Tag Archives: couple counseling

Upcoming Workshops on Love and Couple Counseling at the University of Montana

Starting on February 27, 2015, the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Montana will be offering a “LOVE” Workshop Series on campus in Missoula. This workshop series will include four different full-day trainings. The dates, topics and presenters for this series is below . . . and a registration form is attached. Registration form LOVE – Final

Session I: Friday, February 27, 2015, 8:30-4:30
Part One: Facilitating Intimate Conversations
Presented by: Veronica Johnson, Ed.D. and Kirsten Murray, Ph.D. – University of Montana

In American culture, romantic partners are taught to dread having serious relationship talks. This workshop focuses on helping couples build positive expectations and effective skills for communicating directly about their relationship and relationship issues like sex, money, and in-laws.

Part Two: The Business of Working with Couples
Presented by: Jana Staton, Ph.D. – Independent Practice – Marriage Works

Although helping couples have happier and healthier relationships is intrinsically rewarding, if you’re a professional counselor or therapist, you probably want to get paid too. In this workshop, Jana Staton, Ph.D. will offer tips for maximizing the efficiency of the business side of your couples counseling practice.

Session II: Friday, March 20, 2015, 8:30-4:30
Romantic Relationships as Healthy Partnerships:
Adlerian Approaches to Couple Counseling and Education
Presented by: Jon Carlson, Psy.D., Ed.D. – Governor’s State University

In this workshop, Jon Carlson, Psy.D., Ed.D., author of 60 books and producer of over 300 counseling and psychotherapy training videos, will provide training on the Adlerian approach to couple counseling. His presentation will include two main parts: (a) a discussion of the relationship enhancement activities of TIME (Training in Marriage Enrichment), and (b) a focus on the principles and practices of Adlerian couple counseling (including a live case demonstration!).

Session III: Friday, April 24, 2015, 8:30-4:30
Emotion-Focused Couple Counseling
Presented by: Mark Young, Ph.D., Gonzaga University

Based on a foundation of attachment theory, emotion-focused couples therapy is currently one of the most popular and scientifically-supported approaches to working effectively with romantic couples. In this workshop, Mark Young, Ph.D., will help you understand the theoretical foundations and learn practical skills necessary to using emotion-focused couples therapy in your practice.

Session IV: Friday, May 8, 2015, 8:30-4:30
Part One: Complications of Love: The Challenge of Parenting
Presented by: Sara Polanchek, Ed.D. and John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.

Researchers consistently report that romantic relationship satisfaction decreases with the birth of the first child and continues to decrease for about the next 20 years. The focus of this workshop will be on how parents can parent as partners and sustain their love and romance through the childrearing years.

Part Two: Complications of Love: Aging Well Together
Presented by: Catherine Jenni, Ph.D. and Jana Staton, Ph.D.

Recent research has surprising scientific findings from neuroscience, health outcome studies, and clinical trials about the effects of interactions with those we love on our immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. This workshop will include tips and best practices on how to keep a couple relationship alive, even in the face of declining health, aging, or illness.

Talking About White Privilege with Tommy Flanagan

Tonight I’m in Absarokee, MT and had a chance to talk awhile with my very cool nephew, Tommy Flanagan. Tommy attends Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. He shared with me this evening that he’s currently enrolled in several courses focusing on gender, feminist, and cultural issues. We talked about our respective invisible knapsacks and he even asked me how a White guy like me would approach counseling with a Black Lesbian woman. In response, I said, “Well, I just wrote something about that in the Clinical Interviewing text and I had a Black Lesbian woman review it so I would be sure to get some feedback.”

And so here’s the piece:

Working with Gay and Lesbian couples or couples and families from different cultural backgrounds can present clinicians with unique challenges (Bigner & Wetchler, 2004). As discussed in Chapter 11, when a clinician and client have clear and unmistakable differences, the client may initially scrutinize the clinician more closely than if the client and clinician are culturally similar or of the same sexual orientation. These circumstances call for sensitivity, tact, and a discussion of the obvious. Imagine the following scenario:

You’re a white, heterosexual, Christian male. You have a new appointment at 3pm with Sandy Davis and Latisha Johnson for couple counseling. When you get to the waiting room, you see two African American females sitting side by side. You introduce yourself and on the short walk back to your office you mentally process the situation and come to several conclusions: (a) You’re about to meet with an African American Lesbian couple; (b) you’ve never done therapy with this particular cultural minority group; (c) you’re aware of your uncertainty and your concerns about your lack of knowledge makes you feel uncomfortable . . . but also recognize that you want the couple to be comfortable with you . . . and realize they may be feeling similar discomfort about your cultural differences; (d) you are clear that it’s your ethical mandate to provide services to the best of your ability; and (d) although you don’t feel competent to work with this couple, this is a low-income clinic and so the couple may not have many alternatives. How do you proceed?

