NP0011 Who's Afraid of Couples Therapy?

This blog focuses on discussion regarding the course NP0011 Who's Afraid of Couples Therapy?

NP0011, Couples, Session 1, Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson

Welcome to our latest New Perspectives on Practice series, “Who’s Afraid of Couples Therapy?” This exciting series, based on our November/December 2011 issue on the topic, will explore the challenges of couples work, discuss how therapists can become more comfortable doing effective work with couples, and much more.

What are the most effective strategies in working with couples? How can therapists structure therapy—particularly in the early sessions—so that couples leave with a sense of hope, rather than frustration? Can working with individuals who have serious issues in their relationships actually be detrimental to them? Find out the answers to these questions and much more. In this first session with expert couples therapists Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson, the creators of the Developmental Model of Couples Therapy, you’ll find out why clinicians often avoid working with couples and how you can better prepare yourself for couples therapy work.

Throughout the series, a Comment Board after each session will be available. The Comment Boards are a way for participants to share thoughts and reflections about what was most interesting and to ask questions of the presenters and of each other. We invite and encourage you to use these Comment Boards as a forum for thought and to continue the conversation sparked by each session. After listening to this first session, please just take a few minutes to share what you think. What was most striking about this session? What questions do you have? 

Thank you so much for your participation, and welcome to this relevant and important series. If you ever have any technical questions or issues, please feel free to email support@psychotherapynetworker.org.
11.29.2011   Posted In: NP0011 Who's Afraid of Couples Therapy?   By Psychotherapy Networker
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  • -0.1 avatar Florence Calhoun 12.07.2011 14:20
    This presentation by Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson was extremely insightful. There are many ways to engage couples in communicating more effectively, but their method gets deeper into self understanding at the emotional level and the process fosters a deeper compassion for each other. ...Good ideas.
    • Not available avatar Ellyn 12.08.2011 07:09
      Thanks Florence-
      It is the deep understanding at the emotional level and the couples' ability to go there that is so crucial for ongoing vitality in a long-term relationship. Thanks for listening and writing.
  • 0 avatar LAUREL SALMON 12.07.2011 14:28
    As a Marriage and Family Therapy student, I found this presentation to be so helpful in giving me an idea on how to prepare myself for working with couples. The structure described here seems like something that I could actually put into practice and that would be very effective in setting a productive tone for the therapy process. Great experience, looking forward to the next one!!!
    • Not available avatar Ellyn 12.08.2011 07:12
      If you want to read ongoing ideas about this and other challenges of couples therapy, go to www.couplesinstitutetraining.com/blog
  • 0 avatar Ishita Sangra 12.07.2011 14:32
    Found this webinar extremely informative. I have been working with couples for last 4 years. This webinar brought the focus back to most fundamental and important aspects of couples therapy. Two points stand out for me : 1. Changing clients attitude towards change. 2. Help clients to change how they talk about the problem....
  • 0 avatar Eileen C Quinn 12.07.2011 14:46
    Great presentation, but how do I download the coure materials? Can anyone help me?

