Developmental Model

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...

What do you do when therapy stalls after the first few sessions?

couples therapy stalls Ask Ellyn #8: I am good at getting started with couples, but after 8-10 sessions I feel stuck. I seemed to make headway at the beginning, but now my sessions seem repetitive. What am I missing? The couple keeps bringing up the same old complaints. What do you do when therapy stalls?… Read more...

How do you work with a partner who is stuck in problem-solving?

Young couple with problem in therapy session on reception for family psychologist Ask Ellyn #7: A common problem I encounter is one partner who is stuck in problem-solving rather than being able to listen or be empathic. How do you start changing this dynamic?  … Read more...

How do you transform demanding, self-absorbed partners?

self-absorbed partner in therapy session Ask Ellyn #6: I get incredibly frustrated with clients who are so wrapped up in themselves that they dominate sessions and make outrageous demands on their partners while expecting little of themselves. I haven’t been able to disrupt this pattern.  How do you transform such selfishness?… Read more...

How do you stay focused when couples bring in new complaints every week?

couple that needs to keep focused Ask Ellyn #5: My angry, fighting couples dump so many issues on me. I want to keep them on track. How do you stay focused when couples bring in a new complaint every week?  … Read more...

How can you mobilize ambivalent clients who resist your interventions?

couple with therapist resist change Ask Ellyn #4: I have clients who seem to have clear goals. But then they ignore my suggestions and insights. How can you mobilize clients who resist and even thwart your interventions?  … Read more...
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