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.

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...

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...

Quotable Moments From Recent Conferences

This spring I presented keynotes and workshops at The Couples Conference in Oakland and at a UCLA conference called Relationships and the Health-Promoting Power of Connection Across the Lifespan. Both events featured faculty that trained, enlightened and entertained participants. I’m still reviewing in my mind some of the great things I heard there. And I thought I’d share a few quotable moments. It’s impossible to paint a complete picture using just snippets, but I think you’ll agree that these are some memorable ideas and turns of phrase. I hope you enjoy them – and remember them when they might be helpful!… Read more...

Searching for Intimacy and Aliveness

Here is the transcript I promised you in my most recent blog post, “Moving Couples Through Defense and Ambivalence Toward Intimacy.”  In that blog post I said that when I hear clients “intellectualizing” a desire for intimacy, it’s an indicator that they’re in the “Adult-ego state,” and probably covering vulnerability and fear. This transcript demonstrates the Gestalt two-chair work that I discussed in that blog post. Two-chair work can be extremely helpful in identifying parts of the self that are blocked. Notice how difficult it is for Sue, the client, to feel her aliveness. Wanting it and experiencing it are two different things.… Read more...
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