Thursday, October 4, 2012

Welcome to our program.

Welcome from Ray and Rosalie
For participants in the Focused Psychological Strategies with Relationship Problems professional training.
Bruce Kaplan, New Yorker
Focused Psychological Strategies is an intensive one day program that outlines a range of focused strategies for relationship problems.

It is relevant for working with both individuals and couples who present with issues around relationship maintenance.

Strategies discussed will include psycho-education, behavioral and cognitive interventions, and acceptance based interventions.

To complete the program, participants will need to attend the day, read a relevant reference and post or email a 400 to 600 word reflection on the use of a strategy or strategies (including generic client material if appropriate).

APS endorsed 11-541 (ten hours)

Reference will particularly be made to the work of John Gottman, Michelle Weiner Davis, and Andrew Christensen.  Behavioral, cognitive-behavioral and integrative behavioral approaches will be discussed.

Bruce Kaplan, New Yorker
Course Materials:

John Gottman

John Gottman:

Gottman interview

Gottman interviewed on the online Edge magazine

You can also visit the Gottman Institute online.

Michelle Weiner Davis

Michelle Weiner-Davis:

Why should I be the one to change.

You can also also visit

Neil Jacobsen

Neil Jacobsen:

Outlining the core ideas of the integrative behavioral approach.

Acceptance versus change interventions. 

Andrew Christensen

Andrew Christensen:
 Acceptance, mindfulness and change in couple therapy

Other references:

William Doherty

Bill Doherty on common errors in relationship work

Negative interaction cycle diagram:

(Click on the image to get a version you can save.)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Requirements for certification

You do not need to apply for our certificate if you simply wish to claim your seven hours of professional development.

However, if you want our endorsed certificate for ten hours, you will need to:

  • Read an article relevant to the topic (you may use one of the articles listed on the blog, but you may also use your own reference)
  • Post a 4-600 word reflection to the blog, or alternatively email the reflection to Ray at
  • If you email your reflection, please indicate if you give your permission for your reflection to be posted to the blog, to contribute to group discussion of the topic.
  • The reflection should discuss the application of one or more focused strategies to a case (disguised for privacy) or case situation. We are flexible as to how you discuss the material.
  • Remember that this is a public blog, which van be read by anyone, so any case discussion should be disguised and generic.
Your certificate should be emailed to you within a week.  If not, contact Ray.

To post to the blog, the simplest way is to compose in your word processor and paste into the blog.

To open a box to paste into, just find the word "comments" at the end of this blog and click on it.  A box will open that you can paste your reflection into.

Don't forget to include your name.

Best wishes from Ray and Rosalie.

We look forward to seeing you at our other programs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Flora's reflection.

Love is Contagious
It takes one to tango

The “space” between couples, between the couple and the therapist and between each person in the therapy room is filled with many things. As a therapist I can be sucked into the negativity of the couple interaction and be caught up in a never ending cycle of trying to fix things, which can only exacerbate the cycle further. If I were to give myself the freedom/ knowing/mindfulness to stay in a loving/carin  humane stance, my interaction with the couple can be “loving”, nuturing. Could this create hope for them and for me so that together we can fill those spaces with “positives” . Reflecting on my practice, I notice that in that stance I am more likely to partner their journey. But just as love is contagious, negativity can also be contagious, which helped me to reflect on the language, intonation, punctuation.. I might use in the session. It sure takes one to tango – brought to my consciousness the value of mindfulness “moment to moment”.

We talked about the couples’ vulnerabilities tossed up in their relationship. What about our vulnerabilities tossed up in their relationship -  transference and counter transference issues. If the therapist managed their vulnerabilites, would the space between be filled with manageable differences so that friendship and dreams are given a chance to fill the space

I like the idea that what clients valued was not just improvement, but acceptance of the current situation and being able to view it from a distance. How much does the therapist have to model this in the session, so that we can all see it from a distance. Would the distance allow the spaces to be filled with positive interaction.

