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.

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... “Integrating Goals and Growth in Couples Therapy”

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... “Getting Started: Disrupting the Cycle of Externalization and Blame”

Utilize the Initiator-Inquirer Process in Couples Therapy

Stop Angry, Hostile Fighting and Immediately Structure More Effective Interaction Are you interested in a way to get out of the middle of a couple's conflicts and work with both partners at the same time? One important and powerful aspect of our Developmental Model is the Initiator-Inquirer process for effective communication. The guidelines are simple, but the process is rich, and quite revealing. It can be used with couples at all of the different developmental stages. In the “I-I” process, there are 2 roles, the Initiator and the Inquirer. The Initiator: Brings up only one issue/problem Uses “I messages” to describe thoughts and feelings about the issue Describes the issue without blame or name calling And most essentially is open to learning more about him/herself than was known before he/she started talking The Inquirer: Listens actively and recaps a description of the issue Asks questions to understand the partner's feelings, thoughts or desires Responds with empathy Continues with empathic responses until a soothing moment occurs for the Initiator At first glance the roles sound easy.… Read more... “Utilize the Initiator-Inquirer Process in Couples Therapy”

Becoming Savannah: One Man’s Transgender Journey

I am sharing the story of Julie, a friend of mine. Daniel, her husband and the father of their daughter, transitioned two years ago to become a woman named Savannah. Australian TV produced a 2-part special on their story. It is a story of love and loss, of pain and freedom. I admire their ability to open themselves to sharing their story as a family with the world.   Part 1 runs 14 minutes and Part 2 runs just over 7 minutes. Of course I hope that seeing these videos will help you with any transitioning partners in your practice. But equally importantly, I share them with you because I believe that compassion and understanding helps the world in everyday life as much as in the therapy office.… Read more... “Becoming Savannah: One Man’s Transgender Journey”

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... “10 Skills for Early Sessions”

Common Issues and 5 Helpful Questions to Use with Gay Male Couples

Although I have always enjoyed doing couples work with gay men, I am hardly a specialist in this area. So at times when I’ve had questions I’ve turned to my colleagues Rick Miller and Clinton Power. Rick’s practice in the Boston area specializes in work with gay men and Clinton’s in Sydney serves the LBGTQ population. So for this month’s blog, I reached out to Rick and Clinton to help readers who work primarily with heterosexual couples and want to expand your knowledge base for helping gay men. I’ll start with some of Rick’s insights on common issues for gay male couples and follow up with a set of questions from Clinton that open communication lines and pave the way for your work.… Read more... “Common Issues and 5 Helpful Questions to Use with Gay Male Couples”

Going Deeper: Moving from Hostile Symbiosis into Differentiation

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been discussing angry fighting couples who are arrested at the first stage of development. If you’ve been following along, you’ve been laying a strong foundation for change; assessing motivation and doing some trust-building. Now it is time to push for individual development. A big stumbling block is partners’ focus on changing each other rather than changing themselves. But self-accountability is crucial to making lasting change. Here are some questions I like to use to shift partners into focusing more on internal change. 1. What kind of relationship do you want to create?… Read more... “Going Deeper: Moving from Hostile Symbiosis into Differentiation”

What Can Bruce Lee Teach You About Angry Couples?

Your therapy is underway. You thought you had good positive momentum and then one of your fighting couples starts dumping new issues on you every week. It can be an arduous journey to get them from emotional reactivity to predictable and reliable behavior. Here’s how you can regain control and keep making progress. But read carefully, because the solution is counterintuitive. 1.Tell the couple you would like to do an experiment. And, at first, it will seem counterintuitive, but it will be effective if they persist. Tell them they are allowed to make only one change. That’s it. They are allowed to choose to change only one thing.… Read more... “What Can Bruce Lee Teach You About Angry Couples?”

How Do You Build Trust?

Dillon and Megan came to me because their fights had persisted for so long that spending time together was painful. Megan wanted to feel free to be with her friends, go to dance classes, see plays on weeknights, and go on camping trips on the weekend. Avoiding Dillon meant escaping their fights. Dillon felt threatened by how much distance she wanted, so he started alternating between clinging and attacking. Megan would come home from a friend’s house at 10pm instead of 9pm and he’d grill her about why she was late. “I thought you were just watching a show? That’s only an hour. Why were you gone 2 hours?” His questioning made her want to spend more time away, which made him grasp even tighter.… Read more... “How Do You Build Trust?”

4 Diagnostic Questions

Fighting couples unload massive problems on you. He’s controlling. She’s bossy. He lied about our finances. She overspends on clothes and won’t stick to a budget. He’s too strict and yells too much at our kids. She’s too soft. He hates her parents; she hates his siblings. Holidays are a nightmare. And on and on. Working with these problems takes strong leadership. It means identifying the couple’s developmental arrest. One thing I give trainees in my Developmental Model program is a 21-point diagnostic questionnaire. Today I’ll share 4 questions with you that are particularly good for assessing what went wrong for fighting couples.… Read more... “4 Diagnostic Questions”