    • 0 avatar Psychotherapy Networker 12.08.2011 10:01
      Hi Eileen,

      Thanks for your comment. To access the course materials, first log in to the Networker site, then hover (not click) your mouse over the yellow Your Purchased Items tab, and click on this couples therapy series. On that page, you'll find each session's materials. If you have any questions or issues, please feel free to directly email support@psychotherapynetworker.org.
      -Psychotherapy Networker
      • 0 avatar Margaret Knox 12.09.2011 02:32
        I have followed these directions and do not see any link to the document mentioned by Peter and Ellyn - only the four links, Watch Session 1 / Download Audio Session 1 / Bonus Video / Comment Board Session 1. Where is the link to the document please?
  • Not available avatar Rob Odell 12.07.2011 15:19
    I like both Pete and Ellyn. They are sincere, dedicated people and professionals that communicate a positive vision while not avoiding anything difficult. I have used their exercise that helps couples in the way that they talk (process), rather than a focus on content or 'solving' anything. I have to report that it produces uneven outcomes. There are couples that "don't get it", hard though that may be to believe. I tend to think that's for developmental reasons, but I am not clear which developmental stage or task reactions like that represent.
    • Not available avatar Rob Odell 12.08.2011 07:16
      Rob-You comment on the uneven outcomes. There are couples that "don't get it". This is true. The exercise reveals developmental stuck points and shows the therapist where each partner can benefit from the most work. The long-term hostile-angry couples and the severely conflict-avoidant have the most difficulty. Seeing where each partner breaks down in the roles is extremely helpful to know what to do next.
  • 0 avatar Mary-Eileen Hahn 12.07.2011 15:32
    Terrific presentation. I like the power and empowerment of their model for the couple and the therapist. I am looking forward to incorporating the big and small nuggets of their approach. Love the clip to use with a couple---- Is there a way to access the clip from the internet and keep it on my computer?
  • 0 avatar kristin duncombe 12.07.2011 16:20
    Wonderful discussion -- thank you to all. I am also unable to see how to download the course materials! Please advise!
    Thank you
    Kristin Duncombe
    • 0 avatar Psychotherapy Networker 12.08.2011 10:04
      Thanks for your comment, Kristin. To access the course materials, first log in to the Networker site, then hover (not click) your mouse over the yellow Your Purchased Items tab, and click on this couples therapy series. On that page, you'll find each session's materials. If you have any questions or issues, please feel free to directly email support@psychotherapynetworker.org.
      -Psychotherapy Networker
  • 0.1 avatar Stephanie Kitchen 12.07.2011 18:11
    I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation and got lots out of it. Have been working with couples for a while and can relate to the fears Ellyn and Pete talked about. Looking forward to finding the course materials, which I can't seem to locate. Anyone know where to access them?
    • 0 avatar Psychotherapy Networker 12.08.2011 10:04
      Thanks for your comment, Stephanie. To access the course materials, first log in to the Networker site, then hover (not click) your mouse over the yellow Your Purchased Items tab, and click on this couples therapy series. On that page, you'll find each session's materials. If you have any questions or issues, please feel free to directly email support@psychotherapynetworker.org.
      -Psychotherapy Networker
  • Not available avatar Lucy Becker 12.07.2011 19:15
    Extraordinary. Very rich. This information makes so much common sense. I enjoyed the examples of the processes for managing a reactive biological system so it won't hijack our responses to the ones we love most; and especially enjoyed the how we as a species are, as Peter said, standing on the cusp of exploring what creates change in the brain. I will be looking into Ellyn and Peter's training programs. Thank you Rich for bringing this extremely helpful knowledge to a larger public, and acknowledge Ellyn and Peter for creating, polishing and teaching their model. I see it as giving the world a powerful new way of showing couples how to create a great life together and further, shows the children of these couples how to sustain loving relationships of their own. This will make a difference down through the next generations, to thousands of people most of whom you will never know.
    • Not available avatar Ellyn 12.10.2011 06:52
      Thank you for your comments. Pete and I feel very gratified when someone like you can see the long-term effects of helping couples be very different with one another.
      Good luck in your work.
  • 0 avatar David Riley 12.07.2011 21:20
    i really found the presentation helpful as well. I have been working couples or only two years or so but I related to their admonition that the skills of individual therapy in some ways are less useful in the initial stages of couples therapy. I really can relate to losing control of the session in the initial stages. The need to be directive and to offer hope is so crucial for me ni the early sessions.
    • 0 avatar Dianne Herivel 12.27.2011 21:16
      I am catching up and have just watched this first session with Ellen and Pete. I am relatively new to couples' work and have experienced sitting in session with a highly volatile couple and feeling that sense of helplessness....I may have even asked a version of the "cliche" question Ellyn referred to. Pinpointing ways in which individual therapy skills are not useful is, in fact, very useful! I would love to hone more directive and ultimately more helpful skills in working with couples. Thanks.
  • 0 avatar David Riley 12.08.2011 09:19
    A question or Peter and Ellen. What are some ways that you have found helpful in engaging a male spouse who does not talk and is not very articulate about what is going on inside for him?
    • Not available avatar Peter 12.10.2011 08:02
      David - entire workshops, articles and books are devoted to that question. It depends on the personal history of the guy --trauma, abuse, family of origin history about transparency,cultural environment like New England reserve,etc..
      It also depends on if he can see any benefits from being more open and the price he is paying by being closed up