The notion that love is an activity allows us to visualize the TANGO. One really needs only one partner to lead well and one to follow, for the dance to flow. Despite one being a leader  and one a follower in the dance, there is a lot of energy, which allows the expression of difference as the partners move together, although their steps, if looked at  individually may be in the opposite directions! This could be the accepting of difference and that differences are irreconcilable.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Val's reflection.

Val’s reflection:

While I have worked with many clients with a variety of presenting issues over the years, I have never worked with couples. I decided to attend this workshop because although there is only one person in the room with me, ‘the relationship’ is often also present in the session. For a while now I have wondered how to adequately address and provide time in therapy for working on relationship issues, which were clearly impacting on the individual and the issues they sought therapy for. It was thus very heartening to hear Michelle Weiner Davis’s resounding ‘it takes one to tango’ in starting to realise that in fact effective work could occur. How issues are raised in the relationship, how one partner communicates with the other and taking time to identify their own goals for the relationship are all relevant steps in beginning to make positive changes in relationships and these can all start with one person.

I can see how I will use other information covered in the workshop, particularly much of what Gottman’s research has contributed to this area. To appreciate the level of difference that exists and disagreement that is likely to remain in the relationship was elucidating. For one it highlighted the need to avoid becoming stuck on problem-solving strategies when working with relationship issues. This and the negative interaction cycle in particular, illustrated for me the importance of integrating ‘acceptance work’, even if using more traditional behavioural couple therapy. How using strategies that encourage increased understanding and acceptance of each others emotional experience will inherently assist to combat the negative behavioural patterns that have become the predominant interaction provides me with a thoughtful way of understanding relationship issues. Further, articles by Christensen and Jacobson in which they examined differences and similarities between integrative behavioural couple therapy and traditional behavioural couple therapy and specific research examining the effectiveness of IBCT were of considerable interest. The fact that changes in behaviour were also seen in couple who completed the acceptance strategies was particularly interesting and made me think about what really drives lasting behaviour change.

Finally, to illustrate the application of the IBCT approach I will briefly discuss an existing client. I have been working with this client for an ongoing addiction issue and the last month in particular has focused on relapse prevention following his decision to quit his addiction. His relationship had become a topic in therapy because of his partner’s choice to continue to use when he decided to stop. The addiction was an activity they had for many years enjoyed together. In therapy to date we had explored the impact on him of her decision, the difficulties this created in the relationship and the need for his understanding that she needed to get to that decision on her own. In our last session I introduced the idea that this choice, this difference between them may in fact not be resolved. This facilitated a healthy discussion about what that would mean for him, for his decision to remain abstinent and for their relating. Although difficult for him to consider initially, by the end of the session he had begun to identify preparatory steps he could use to begin to manage this given the importance it placed on his own decision. It moved work with this client from a slightly stalled place of focusing on his partner and her choices, to a place of him beginning to consider what the relationship would be like and what it would mean to him if this difference remained between them. With much still to learn and put into practice, I am encouraged about the knowledge and resources available for working with relationship issues, with or without both parties.

 Val Markovska

Robert's reflection

Reflection on the Focused Psychological Strategies Workshop

I enjoyed very much the workshop presented by Ray and Rosalie, it introduced principles of Integrative Behavioural Couples Therapy (IBCT) based on the work of Neal Jacobson and integrated it with the strategic work of Michelle Weiner-Davis. In this way we learned about the importance of making small positive behavioural changes and how powerful the symbolism of little acts can be to the progress of a relationship, communicating a willingness to take responsibility for change and a positive intention to begin now – a sort of “it takes one person to Tango” (who would have known?). The article By Christensen, Sevier, Simpson and Gattis which extends the work of Jacobson, expands this process introducing ideas of acceptance and mindfulness. It is interesting to note that in the process of moving from traditional Behaviour Couple Therapy to this more integrated form (IBCT) they emphasise the importance of past relationships and patterns learnt. Perhaps the possibility of further integrating this approach with more attachment based approaches is not too far into the future.
We discussed the concept of breaking the chain of negative communication cycles by focussing on the underlying emotions driving the communication. Dialogues in therapy can often appear as criticisms and blame directed to the other, however the underlying feelings are generally more profound fears and hurts associated with the relationship as well as a sense of failure/loss of self confidence directed to the self. In my practice this is certainly a powerful way of breaking the negative cycle during sessions and it was helpful to be reminded during the workshop of its effectiveness.
In the workshop we also revisited the interesting research of John Gottman. His pragmatic, research base approach normalises many of our experiences in therapeutic work with couples and our experiences in our own personal relationships. The finding that most differences between couples and most areas of conflict do not necessarily get resolve (about 65% remain unresolved!) and it is the manner in which we manage the differences and relate to our partners through the process that determines much of the quality of the relationship. I found helpful the idea of emphasising Friendship as a dominant aspect of the relationship (although I found Ray’s comment on the longevity of passion – 2 years max – rather depressing and hope that he was only projecting!!). I have always found Gottman’s ideas relating to the dangers of stonewalling, contempt and lack of respect as worthwhile components of an assessment as well as part of a psycho-educational process with couples.
Thanks for an interesting day

