10 Skills for Early Sessions

Each year I mentor a small group of therapists to help them set goals for their business and clinical skills. I often ask them to assess themselves by being brutally honest about their ability on a variety of criteria that I believe make for strength and effectiveness as a couples therapist. I am including some of these here so you too can assess yourself. Couples Therapist Self­-Assessment First, read the following statements and respond with a simple yes or no. Later, come back and use a 1­-7 on a continuum from very strong to very weak. Early Sessions with Couples: __ I have a plan when I talk to potential clients on the telephone.… Read more... “10 Skills for Early Sessions”

5  Symbiotic Beliefs that Prevent Relationship Growth

Rachel, a student in my Developmental Model training program, posted a common frustration the other day: I sometimes get exasperated with hostile-angry couples and think, “Why don’t you just grow up?” There is a feeling of being overwhelmed and wanting to give up. Do you have any perspectives on how to keep my head above water? Rachel nailed it with that exasperated feeling. One of the most frustrating aspects of working with hostile angry couples is that even your best interventions never seem to hold. You think you’ve made a breakthrough and when they come back next week it’s gone. Do you blame yourself?… Read more... “5  Symbiotic Beliefs that Prevent Relationship Growth”

How to Get the Most from Our Work Together

Written by Dr. Peter Pearson, 2002. Couples are often uncertain what to expect from the process of couples coaching. They are not sure of what to expect of the coach or even if the coach has any expectations of them. I have found most couples approach coaching with the notion that each person will describe their distress and somehow the coach will assist them to create a happier, more functional, relationship. They expect to learn some new or better skills. However, most people hope their partner will do most of the learning in problem areas. After 30 years of clinical experience and specializing in working with thousands of couples, I have arrived at some guidelines that can make our work more effective.… Read more... “How to Get the Most from Our Work Together”

Are You Smarter Than a Fox?

killdeerHave you heard of the Killdeer? No, it’s not a mammal, but an amazing bird from the sandpiper family. The Killdeer do not build much of a nest. They lay their eggs in a nest on rocky ground areas. This makes them especially vulnerable to predators like foxes. So, the very smart killdeer developed special behavioral adaptations to protect the nest. What could this have to do with skillful confrontation in couples therapy?… Read more... “Are You Smarter Than a Fox?”

Are your expectations for the holidays too high?

Ah, Sisyphus, the legendary rock roller from Greek mythology. He was forever doomed to push the boulder up the mountain only to have it roll back. Again and again. Sisyphus may have been the original example of insanity. You’ve probably heard that definition: insanity is doing the same darn thing over and over again, expecting a different result. But you are different. Because you are going to stop pushing your rock this holiday season. Here’s another rock so many people push. It’s the rock of unrealistic expectations. Especially the expectations we place on others. We hope our partner will finally give us the perfect gift, our adult siblings will refrain from teasing us at the dinner table, Uncle Al will stay sober through the evening, and that Mom and Dad will give us some unconditional acceptance.… Read more... “Are your expectations for the holidays too high?”

Make the best of family conversations over the holiday

Holidays are filled with all kinds of repeating stresses. Many people dread spending time with family over a holiday. Relatives are thrown together whether they like it or not, often for repeated stories, complaints and arguments. Are you ready to tackle Aunt Martha’s searing comments about your weight? First, recall Sisyphus from Greek mythology. He was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, getting close to the top only to see it roll down again. Maybe that’s how you currently approach those holiday conversations, for example, when Aunt Martha says, “So sweetie, I understand Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers have new programs especially designed for those holiday temptations.” If you choose to follow in the steps of Sisyphus, you will try to change how Aunt Martha thinks about your size.… Read more... “Make the best of family conversations over the holiday”

What new marriages can learn from failed restaurants

As you probably know, the divorce rate for American couples in a first marriage is about 50%. When you factor in the high numbers of couples who don’t divorce, but stay together in mutual misery, the track record for failed marriages is even worse.… Read more... “What new marriages can learn from failed restaurants”

What’s better than fixing your marriage?

What if a good marriage was not about focusing on fixing problems? What if a good marriage was not learning a new set of skills or tools? The most common requests couples who are starting therapy have is for communication skills and tools for a better relationship. This is an understandable but misguided request. What if couples were taught skills and tools, with penetrating insights on how to improve, but there was no underlying dedication to growth? What if a great marriage is about character? The sum of moral strength, fortitude, self-discipline, integrity, curiosity and caring. Tools are about using your mind.… Read more... “What’s better than fixing your marriage?”

How to Stop Going in Circles with an Entrenched Couple

Colored concentric circlesSome partners just stubbornly refuse to be accountable for their own role in a mutual mess and you find yourself going in circles in therapy sessions. Perhaps they are resistant to your best explanations, insights, interpretations and confrontations.… Read more... “How to Stop Going in Circles with an Entrenched Couple”

How to Stun Your Therapist (Or Your Spouse) With Your Attitude.

If you happen to be in couples therapy just say this at your next meeting:  Today I’m here to change my attitude about change, because if I don’t change my attitude about change then I will never be able to consistently apply what we are here to learn. My attitude that needs improvement is: “Why should I have to change?” Because as long as I have that attitude I will come across as insensitive, self-centered, oblivious, and negligent. Even though I seek a pain-proof marriage, another part of me knows that’s an impossible goal. Worst of all – my self-defeating attitude keeps me from creating the best possible team we could create.… Read more... “How to Stun Your Therapist (Or Your Spouse) With Your Attitude.”