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  • Writer's pictureSasha Raskin, MA

Deepening Our Understanding: Exploring the Multifaceted Modalities of Couples Therapy

As a couples therapist in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, I use a broad spectrum of therapeutic techniques, each based on a wealth of research and evidence. Today, I want to take you on a deep dive into these modalities, discussing not only their underpinning theories but also how they blend together in my unique therapeutic approach.

Gottman Couples Therapy

Developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, who I trained with, the Gottman Method is based on decades of research. This approach is about enhancing communication, fostering respect, nurturing intimacy, and cultivating empathy^1^. Beyond that, it also encourages couples to foster a culture of appreciation, turn towards each other's bids for connection, and create shared meaning.




These are not abstract concepts. They are practical, actionable strategies that couples can use to make their relationship more fulfilling. One of the key takeaways from Gottman's research is the idea that successful couples are not those who avoid conflict, but those who handle their disagreements in a gentle, empathetic manner^2^.

John Gottman once said, "Masters of relationships are talking about what’s happening and how it makes them feel in real-time." As a couples therapist, I aim to create this 'real-time' space for couples to express themselves honestly and openly, guided by the principles of the Gottman Method. This approach helps couples to maintain their connection, even in the heat of an argument, and to repair the connection if it gets damaged^3^.

Emotional Focused Therapy (EFT)

Rooted in the science of adult attachment and bonding, EFT helps couples understand and change their negative interaction patterns and create a more secure bond. Developed by Dr. Susan Johnson and Dr. Leslie Greenberg, EFT focuses on the emotional bond between partners and helps them to recognize and reorganize the key interactional patterns that foster this bond^4^.

It also encourages a safe and secure attachment between partners. Safety, in EFT, is not about the absence of threat or harm, but about accessibility and responsiveness. Couples learn to turn towards and lean on each other, particularly in times of need^5^.

Susan Johnson, the leading developer of EFT, beautifully stated that "Love has an immense ability to help heal the devastating wounds that life sometimes deals us." That’s why I see how healing couples therapy can be even on the individual level. If often feels like that is the biggest untold secret about couples therapy; good couples counseling can be amazing individual counseling as well.

By using EFT, I strive to help couples tap into this healing power of love. Whether it's helping couples heal from old wounds or supporting them in creating new, positive interaction patterns, EFT is an effective and powerful therapeutic tool in my practice^6^.

PACT Couples Therapy

PACT, developed by Dr. Stan Tatkin, with whom I also trained, is a therapeutic modality that blends attachment theory, developmental neuroscience, and arousal regulation. The aim is to foster secure-functioning relationships where both partners feel safe and secure, and where both partners can thrive^7^.



In a PACT therapy session, couples learn to regulate each other's emotions, soothe each other's fears, and resolve conflicts in a way that leaves both partners feeling satisfied and understood. They also learn about each other's attachment styles, which are the 'blueprints' of how we relate to others, based on our early experiences with caregivers^8^.

What I especially appreciate about this approach is that it’s all about actually doing the work in real-time, in the session, instead of just talking about the problems and rehashing the past indefinitely. Instead of the couple using me as a proxy to complain about each other, I direct the couples to have a real-time conversation with each other, make direct requests, to share the good and the bad in a kind and respectful but also direct and clear manner. In these ways, they get to learn new tools of communication that somehow got skipped in school, which they can then apply at home on their own.

That’s why I usually don’t need more than 5-10 sessions with a couple - we start doing the work from week 1!

Stan Tatkin, the founder of PACT, reminds us, "You're better together than you are apart. You're smarter, you're stronger, you're better looking. You're more interesting." By using PACT, I aim to foster this sense of togetherness in couples, and to build what Satn Tatkin calls the “couple bubble”, where both partners know that at all times their partner got their back. I encourage them to see their relationship as a safe haven where they can turn to each other for support, and as a secure base from which they can venture out into the world^9^.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative Therapy, developed by Michael White and David Epston, focuses on the stories we tell about our lives. It suggests that by changing the stories we tell about ourselves and our relationships, we can bring about positive change. In narrative therapy, we challenge and reshape the problematic stories that couples might hold about themselves or their relationships, helping them to re-author their narrative in a more empowering and constructive way^10^.

Narrative Therapy also respects the knowledge and expertise of the people in therapy. It invites couples to become active participants in shaping their own lives and relationships, rather than passive recipients of therapy. It encourages couples to reclaim their own voice, to express their needs and desires, and to create a relationship narrative that truly reflects who they are and who they want to be^11^.

White once shared an insightful comment, "The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem." I embrace this perspective in my therapeutic approach, helping couples to separate their identities from their issues and thus opening up new avenues for change. I encourage couples to see problems as external entities that they can confront and overcome together^12^.

