Food for Thought

Beginning Couple Therapy: Helping Couples Attain Emotional Fluency

Pearl L, Kassan L. Beginning couple therapy: Helping couples attain emotional fluency. Group. Vol 36.1, pgs 3-18. Spring, 2012. Published with permission of The Journal of the Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society.

Many couples come to couple therapy without the expressive skills necessary to maximally benefit from marital work. The early stages of couple therapy provide an opportunity for them to learn how to put their feelings into words and to acquire skills that facilitate emotional connection. In the model presented here, the drive to connect to another person is understood as the most basic of psychological and physiological drives. The authors see problematic couple interactions such as criticism, contempt, and defensiveness as a function of a lack of emotional “voice,” which can result in misunderstandings based on misinterpretations and failed attempts to connect. These issues are addressed in the early stages of therapy by providing couples with the skills and voice to engage each other in a productive way. The article also describes and discusses the three most common couple dynamics, explains the three beliefs that underlie this approach, and illustrates the three types of interventions that derive from these beliefs. Clinical examples demonstrate ways to reframe statements to reveal the unspoken fears at the heart of many couples’ conflicts. Common mistakes made by less experienced couple therapists are also addressed.

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