the leaders and the constituents both push each other. So being in the system you just know that you’re going to be pushed. In that process transformation leaders are able to inspire others to change their expectations, their perceptions, their motivation, and develop the ability to work more like a team or to work towards common goals.

Bernard Bass divided transformational leadership into four categories:

  1. Inspirational Motivation – a leader is able to articulate a vision that is appealing and can inspire the constituents. Often there is so much negativity in a system that constituents need a strong sense of purpose if they’re going to develop motivation, so the leader has to be the one that holds on to the vision when the constituents are unable to, and can voice the vision or outcome that people are looking for. Doing that over time helps people invest more effort in the tasks it’s going to take, become more optimistic about their future and believe in their own ability.
  2. Focusing on the Individuals in the System – the leader is able to act like a coach at times. They are able to see and point out the contributions each separate person makes to the team. The people involved develop a greater will to develop themselves and over time gain more motivation.
  3. Intellectual Stimulation – the leader is willing to challenge assumptions that members of a system have, to challenge the symbiotic expectations people bring into their relationship. These leaders are able to take risks, ask people to think more deeply about things and to work harder to solve difficult problems.
  4. Idealized Influence – this has to do with the role model the leader portrays. The more the leader is able to portray a role model worthy of respect and trust, the more likely it is to get action from the people involved in the system.

There are a number of complex skills and perspectives you have to bring to your consultation room. We assess them and help group members develop them in our online training program but not on this free sample page.

Responding to the question, “What should I do about my marriage, stay or leave?” Pete gave a response using the 3-Chair Approach:

Rather than turning the question back to them you can say, “The question you ask is really complex so I’m going to give you a complex response. I’m going to give you three different responses to the question whether you should leave or stay. I’m going to sit in three different chairs and I will give you a response from each chair and I want you to pay attention to how you feel as I talk from each chair.”

  • Sit in the 1st chair and say, “I think you should leave,” and then build the strongest case possible for them to leave. Ask if they have questions and talk about that position.
  • Move to the 2nd chair and say, “From this chair I think you should stay and here’s why. If you stay and are willing to stretch yourself and transform yourself you’re going to learn a ton about your defenses, your coping mechanisms, what you’re capable of and you’re really going to get clear on your values. Build the strongest case possible why they should stay.”
  • Move to the 3rd chair and say, “Here’s the perspective from this chair: why would you ask someone you hardly know for advice on one of the biggest decisions of your life? You really don’t know how I feel about marriage, values or the primacy of relationship. Why would you ask such life-changing questions about what to do without giving it more thought than you’ve expressed in here, without first going through a more challenging self-awareness self-analysis about your own goals, your own priorities and how you make that decision?” Then I ask, “How do you feel about that?” It’s a way of responding to their question by challenging them if they’re feeling lazy, don’t want to dig in or are afraid to look very deeply at the consequences of any course of action.

Working with a Hostile Angry Couple:

Taking leadership with a hostile, highly activated couple means you’re going to have to be a lot more directive than you are when you do individual therapy. It is essential to prepare both partners for the work of therapy by getting their permission to interrupt. Explain that to be effective it will be necessary for you to intervene. Get their permission while they are calm. Then when they get angry or distressed you can step in and explain that this is one of those times we talked about and help them to find a more effective way through this.

What couples are so focused on is how much they hurt each other in the past and that’s such a primary driver of what goes on and when they don’t have more positive experiences to build on then all they do is quickly revert to that very painful or hurtful past. When a person focuses on what my partner has done to me, their mind is frozen in the past, and not much is going to happen until they learn to thaw out their brain because it is frozen in the past.

Challenging Ineffective Behaviors:

  • What do you personally do when you’re in the room with a couple and you are your least effective?
  • What is the vulnerable feeling I am experiencing in those moments?
  • In those moments when I am feeling vulnerable, can I get an image of what I want to develop more in myself? What do I want to increase or do more of or how do I want to be different so I take my own vulnerability and become more of a transformational leader? (Give your picture a cue word, something that will remind you of how you aspire to be so that you can get there a little bit sooner.)

Rule of Thumb for Change Agents

Staying alive means staying in touch with your purpose, your skills, your emotions, your labels, your positions. It means not being trapped in other people’s games. It means turning yourself on and off rather than being dependent or reactive to the situation. It means choosing with a view to the consequences as well as the impulse. It means going with the flow even while swimming against it. It means living in several worlds without being swallowed up in any. It means seeing the lemons as opportunities for creativity. It means greeting absurdity with laughter while trying to unscramble it and it means capturing the moment in light of the future.


This audio was recorded during my Developmental Model online training program. The call is an example of the rich material, innovative ideas, practical interventions and personal interaction that participants enjoy in my group. If you are interested in learning a bit more about our online Developmental Model training program, you can click here. From there you can also get on the training waiting list to register early before we open up the training to everyone in mid-January.





Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Dear ellyn n pete, Great insights, especially the 3 chair approach. I always was unsure how to answer that question for couples!
Thank you!

Beverly Zagofsky
Beverly Zagofsky

I have been in the same position as Pete many times, and though I sometimes I feel the easier response is to lay out answers like the 3 chair method, in the long term and more helpful, is getting the patient to explore his/her thoughts about why they are even asking the question. I find that the less words I use vs the more words they use make me more effective as a Therapist.

Here are the Zoom Details to Join the Call Live:

One tap mobile :

US: +16465588656, 82302466709# or +16469313860, 82302466709#

Telephone (US):

+1 301 715 8592
+1 312 626 6799
+1 346 248 7799
+1 646 558 8656
+1 669 900 6833
+1 253 215 8782

Webinar ID: 82302466709

International numbers available

We will send out an email reminder on the day of the call.
There will be a replay available within 24 hours.

Learn from a pioneer and leader in couples therapy training as she shares exactly what to say in difficult therapy sessions.
We respect your privacy.
We won't sell or rent your infomation to 3rd party marketers.
Msg & data rates may apply for text messages.