Contemplative Therapy

Contemplative Therapy incorporates mindfulness and awareness practices to help individuals and couples develop a deeper relationship with their own mind and emotions. It is a way of bringing a compassionate, non-judgmental awareness to our inner experiences and to our interactions with others. It invites us to slow down, to pause, to really pay attention, and to respond to our experiences with care and wisdom^13^.

Contemplative Therapy is not just about cultivating mindfulness. It's also about cultivating heartfulness - the capacity to meet our own and others' experiences with kindness, compassion, and understanding. It's about creating a relational space where both partners feel seen, heard, and valued^14^.

As the Dalai Lama once said, "The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self." By incorporating contemplative practices into my work, I aim to help couples grow and evolve in their relationships. I invite them to bring a gentle, mindful awareness to their interactions, to recognize their habitual patterns, and to choose more loving and constructive responses^15^.

Strategic Therapy

Strategic Therapy focuses on identifying and disrupting negative interaction cycles. It provides practical, solution-focused strategies for change. In Strategic Therapy, we aim to identify the patterns that are causing distress in the relationship and then to introduce new behaviors that disrupt these patterns and bring about positive change^16^.

Strategic Therapy does not dwell on the problem. Instead, it focuses on the solution. It does not get caught up in the why but focuses on the how. How can we change these patterns? How can we create a more satisfying relationship? These are the kinds of questions that guide the therapeutic process in Strategic Therapy^17^.

Jay Haley, one of the founders of Strategic Therapy, said, "Therapy should not be theory-driven, but rather strategy-driven." I strive to apply this principle in my work, providing couples with strategic tools to navigate their relationship challenges. I work with couples to identify their goals, design a plan to achieve these goals, and then execute this plan in a systematic and strategic way^18^.

Exploring emotions is very important and we definitely do that in sessions. It is equally important to examine what are you going to do about that thing that bothers you, as well, not just name the fact that it bothers you and the emotions that are associated with that. Actions matter because that is how we create change in our lives.

Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)

SFBT focuses on solutions rather than problems, emphasizing clear, concise, and realistic goal settings. It encourages couples to envision the kind of relationship they want and then to identify the steps they can take to make this vision a reality. It also recognizes and capitalizes on the couple's existing strengths and resources^19^.

One of the key principles of SFBT is the belief in the inherent competence and resilience of couples. Even in the most challenging circumstances, couples have strengths, abilities, and resources that they can draw on. In SFBT, we aim to help couples recognize these resources, to draw on their own wisdom and experience, and to become active agents of change in their own lives^20^.

As Steve de Shazer, the founder of SFBT, said, "It is what the client does that is the magic, not what the therapist does." I deeply believe in this sentiment. In my practice, I aim to empower couples to discover their own solutions, to build on their strengths, and to create their own 'magic' in their relationship^21^.

Structural Therapy

Structural Therapy is all about understanding the underlying structure of a relationship and then making strategic changes to improve this structure. Developed by Salvador Minuchin, Structural Therapy helps couples to recognize and reshape the implicit rules and roles that govern their interactions^22^.

Structural Therapy also addresses power dynamics in relationships. It helps couples to establish clear boundaries and to create a balanced power dynamic where both partners feel valued and respected. It also promotes flexibility, encouraging couples to adapt their relational structure in response to changing circumstances^23^.

Minuchin once said, "The hope of any therapeutic process is to allow for the person to incorporate relational experiences into his life in a way that leads to a greater coherence of his identity and a greater understanding of the parts of his emotional experience." By using Structural Therapy, I aim to help couples create a relational structure that supports their shared identity and fosters emotional understanding^24^.

Systemic Family Therapy

Systemic Family Therapy considers the individual within the context of their wider relationship and family systems. It acknowledges that an individual's behavior and feelings can be influenced by their relationships with others. By addressing these systemic interactions, we can bring about positive change not only for the couple but for the entire family system^25^.

Systemic Therapy also emphasizes the importance of open, clear, and respectful communication. It encourages family members to express their feelings, needs, and expectations in a way that is respectful and understanding of others' perspectives. It fosters a family environment where everyone feels heard, understood, and appreciated^26^.

As Virginia Satir, a prominent figure in Systemic Therapy, noted, "Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible — the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family." This perfectly encapsulates my approach when using Systemic Family Therapy in my practice^27^.

Sex Therapy

Sex Therapy addresses sexual issues in the context of a couple's overall relationship. It provides a safe, confidential space for couples to talk openly about their sexual concerns and to explore solutions in a respectful, non-judgmental way^28^.

Sex Therapy is not just about sex. It's also about communication, trust, and emotional intimacy. It's about understanding and respecting each other's sexual needs and desires, and about creating a sexual relationship that is satisfying for both partners^29^.

As pioneering sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer said, "Sex is good, but not the most important thing. Be in love with your partner and sex will follow." As a couples therapist, I aim to help couples enhance their sexual relationship as part of a holistic approach to relationship improvement^30^.

Life Coaching

Life Coaching is a future-focused practice that helps individuals and couples to clarify their goals, overcome obstacles, and make changes or shifts in their lives; coaching focuses on creating the future you desire^31^.

