Therapist Blog

Integrating Goals and Growth in Couples Therapy

The other day, a therapist in my Developmental Model training program asked me the following: “How do you integrate a couple’s goals for therapy with the specific developmental tasks that a couple needs to accomplish?” I want to be direct and collaborative about this with the couple. Once I get a sense of the stage, I want to involve them by giving information, by giving them feedback, by giving them a sense of where I see them stuck and where I believe they could move. For example, with a couple who are conflict-avoidant, I might talk to them about the cost of lost intimacy that occurs in conflict avoidant relationships.… Read more...

Getting Started: Disrupting the Cycle of Externalization and Blame

Many of the couples who come to see us are stuck organizing their complaints around an external symptom or problem. It’s easier for them and preserves individual self-esteem when partners deflect the focus away from themselves and place blame on the other partner for problems in their relationship. Surely you’ve heard examples such as “He drinks too much. She always puts her work before me. His clutter drives me crazy.” And when externalizing has become entrenched, it can be a challenge for you to shed light on each partner’s role and move them toward increased differentiation. So how do you disrupt this gridlock and help each partner create more of an internal locus of control?… Read more...

Focus on Infidelity

Just days ago I arrived home from the stellar conference, Anatomy of Intimacy – Focus on Infidelity that took place at University of California, Irvine, and I was immediately slammed with the cold/flu that is going around. Now that I am alert and functional again, I wanted to share some updates and reflections with you before they recede into the “busyness” of holiday preparations. The conference was dynamic and fascinating and made me marvel that no meeting ever before has focused exclusively on the complexity of infidelity.… Read more...

Three-Stage Resolution of an Affair

Without a doubt, infidelity is one of the most perplexing challenges that many therapists face during their careers. Frequently couples arrive in your office reeling in the aftermath of an affair. One partner may feel intensely angry and believe they were betrayed, while the other is in a hurry to get the affair behind them. How you structure the therapy and what you attend to in sessions can prove to be stressful when each partner has a different agenda.… Read more...

The Passive-Aggressive Male

  This article was written for the public and appeared in Esquire magazine in April, 1989. It is helpful for professionals to use with passive-aggressive partners to identify their ineffective passive aggressive behaviors. * * * * * Gentleman: Ever wonder why you're driving people crazy? These are some of the things that the passive aggressive male says: – “Nothing. I'm just thinking.” – “No, why do you ask?” – “Angry?” – “I don't hate it.” – “I won't stop you.” – “What's the problem?” These are some of the things that a passive-aggressive man does: – Has a new lock put on the front door and forgets to give his wife the key.… Read more...

Early Stages of Couples Therapy

… Define Yourself Clearly to Your Clients Last month we started working on your own definition of what you offer to the couples in your practice. This month we will talk about what you expect from your clients and how you tell them. Clarity on your expectations is a process of self-definition. This means you bring your own differentiation into the therapy. It is not easy to define what you expect from your clients–they represent a diverse group. And how can you describe your expectations of future clients, people you haven't even met yet? At first, when you write down your expectations, you might discover, like we did, that they are incomplete, ill-formed, vague, contradictory, unrealistic, incompatible, or impossible for all couples.… Read more...

Transactional Analysis: Strategies

Strategies for Working With Lies, Passive-Aggressive Behavior and Affairs Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California. She is long-time members of the International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA) and have served in various capacities in the organization. Ellyn was president of the ITAA from 1984-1985. This is an interview of Pete and Ellyn conducted by Bill Cornell for ITAA's publication The Script. Bill: I'm glad to have the chance to talk with both of you, especially since the stimulus for this interview is the release of your new training tape for the ITAA “Transactional Analysis in Action” series.… Read more...

How To Be a Better Couples Therapist

…with one Exercise–Guaranteed! Want to improve your ability and your self esteem as a couples therapist? You can, with one exercise. This one exercise won't be easy or simple, but it will be effective and will pay dividends for years to come. The problem. Couples enter therapy and after the initial sessions a common pattern emerges. They begin the sessions reporting on the fight of the week. Each person trots out their complaint and hopes you will somehow wave a magic wand and bring relief by fixing their partner. They are not eager to hear you ask, “Well, what is each of you willing to do to change these patterns?” They hope, expect and want answers from you.… Read more...

Marital Therapy When Partners Have Incompatible Goals

“Practice Development Dispatch” Newsletter Collection It was the first session with a very distressed couple -the woman had made an irrevocable decision the marriage was over. We were discussing her decision, but her husband did not want to accept it. He wanted their kids, ages 9 and 7, to have an intact family, and he still wanted to be with her. After some discussion, I became very clear that the marriage was over for her, and that it had been for years. Her only objective was better communication for the sake of the kids. Their goals were clearly irreconcilable. I began by describing his dilemma: if he really heard what she was saying, he had no alternative but to feel depressed and grieve for a marriage that was over.… Read more...

7 Strategies for Establishing Positive Contact in Couples Therapy

  In this newsletter, we look at the issue of how you establish contact in the early sessions of couples therapy. Most graduate school courses teach the importance demonstrating unconditional positive regard for our clients. This is taught as a primary way to make good contact. While it can work well with individual clients, it's not as simple in the more complex triangle of couples therapy. Couples often show us many of their destructive or dysfunctional behaviors in the early sessions. We certainly don't want to show unconditional positive regard or acceptance for these behaviors. Also, partners watch carefully to see what we accept about the other.… Read more...
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