Therapists’ Blog

Welcome to our Therapists’ Blog, where we post insights and innovative techniques for couples therapists. Just scan and click to read the articles below, choose by category on the bottom right, or use the search box above. You can also sign up to receive these by email by providing your name and email address in the boxes to the right.

A Powerful Exercise to Promote the Work of Differentiation in Couples

The differentiation stage is, by far, the most difficult for many couples. Helping each partner set self-focused autonomous goals is crucial to their growth as individuals and to push the development of the couple. In my last blog post, I gave you a glimpse into how I work with couples to tease apart individual goals when their issues are highly entangled and enmeshed. If you missed it, you can find it here. But sometimes, you as the therapist will assess that a couple’s level of differentiation is so low that you’re going to have to start with them at a very basic, fundamental level. When a couple operates with each other almost totally out of reactivity, it takes a fair amount of psychoeducation to help them recognize emotions and pay attention to what’s going on in their body.… Read more...

A Dialogue for Individual Goal-Setting with Conflict-Avoidant Couples

When working with couples within The Developmental Model, it’s crucial to help partners set self-focused, individual goals to support the process of differentiation. This presents more of a challenge with some couples than with others. I’m thinking in particular about conflict-avoidant couples. These are couples who likely have developed well-established patterns of shying away from conflict. They may have little or no recognition of their differences. A couple like this can merge and enmesh their issues very quickly and easily. It can be a challenge to tease out what might make a difference if each of them were to get focused on themselves.… Read more...

The Couples Conference 2019

This year’s Couples Conference explored 5 major models of couples therapy. These included PACT, Gottman, EFT, Relational Life and the Developmental Model. I had the honor of opening the conference, and I would like to share with you the poem I wrote to highlight five different approaches to couples therapy that have advanced our field. I was inspired by the poem, “The Blind Man and The Elephant,” by John Godfrey Saxe, which begins like this:   It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.… Read more...

Helping couples realize it takes two to manage long-standing pain

Anxiety, anger, and jealousy are emotions I see often in many of the couples I have worked with over the years, and I’m sure it’s no different in your practice. Untangling the roots of these feelings and helping couples adopt strategies to deal with them becomes a central challenge for you. Recently my therapists’ online training group discussed a case where insecurity, jealousy, and conflict were quickly taking over a young couple’s relationship. Partners Jane and Bob had a history of feeling rejected and unloved. Life had handed them interlocking scripts, but each partner dealt with these feelings in a unique way.… Read more...

Working with The Brilliant Skeptic or Paranoid Adaptation

A while ago I was thinking about specific challenges that can come up in our work with couples – ones that may require us to go “off script” and take a more nuanced approach to therapy. In particular, I’ve been thinking about cases where at least one partner is entrenched in one personality adaptation. So I wrote a blog post about the work of Paul Ware, MD, and Vann Joines, PhD, in defining six specific personality adaptations and the 3-door model that allows us to connect with clients according to their personality adaptation type. With this awareness we want to start connecting with clients through their open door.… Read more...

6 Personality Adaptations and 3 Doors: a model for knowing where to connect with your clients

  What can we do when partners show resistance to our interventions? This is a question that came up recently in my online training group, when a therapist presented a case with several thorny challenges. Her questions led me to remember a set of concepts I learned early in my career. These ideas came originally from Dr. Paul Ware, the psychiatrist who first introduced me to Pete! So of course Dr. Ware’s concepts hold special meaning for me! Later these ideas were explored in Personality Adaptations: A New Guide to Human Understanding in Psychotherapy and Counseling by Vann Joines and Ian Stewart.… Read more...

How to prevent teen dating violence

by Dr. Alazne Aizpitarte Psychologist & Family and Couple Therapist. Researcher in Teen Dating Violence. When we hear of “intimate partner violence,” what suddenly comes to mind are beatings, bruises, or rapes. But it is not this type of severe physical or sexual behavior which characterizes the majority of cases of violence in teen couples, at least not from the very beginning of the relationship. These are mostly more subtle psychological behaviors, such as controlling the partner and isolation attempts from family and friends, followed by insults and humiliation. Psychological violence as a precursor It is completely understandable that the images that come to mind when listening to “intimate partner violence” are associated with cases as serious as a beating or even murder.… Read more...

Conflict Avoidant

How do you create intensity and momentum with conflict-avoidant partners? I find conflict-avoidant couples more challenging than hostile couples. Their energy is so low. How do you create intensity and momentum with conflict-avoidant partners?  … Read more...

6 Steps to Developing Leadership in Couples Therapy

If I could recommend just one skill for you to develop to become a successful couples therapist, it would be leadership. Leadership is the number one skill that gets your work off to a strong start and allows you to manage almost anything in your office. However, you can’t be a strong leader if you don’t know where you are going, and you are just reacting to your clients. There are so many things that can go haywire with two clients in the room and so much damage that can be done if things go badly. Couples therapy requires a different level of leadership than individual therapy so I thought I’d share with you the 6 primary characteristics that the Developmental Model recommends for your leadership right from the beginning.… Read more...

A Closer Look at Early Differentiation

What is real developmental progress? How do we recognize and support it? Many couples in therapy are starting to move from the symbiotic stage into early differentiation. It’s not the kind of progress that comes with fanfare and celebration. In fact, the couples might not even recognize their progress. So it’s especially helpful for you to know exactly what’s happening in this stage. Let’s examine what is going on during early differentiation and look at how you can support your clients at this stage. Clients in early differentiation start to express their own thoughts, feelings, and desires more actively.… Read more...
Menu