Life Coaching helps couples to get clear about what they want in their relationship and how they can achieve it. It provides practical tools and strategies to help couples navigate their challenges and to create a more satisfying and fulfilling relationship^32^.

Tony Robbins, a prominent life coach, said, "The only impossible journey is the one you never begin." In my work, I see life coaching as an invitation for couples to embark on a journey towards their desired future. It's about taking action, making changes, and creating the life and relationship they truly want^33^.

Conclusion

As a couples therapist in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, I believe in using a diverse blend of modalities to provide the best possible support for couples. Each of these modalities has its own strengths, and when combined, they can create a truly comprehensive and effective therapeutic approach.

Therapy is a journey, and every journey is unique. The key is to find the right path for you and your partner, one that supports your shared goals and respects your individual needs. Thank you for joining me on this exploration of the therapeutic modalities I use in my practice.

I look forward to helping you and your partner to navigate your journey, to overcome your challenges, and to create a relationship that is loving, satisfying, and fulfilling.

If you’d like to see if it is a good fit for us to work together you can simply schedule your free 20-minutes long video consultation here: https://www.heartandmeaning.com/free-consult

References

^1^ Gottman, J.M., & Levenson, R.W. (2002). A two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: exploratory analyses using 14-year longitudinal data. Family process, 41(1), 83-96.

^2^ Gottman, J.M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.

^3^ Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (2016). An open letter on porn. The Gottman Institute.

^4^ Johnson, S. (2019). Attachment theory in practice: Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) with individuals, couples, and families. Guilford Publications.

^5^ Johnson, S.M., & Greenberg, L.S. (1985). The differential effects of experiential and problem-solving interventions in resolving marital conflict. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53(2), 175.

^6^ Johnson, S.M. (2012). Practice of emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating connection. Routledge.

^7^ Tatkin, S. (2016). Wired for dating: How understanding neurobiology and attachment style can help you find your ideal mate. New Harbinger Publications.

^8^ Tatkin, S. (2016). Wired for love: How understanding your partner's brain and attachment style can help you defuse conflict and build a secure relationship. New Harbinger Publications.

^9^ Tatkin, S. (2018). We do: Saying yes to a relationship of depth, true connection, and enduring love. Sounds True.

^10^ White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: WW Norton & Company.

^11^ White, M. (2007). Maps of narrative practice. New York: WW Norton & Co.

^12^ White, M. (2011). Narrative practice: Continuing the conversations. WW Norton & Company.

^13^ Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

^14^ Germer, C.K. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions. Guilford Press.

^15^ Dalai Lama, & Cutler, H.C. (1998). The art of happiness: A handbook for living. New York: Riverhead Books.

^16^ Haley, J. (1973). Uncommon therapy: The psychiatric techniques of Milton H. Erickson, MD. WW Norton & Company.

^17^ Haley, J. (1987). Problem-solving therapy. Jossey-Bass.

^18^ Haley, J. (1993). Jay Haley on Milton H. Erickson. Psychology Press.

^19^ De Shazer, S. (1988). Clues: Investigating solutions in brief therapy. WW Norton & Co.

^20^ De Shazer, S., Dolan, Y., Korman, H., Trepper, T., McCollum, E., & Berg, I.K. (2007). More than miracles: The state of the art of solution-focused brief therapy. Routledge.

^21^ De Shazer, S., & Isebaert, L. (2003). The Bruges Model: A solution-focused approach to problem drinking. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 14(4), 43-52.

^22^ Minuchin, S. (1974). Families and family therapy. Harvard University Press.

^23^ Minuchin, S., & Fishman, H.C. (1981). Family therapy techniques. Harvard University Press.

^24^ Minuchin, S. (1998). Where is the family in narrative family therapy? Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 24(4), 397-403.

^25^ Satir, V., Banmen, J., Gerber, J., & Gomori, M. (1991). The Satir Model: Family therapy and beyond. Science & Behavior Books.

^26^ Satir, V. (1988). The new peoplemaking. Mountain View, CA: Science & Behavior Books.

^27^ Satir, V. (1972). Peoplemaking. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.

^28^ McCarthy, B.W., & Metz, M.E. (2008). The “good-enough sex” model for couple sexual satisfaction. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 23(3), 227-234.

^29^ Leiblum, S.R., & Rosen, R.C. (1989). Principles and practice of sex therapy: Update for the 1990s. Guilford Press.

^30^ Westheimer, R.K., & Lopater, S. (1997). Dr. Ruth's guide to good sex. Warner Books.

^31^ Whitmore, J. (1992). Coaching for performance. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

^32^ Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, H., Kimsey-House, K., & Sandahl, P. (2007). Co-active coaching: New skills for coaching people toward success in work and life. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

^33^ Robbins, T. (1991). Awaken the giant within: How to take immediate control of your mental, emotional, physical, and financial destiny. Simon & Schuster.


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