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.

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

I woke up this morning feeling sad

At 9am, I was supposed to be riding in a stuffy 9-seater van driving down dusty, unpaved roads to a Kenyan refugee village. For the past 6 years, I’ve taken this bumpy drive to visit the Shalom community. Today I was longing to see those children’s happy faces and feel their little hands in mine when I return and reconnect with them. They cheerfully welcome us with exuberant singing and dancing, and playfully fight over holding the hands of all the donors who accompany us.… Read more...

How to Help Couples Work Towards Positive Dreams Through Visualization

Today we are discussing setting larger goals; what is commonly known as having a vision, and working towards them with visualization. Vision setting is the focus of today's blog post. It is an enormous help in couples therapy to take the focus off daily struggles and put relationship efforts into a larger context. The reality is that most couples spend more time discussing what movie they want to see, or what room is a mess than they do discussing any big dreams they have. Bringing the larger dreams into better focus helps give partners a crucial incentive to do some of the hard work in front of them. What is a vision?… 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...

Couples Conference 2017 A – Z: Dan Amen to Jeff Zeig

Each year I enjoy sharing a few key points from the presentations I was able to attend at The Couples Conference. This year the conference focused on challenging issues therapists face, with special focus on addictions, affairs and sexual boundaries. With daily keynotes and multiple workshops running simultaneously, it’s impossible to attend everything. And as a presenter and co-sponsor, I was even busier than the average participant. So I can’t report on the entire conference or even on entire workshops. If you were there, please feel free to add points of interest in the commenting section at the end of this post.… Read more...

Managing First Sessions After an Affair

Treating couples in the aftermath of an affair is one of the most important challenges you will face. Other problems gradually weaken a relationship, but infidelity, once it is discovered, rips it apart abruptly and violently. So much is at stake. You have two partners who are hurting for very different reasons. They both want the pain to stop. You enter the couple’s world at this time of turmoil, rage, despair – and at a time when the meaning of the affair is fuzzy. Even though it may be presented to you as if there is one perpetrator and one victim, it’s not so conveniently black and white. How you position yourself and what you accomplish in that first session matters a lot.… Read more...
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