Robert Takac

Monday, May 7, 2012

Claire's reflection.

While finding many of the ideas discussed in the workshop interesting – some as refreshers, some quite new, it has been especially great to discover Michelle Wiener Davis’ work So often I have found myself working with an individual client, exploring their relationship and silently wishing I had the other half there! And wondering about the wisdom and usefulness of taking up precious therapy time on this.
The concept of Cheese-less Tunnels is useful here – most people can identify that what they’re doing isn’t working. So while they generally want the other person to change, it is perhaps easier when there is only one person in the session to be able to say ‘we can’t work on Doug changing as he’s not here, what do you think you might be able to do differently?’ And maybe, as a result of that, Doug may also change his dance steps

Bill Doherty’s article ‘Bad Couples therapy: How to Avoid Doing It’ had some really useful and thought-provoking ideas. His statement that ‘not having a moral framework is to have an unacknowledged one’ rang bells.
On the one hand, it was a familiar concept – an earlier gig I had was training Lifeline volunteer counselors and I introduced a session on values, the core message being ‘If you haven’t thought about where you stand on a whole myriad of core issues that will come up in calls, this will get in the way’. So often volunteers would say ‘I have no particular stance on (e.g.) same-sex relationships’, when what they really meant was ‘I haven’t thought through the issues at all, and will no doubt find myself doing so when I am a call!’
But I had not given enough reflection myself to where I stand on my values around commitment.
Thinking about couples I have worked with, the pattern seems to be that, where the couple voices a strong desire to stay together even when difficulties are huge, it’s easy to go along with this.
Where one partner has doubts, or I find myself struggling a bit to actually like one partner, I think it’s possible I have  worked in a less committed way to help the couple stay together. As if I am confusing who actually has to spend time with this person!
The ideas around divided loyalties also struck a chord – remembering a couple where the woman mentioned childcare issues on the phone but it was 45 minutes into the session before I realized the male partner present was not the biological father of the toddler in question – their relationship had started while she was pregnant (but had ended her relationship with the child’s father). To talk through the very different developmental stages here – a sole mother coping with demands of a toddler, alongside the thrills of the ‘puppy stage’ of a relatively new relationship – might have helped the couple find more empathy for each other.

The ‘gender issues’ discussion during the workshop was interesting. I have found that Gottman’s notions of stonewalling and flooding have been really powerful when labeling male’s behaviour – men feel like you get it, and women are offered a physiological explanation for their partner’s behaviour that doesn’t feel so personal, and perhaps helps them see a little more vulnerability in their partner. Which hopefully creates a more empathic connection.
But the idea that was new to me was about the male primitive drive to ‘make my wife happy’. I had taken the common expression ‘happy wife, happy life’ to be somehow pejorative – ‘do the right thing to keep her happy, whether or not there’s any genuine meaning behind the action’. But I see it a bit differently now, and will do some more reading around this!

Great reflection from Glen Barnes

Inspiration in application
Based on the Focused Psychological Strategies Workshop.
Rosalie Pattenden and Ray Hawkes
April 24, 2012.

So much of the workshop was practical and immediately applicable.  The following week, I had many opportunities to utilise the strategies from the workshop with my clients.  Therefore, rather than choose one strategy to apply, I have documented a number of snapshots.

