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.

I Can’t Live With You, I Can’t Live Without You: The Hostile-Dependent Couple

Earlier this week, we talked about how the symbiotic-symbiotic stage of a relationship can present as “peace at any price” conflict avoidance. This week, I’d like to take a look at when the symbiotic-symbiotic stage presents as “I can’t live with you, I can’t live without you,” hostile-dependent. These couples have a simultaneous fear of abandonment and engulfment. You’ll recognize this stage when partners have difficulty in identifying and articulating what they want, think, or feel. You’ll notice rapid escalation into regressive behavior. Or, since there is very limited capacity for autonomous interaction, as soon as one errs the other will punish or withhold.… Read more...

Peace at Any Price: The Conflict Avoidant Couple

When couples are in the symbiotic-symbiotic stage of their relationship, it’s often characterized by “peace at any price.” While minimizing differences and building a strong bond early in the relationship can help couples weather the storm later, you don’t want them getting stuck in this stage. If they do, they can be arrested in a conflict avoidant pattern. In moving couples from the discomfort of being alone, clinging to constant togetherness, or fights around times of separateness, you can help them self-soothe and maintain attachment through their feelings of frustration and disappointment. Take a look at the handout below, taken from the In Quest of the Mythical Mate kit.… 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...

Cabin Fever Couples

Couples around the world are being impacted by this challenging time. According to surveys we conducted recently, here are just a few examples of how people are reacting to sheltering in place: Some love it. They enjoy having more time together and a slower pace. “We are really getting to know each other better.” New couples decided to quarantine together and moved in hardly knowing each other. They’re finding out quickly whether they’re compatible or not.  Divorce filings increased in Wuhan and New York. Domestic Violence hotlines are busier than ever. The rate of calls to the suicide and help hotline in Los Angeles went up more than 8,000%.… Read more...

Couples and Mental Health Challenges in the Era of COVID-19

Since the inception of The Couples Institute in 1984, we have been dedicated to supporting therapists and improving their expertise, no matter where they are in the world, or what’s going on in the world. So when the “shelter in place” order first hit us in March, we were anxious to find out how the news was affecting therapists and what we could do to help. We conducted a survey asking therapists about their biggest challenges and concerns, and we shared the results with those who answered.  And today we’re writing to report not only those initial survey results but also main points from a follow up survey we conducted more recently.… Read more...

The Timed Tantrum

My wife Ellyn and I are hard at work looking for new and innovative ways to support your clients in these trying times. We’ve asked therapists in our online training group what’s working for them, we surveyed thousands of therapists about their ideas, and we’ve asked friends what has helped them stay sane at home in quarantine with their partner. Recently a great idea came to us from our daughter, Molly. Her #Quaranteam is herself and her partner, Jake. To deal with the mounting stress and anxiety they’ve come up with something they call the Timed Tantrum.  It was born in reaction to one of them just walking into the room and spilling their doom and gloom dread all over the other one, while the other sat there in stunned silence over how dark the thoughts were.… Read more...

Sharing Inspiration from my Volunteer Work

  There’s a scene in The Little Mermaid after Ariel trades her voice for legs and makes it to land to have dinner in Eric’s palace. New to the human world, she picks up a fork – and starts brushing her hair with it at the table. The audience laughs, knowing surely this is not what a fork is for! This whimsical and lighthearted scene may seem fit for just Disney movie fantasy, but I can tell you it also rings true for a group of kids in Africa. Over the last 8 years, I’ve been working in resettled refugee communities in Kenya. With the organization Village Impact [formerly called World Teacher Aid], Pete and I and our daughter Molly have helped build 14 schools including 120 classrooms and helped educate over 5,000 students. … Read more...

Fighting Chronic Misunderstanding about Traumatic Brain Injury

By Lori Weisman, MA, LMHC I want to share with you my reaction to the recent news story reporting President Trump’s remarks about the concussions that American service members received from the blast in Iraq. The original number was 34, but as of January 29, the Pentagon reported over 50 troops sustained brain injuries. This tragedy and the news that followed went straight to my heart since what we heard about brain injury is so far from the truth. I specialize in helping clients with traumatic brain injury, and I have seen the very real and very debilitating fallout of such injuries. Here is some of what was said: “….I… Read more...

Building a Foundation for Working with Highly Distressed Couples

When working with a couple that’s in deep distress, it can be a challenge to get each partner to look at his or her own role in the problems. More often than not, both partners blame and try to make the case that the other is at fault. What neither partner wants is for you to expose their vulnerability. I have an example from nature that illustrates what this looks like in couples’ therapy. It’s about the killdeer – a bird that lays its eggs on the ground. When a fox or a predator gets close to the nest, the momma bird jumps up and spreads her wings wide to attract attention. Then the bird drops one of its wings to the ground as though injured.… Read more...

Couples and Addiction

My advanced online training group recently has been focusing on working with addiction issues in couples therapy. For this blog, I thought I’d share some important insights from Sue Diamond, a couples therapist who specializes in treating addiction. Many couples come to therapy with addiction as an undisclosed issue. In fact, the addict has had many years, maybe even decades, to build up defenses that unconsciously deflect their awareness and prevent them from facing their addiction.  Also, when a couple decides to come for therapy, confronting an addiction may not be their top priority. They may be more concerned with their hostility or broken agreements.… 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.