Developmental Model

Using a Developmental Approach and the Initiator-Inquirer Process with Cases of Infidelity

Few situations are as painful for a couple, and as difficult for a couples’ therapist to work through as the experience of infidelity. The bottom-line questions you’ll inevitably be working with include: What is trust? Can it be restored? If so, how is it going to be restored? Who gets to define trust, and how does all of this happen? As I’ve worked with couples around this issue, I’ve seen several specific challenges that typically come up. I thought it could be useful to you in your work if I outlined some of the important steps that are involved after infidelity is revealed. Stage 1: Stabilize the Conflict For many partners, betrayal is likely one of the worst experiences they encounter.… Read more...

Working with Couples Where One Partner Has A Severe Anxiety Disorder

When you apply the Developmental Model in your work with couples, sometimes you will encounter issues that add an extra layer of complexity. Examples of this include addiction or severe depression. An even more common example is when one partner struggles with a severe anxiety disorder. This month let’s look at some ways to begin a session when you encounter a couple with a very anxious partner. When one partner is extremely anxious, the process of defining what belongs to each partner can be frustrating and quite confusing. You will notice that if you are trying to encapsulate each person’s issues, the anxious partner will continue to circle back to anxious thoughts he or she has. … Read more...

Using Initiator-Inquirer to Support Growth in Couples

One of the reasons I find the Initiator-Inquirer process especially valuable in our work with couples is that it exposes so much about where they are developmentally. It helps us see the cutting edge of their development and reveals ways we can challenge each of them to work at their growth edges. Now if you are unfamiliar with the Initiator-Inquirer Process, you can find out more about it here. As you use this process, it’s important to learn how to look at what your clients’ edges are. What are the places where they fall apart with each other when you’re not around? For example, I often see couples who are stuck because they lack the self-capacity to allow one of the partners to come forward.… 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...

Working with Couples Who Are Stuck – How The Developmental Model Helps You

As relationships grow and develop, we often see couples who have gotten stuck in a particular developmental stage. In a previous blog post, I outlined what I see as the normal, predictable stages of couples relationships development. If you missed it, you can check it out here. When you approach couples therapy from a developmental framework, you can assess and diagnose each partner’s developmental stage and use stage-specific interventions to help both move into the next stage. In my experience, I often see couples get stuck in the very first stage of development in one of two ways: 1. Hostile-angry Couples These are couples whose relationship is characterized by tremendous hostility and competition and, in the worst cases, domestic violence.… Read more...

A Developmental Model for Healthy Couples

Throughout my experience as a couples therapist, I’ve observed that couples relationships typically progress through 5 normal and predictable stages. In healthy relationships, a couple’s development closely parallels the stages of early childhood development originally conceptualized by Drs. Margaret Mahler and Fred Pine. In what ways are these developmental processes similar? And how does understanding the Developmental Model increase your effectiveness working with couples? The Beginning: Symbiosis Mahler describes a brief period of time in early childhood development during which a newborn becomes acclimated to being alive.… Read more...

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...

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...

Losing Direction: Where Are You Going and What Is Your Roadmap?

Direction-imageWe’ve been discussing losing control and losing momentum. Today’s post is about losing direction. It might feel like the same kind of discomfort, but the reason is different. Perhaps you are in the middle of a session and unexpectedly you feel surprised, overwhelmed, or incompetent.… Read more...

Suggestions for Working with Hostile Angry Couples

Young Couple Having Argument At HomeWe are now halfway through my blog series on Hostile Angry Couples. In the first blog I wrote about some challenges you face working with these couples. The second blog suggested goals for both you and the couple. At the end of the second blog post, I promised to summarize some solutions to these challenges.… Read more...