Annie and John

A couple in their mid- 30s.  The couple have a young toddler. John was previously married and has a teenage son.  This was a first session.

Annie and John have been together for 3 years, and are not married.  John arrived agitated and unsure that counselling can help (he has already tried individual counselling), and while he finds it difficult to express what the problem is, he fears a repeat of his last separation, which was “a very messy divorce”.   Annie cries softly for most of the first 30 minutes, and describes that she had several long term relationships before she partnered John; and the last one she stayed in way too long.  She has no other children, and seems devoted to her young daughter – her life as a mother is a stark contrast to her previous life, where she travelled and had a high profile job.  She seems contented with this new life, and her distress to be more about how her husband feels than her own disappointment in the partnership.

Strategies which were useful:
i.              The Tunnel of Love - Leunig’s cartoon.  My quick sketch (acknowledging Leunig, of course) prompted the question of what was going on - now that the tunnel had burrowed underground. It provided an opportunity to normalise the journey for most couples, and this reframe did not require many words (a picture is worth a thousand words!)  They quickly volunteered that they had many lengthy discussions about the partnership, but no productive outcomes. By inference they were telling me that they required input from me to break this impasse – ie seeking expertise/ wisdom from their counsellor.

ii.           Different Definitions of Love.  It was a surprise to this couple, who I suspect had been seeking a mutually agreed definition of love, that most couples do not understand love in the same way. John, who holds a senior position in a financial institution and in his work life had little time for the relevance or impact of emotions.  However, when I asked them for examples of an ‘ideal’ intimate partnership, John opted for Romeo and Juliet!  In sharp contrast to his successful work life, he had a very idealised idea of “romance “ (his word).  Annie contrasted her two other serious (‘too-long’) relationships as being passionate , but lacking a shared rationality. A revelation emerged, which had not been previously discussed: Annie had told John that she felt she had chosen him for more than just passion – she felt the shared intelligence and world view were equally important. Apparently, she had mentioned this to John quite some time ago- and he had been quietly festering on it; he understood it to mean, “I don’t actually love you.’  

iii.          Gottman’s Relationship House offered a measured reassurance, and linked to John’s work world.  We focused on the importance of friendship; they both feel that they are strong in friendship. Annie had not recognised that this wasn’t enough for John, and he hadn’t spoken of this blow to his hopes.  This lead us to the concept of Shared Dreams.  The arrival of their baby, who they both adore, had heightened their tension, as they were unable to agree on their hopes for the future of their child. Gottman’s research – showing that 70% of satisfaction is derived from friendship, for both men and women – would have also been valuable – but we didn’t address this.  I’ll keep it mind for next time if appropriate.
iv.         Jacobson’s  Acceptance Model, with objectives of emotional acceptance, and interventions of explored emotional reactions and mindfulness, were briefly addressed.  Both spontaneously moved to the very different ways affection was displayed in their family-of-origin.

v.           Sense of Hope. The homework activity was embraced enthusiastically by both.  We discussed the very different modality for expressing affection that they had grown up with:  John’s family always greeted each other with a kiss, including all the men (to each other), while Annie’s family kept a distance, almost never touching each other.  Between sessions, they have agreed to practice expressing their affection for each other in the way the best member of the in-law family would do it.  This raised more laughter, with John checking with Annie about which one he should model himself on.  He asked could he actually seek advice from her brother (who Annie suggested was the most successful).  It appeared to me that having something new to do also reinforced the budding sense of hope which was not there at the beginning of the session.

At the end of the session both Annie and John volunteered that they had had a number of significant new insights, and they were keen to come back.

Kellie is a beautifully groomed intelligent woman in her early fifties, now working professionally, as a result of completing university qualifications as a mature age student.  She first presented with concerns about the relationship between her husband and their teenage son.

It became clear that Kellie’s major concern was the (somewhat bizarre) behaviour of her husband, which included very unreasonable anger toward the son. She used the sessions to give thoughtful and respectful consideration about what was behind her husband ‘s strange behaviour.  It emerged that his business had gone under, that they had large credit card debt, yet he refused to discuss either their relationship or their financial problems, despite her really respectful and creative approaches to him.  In the session following the workshop, Kellie arrived ready to ‘throw in the towel’ and begin steps to separate. 