      Show him the Al Pacino clip and talk about the necessity of teamwork communication and accountability -

      Sometimes I talk about my early life decision to live my emotional life copied after my childhood heroes like the ancient Spartans and American Indian war chiefs. I talk about that being a coping mechanism for me and also what it cost me in terms of relationships, professional success, etc

      In other words, discuss with him this approach to life vs seeking a technique or interventions to get him to be more open or transparent.

      Don't expect you or his wife to make a breakthrough in his adjustments to life and relationships - it puts too much pressure on all of you. Also, I doubt if it was a surprise to his wife that after they got married -"OMG - he is not very open about his emotions" his being closed up had to appeal to some part of her.

      Good luck
  • 0 avatar Corinne Weinman 12.08.2011 10:09
    I found the presentation very helpful in identifying strategies for assisting couples in communication skills. Really liked the techniques presented. They indicated that the first session is two hours. I have generally then scheduled individual sessions with each partner. Is this something you recommend or do you think it undermines the process/
    • Not available avatar Ellyn 12.10.2011 06:56
      Corinne-There is not one easy answer to your question. Sometimes it is very facilitative to see each partner individually. Sometimes it increases fear and suspicion on the part of a very defended partner. I make the decision on a case by case basis.
  • Not available avatar Eileen Quinn 12.08.2011 19:24
    In yesterday's presentation there was a reference made that handouts on some of the processes would be made available. These are the "course materials" I am still searching for- did anyone find these?
  • 0 avatar Nick Child 12.09.2011 13:01
    Great to have series two on Couples up and running. So much for us to learn in the UK, I think (again). Just one question as we campaign to upgrade our couples deficient trainings: Is it true that a Marriage and Family Therapy training in the USA only has a couple of sessions on Couples Therapy? I had presumed the title and culture was that there was a more equal amount? And how much couples practice experience does a trainee have to do before qualifying? Thanks.
    Nick Child
    Edinburgh, Scotland
    • Not available avatar Peter 12.10.2011 08:24
      Nick - most graduate schools have one or two classes (not sessions) on marriage counseling - even if they doubled the training it would be inadequate for the complexity of couples therapy.

      As we mentioned in the interview, the training needs more than just giving information about theory and interventions. it is also about the therapist's capacity and ability to manage the emotional intensity of the couple's dynamics.

      I'm not sure what you mean by qualifying - but the desire to learn is the biggest variable of all.

      Training needs to be ongoing - see couples - get feedback from a trainer/supervisor - see couples - mess up -get feedback and support- see couples - get success - get feedback - see couples - mess up - get confused- feel lost- get feedback and support-
      wash rinse repeat

      Find someone you respect in the way they work with couples - get training from them - your life and the lives of your couples will be richer for your efforts.

      • 0 avatar Nick Child 12.10.2011 10:37
        Thanks for the response Peter. I get and share the principles well, but since details matter to us:

        US and UK terminology might not match. A full FT training in the UK is held over 4 years of fairly part time but therefore demanding academic and practice work. But it is designed with a National Health Service Child and Adolescent Mental Health work setting in mind. There is hardly any mention of couples required. The assumption seems to be that you just apply to couples what you do with families. Yes, I know. That's why we are campaigning right now.

        In the US is a "class" (when you mention it above) just one 1 hour thing on its own, or a half day workshop, or an hour a week for a term/semester? Is there any requirement of trainee MFTs to work with couples at all? Or is it all left to post-MFT qualification?

