Differentiation

Holding Developmental Tension

Leading the way when couples are lost in their own issues How often do you encounter couples who are so deeply entangled with each other that they can’t tell where one ends and the other begins? It’s a familiar struggle. They may come into your office bickering about what seem like petty conflicts, yet without a clue as to who own is responsible for what. Or they may spend the first several sessions gliding over the surface of major differences they’re afraid to dive into. In many cases, lack of differentiation is the underlying issue. Yet, the right technique for moving these couples forward without getting sidetracked isn’t always clear.… Read more...

Trauma, Part 3: Bringing it Together

  Over the past two months, we’ve examined some key principles behind trauma-informed care for couples. Now it’s time to take a closer look at what these concepts look like in practice. We will explore a case brought to my training group by a seasoned therapist who has been trained in emotionally focused couples therapy and the Gottman method, as well as the Developmental Model. The couple she is treating offers us a chance to see the dynamics of trauma-informed care in action. What we know from the beginning The couple in this case present a complex set of issues. The female partner has a long history of difficulties with attachment.… Read more...

Couples and Trauma, Part 1: Understanding the Challenges

It’s been said that the past is never really dead. All our prior experiences have the power to shape our thoughts and perceptions – which in turn influences our closest relationships.  The couples you meet with every day are dealing with issues that took root long before they came to you. Yet even after you’ve uncovered signs of past trauma in one or both partners, it’s not always clear how to help them move forward. In some of the next posts, we’ll take a closer look at trauma and couples therapy, offering insights and techniques that will help you plan a highly effective course of treatment. How the past distorts the present  Trauma configurational reflex is a concept that explains how, as humans, we tend to configure what we see in front of us through the lens of our past experiences.… 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...

Getting Started with an Enmeshed Couple Moving to Early Differentiation

Couples who marry young often establish enmeshed relationships that inhibit individual growth. They have not had the opportunity to mature and do much differentiation work prior to getting married. When partners organize their relationships in an enmeshed way, their own desires are usually obscured and are often presented in terms of: “We are alike in so many ways.” There’s very little self-definition or ability to articulate individual desires. Everything is framed in terms of “we” or “us.” When they arrive for therapy, they may have one partner still trying very hard to maintain symbiosis, and the other partner making tentative forays out of it.… Read more...

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 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...

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...

Differentiation in Couples Relationships

  Recently I was interviewed by Diane Heller for her membership program. My topic was “Differentiation in Couples Relationships.” The hour-long interview covered many aspects of differentiation and why I am passionate about couples therapists really understanding the essence of differentiation. I share this with you because differentiation is what makes the difference between relationships that are stuck or boring and those that are alive and growing. I’ll be sharing some sections of the interview with you in my upcoming blogs. Today’s post introduces and discusses Differentiation in Couples Therapy.… Read more...

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...

A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.