Strategies which were useful:
i.               Takes One To Tango.  Kellie felt despondent about her husband’s refusal to respond.  Utilising Michelle Davis’s ‘be willing to tip over the first domino’, Kellie became energised to keep working to connect with him.  Although she had been ready to give up on the 25 year marriage, she still remembered him as lovable and kind – before the recent onset of secrecy and withdrawal.

ii.           Gender Differences.  We spent considerable time empathising with the importance of the business to her husband; and her new insight helped her to understand why he was so hesitant to receive her offers of support; she had taken these as personal rejection.

iii.         Relational Mindfulness.  Kellie developed another approach to talking with her husband, and left the session ready to try again.  

A few days later she emailed that he had responded with a willingness to do things differently and that he ‘loved her heaps’.   We will see what happens next at the next session; hopefully he will also attend.

 Sally and Pete

Sally came to see us because her ‘lovely’ daughter (14) had turned into a ‘monster’; and she was very unhappy about their continual fights. Older sibling (19) is studying, and does not live home..  Sally and Pete have been married 21 years.

In the first session Sally almost neglected to mention her husband at all – she was fired up and furious about her daughter’s behaviour and she felt angry and alone. In the second session, a slightly less frenetic Sally began to vent annoyance at how her husband appeared to support the daughter’s angst towards her.  Sitting with Sally was still not unlike being caught up in a cyclone!  She is a very busy, successful business woman, and she also raged at her husband for making a bad investment several years ago – details not forthcoming. She said she now had no respect for him. To a suggestion that we might invite Pete to future session, Sally responded forcefully, “I’ll make him come next time”.  I tried to have her defer the invitation while we prepared for a couple session; Sally had shown very little interest in ‘standing in his shoes’, and I feared it was premature.

Next session (after the workshop) Sally arrived with a retiring Pete in tow; he announced he didn’t want to say anything!  Sally looked as if she was spoiling for a fight. 

Strategies which were useful:
i.          Negative Interaction Cycle.  It was clear with almost nothing being said, that Sally and Pete were caught in a destructive cycle of hurt and vengeance (like the workshop Mary & John).  I explained that before we tried to explore ways of them managing their differences, we needed to be sure that each did actually know what the other one thought.  I then asked them to give a few minutes thought to what their partner would say about their differences.   I then asked Sally to tell me, as if she was Pete, what their differences were.  She responded energetically.   He smiled, and when asked to give Sally feedback on her accuracy, told her she was ‘right on’.  He then did the same for Sally, and got a similar response.  We were on our way!  We then very carefully looked at how they each saw the daughter’s behaviour; again I asked them to speak as if they were the other.  As Pete described how he thought Sally felt, including that she saw his behaviour as more than favouring the daughter, but actually showing his disinterest in Sally, the furious and stormy Sally dissolved before our eyes, tears poured down her face, and she spoke in a quiet voice I had not heard before.  I congratulated them on how well they understood each other.

Pete spoke up about how he feared that any proposal his daughter tried to negotiate for ‘freedom (eg visiting friends after school) would be blocked by Sally.  Sally talked about how it hurt that Pete could see that she felt neglected and unloved, yet did not reach out to her.  .   They were both saying how they had lost the ability to communicate.

ii.        The Relationship is the Unit.  Gottman’s concept was palpable in the room.  They faced each other quietly and carefully, and we looked into the details of their difference as a challenge for ‘their unit’; which was of paramount importance to both of them.

iii.      Five Languages of Love.   Exploring Chapman’s different styles prompted both Sally and Pete to suggest practical activities to begin to meet the other’s needs before the next session.

No mention had been made of the financial loss which Sally had described with such vigour and resentment the previous session, as the reason for her great loss of respect for Pete.  So I obliquely mentioned it; neither wanted to take it up; smiles continued.   A very much softer Sally, and a more vocal Pete left the session, with an appointment for next time – together.