        I had presumed the M in MFT meant that couples were more substantially covered in the core MFT training. And that that helped explain the much bigger profile and creativity of Couple Therapy in the US.
        Best wishes
        Edinburgh Scotland
      • Not available avatar Peter 12.11.2011 06:46
        Nick - graduate school courses can be a semester or a quarter in length. generally they go to class 3x a week. the internships after completing the coursework may or may not include experience working with couples.it is up to the place where they do their internship.

        at the risk of being redundant- the training in graduate schools (for the most part) is woefully inadequate and too random for the complexity of the task
  • Not available avatar Sneha Nikam 12.10.2011 03:07
    My deepest thanks to psychotherapynetwork.org and team for making availbale these videos and enhancing our learning. I am second year MA Counselling Student from TISS (Mumbai, India). Currently in my fourth and last semester of the program and this time I have opted for "Marriage and Family Counselling" elective. I am eagerly looking forward to learn in this field. This is just the begining of my learning in this area, and getting an opportunity to view such videos is simply great. My deepest gratitude to all, specifically Ellyn Ma'am and Peter Sir for sharing about their website and making it open to share our concerns. Thank you
    All the Best.
  • 0 avatar Christina Veselak 12.10.2011 13:19
    I appreciated the acknowlegement that many of us did not get sufficient training in actual couples work to feel and be competent. I was trained and licensed as a marriage and family therapist in the early 80's. The coursework was decent, but I had no hands on training with couples. As a result, I have ended up as a fine individual therapist, licensed as a marriage counselor, who doesn't see couples!
  • Not available avatar David Riley 12.10.2011 21:15
    i became licensed in Ohio about 2.5 years ago and have seen a fair amount of couples in my brief stint. I have had some successes and some who have decided to split up. I often feel like a failure if I cannot help them to connect after several sessions. One couple asked for divorce counseling after they decided to split. I had no idea how to help them. Has anyone had this experience? I think they wanted to deal with the emotional process of implementing their decision. But they just left counseling. Maybe Peter or Ellyn could weigh in on this.
  • Not available avatar Marilena 12.11.2011 05:55
    I really loved the excellent presentation of Ellyn and Peter! In my practice, I always find it easier to be with my co-therapist when seeing couples; I think the emotional weight is lighter and equilibrium between partners is better maintained in that way. Seeing Ellyn and Peter together I was wondering whether they see couples as co-therapists. I think you make a great team together!
  • Not available avatar sue mathews 12.11.2011 13:57
    Have got so much out of this first webinar about couples. I like how you acknowledge how tough it can be to work with them . I have at times felt completely lost and helpless but at others it has gone well and it was hard to know what that was all about . Your webinar has helped. I would like to know what the pre-information before counselling asks the couples to take on board before starting? Thank you
  • Not available avatar Violeta Ramirez 12.11.2011 18:41
    Thank you, I really enjoyed your presentation, it was very clear and insightful. Gave me very good ideas to my own practise. I felt identified in the stress you can feel with couples therapy.
    Violeta from Mexico
  • Not available avatar C. Cordain 12.11.2011 22:59
    Rich, I am very grateful for these great sessions, but I wish you would speak much less. I want to hear these experts and get more time with them and their ideas, and less of you.
  • Not available avatar Joy Lang 12.13.2011 11:54
    Thank you so much for this helpful and practical session. I really appreciated the structure that you shared, and I'm going to try incorporating it with a couple that I've been working with that are "stuck".
    I so appreciate the immediate take-away and practice aspect of this, rather than a more theoretical "interesting, but what do I do next" presentation. Off to check out the resources!
  • Not available avatar Paula Gorelkin 12.13.2011 14:05
    I enjoyed the first session and look forward to seeing future sessions. Thanks for making it available.
    Paula Gorelkin, LMFT, NYMHC
  • Not available avatar Jessica Butts 12.13.2011 16:28
    Excellent presentation with real life tanigible tools to use with couples. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!
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