Below is a brief list of how a clinician might specifically handle this situation. After this list, we provide a description of the underlying principles:

  1. Welcome the couple to your office with the warmth and engagement you offer to all clients (e.g., “I’m glad you could come to the clinic today for your appointment and am happy to meet you. . .”).
  2. Explain confidentiality and the limits of confidentiality. Also, review relevant agency policies that you routinely review with new clients.
  3. If you know the purpose of their visit (e.g., couple counseling) because of the registration form, explain how you usually work with couples.
  4. Let the couple know you’d like them to ask any questions of you they may have . . . but before they ask the questions, explain: “My usual approach with couples is primarily based on work with heterosexual couples. I don’t have experience working with African American Lesbian couples. I’d like to work with you as long as you’re comfortable working with me and it seems like the work is helpful. I know there aren’t lots of couple’s counseling options available. What I propose—if it’s okay with the two of you—is that we start working together today. Today I’ll be asking you directly about your goals for counseling, but also about your interests, values, spirituality and other things that will help me know you better as individuals and as a couple. And toward the end of our session I’ll ask you for feedback about how you think our work together is going and I’ll try to honor that feedback and make adjustments so we can work well together. If, for whatever reason, it looks like we can’t work together effectively, I’ll offer you a good referral to another therapist. What do you think of that plan?”

As described in Chapter 11, the general multicultural competencies include: (a) Awareness (e.g., knowing your biases and limitations); (b) knowledge (e.g., gathering information pertaining to specific cultural groups); and (c) skills (e.g., applying culturally-specific interventions in a culturally sensitive manner). In addition to these competencies, the preceding case illustrates the need for clinicians to explicitly address cultural differences using the following strategies:

  • Cultural universality (treating culturally different clients with same respect you offer to culturally similar clients)
  • Collaboration (working with the clients to understand the particulars of their culture and situation)
  • Feedback (soliciting ongoing feedback regarding client perceptions of how the interview is proceeding and make adjustments based on that feedback).

No clinician can be expected to have awareness, knowledge, and skills for working with every possible diverse client. That being the case, if you also rely on cultural universality, collaboration, and feedback to help strengthen the therapeutic alliance, you’ll have a better chance for therapy to proceed in an ethically and professionally acceptable manner.


Making a Plan to Stop Yelling at the Kids

This is a case example from “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” It focuses on working with a couple on yelling at the kids.

Case: “I Think She Likes Yelling”

In this case, the consultant is working with a couple to address parenting issues and the mother discloses that she finds herself yelling too often at her two young (ages 6 and 8 years) children.

Mother (Nan): I try very hard not to yell, but I can’t seem to stop myself.

Father (Ed): She does yell a lot. I think sometimes she likes to yell.

Nan: [Gives Ed a blistering glare]

Consultant: Hang on a second. Ed, I know you’re saying what it looks like to you, but I don’t think that captures what it feels like to Nan on the inside. Most parents tell me that yelling happens when they feel desperation. My guess is that Nan doesn’t enjoy yelling, but that sometimes she wants so badly to get the kids to listen that she yells out of desperation and tries to get them to cooperate. It probably doesn’t feel enjoyable. [This is a risky, but necessary, confrontation and reframe.]

Nan: That’s exactly right.

Ed: Okay. You’re probably right. It just looks that way to me sometimes.

Consultant: And as you’ve both said, Nan is with the kids more often, and the parent who’s with the kids more is often the biggest target for defiance. With all that in mind, I’ve got some ideas about how Nan might start feeling a little more control over her yelling and get a little more cooperation from the kids.

Nan: That would be great.

Ed: I agree.

Consultant: Another thing that’s important to remember is that it’s humanly impossible to never feel angry toward our children. Anger is normal and natural. Usually we feel anger when we care deeply about something. Nan, you’ll feel angry again and probably soon, so a big part of this involves making a plan for how to deal with it when it comes up, because it will.

In this case, it was obvious that Nan felt out of control and Ed was feeling a bit smug or superior. The glare that Nan directed toward him when he volunteered his theory about her yelling was blistering. However, rather than drifting into marital conflict, the consultant moved through the conflict using empathy, reframing, and universalization, and by giving both parents new words to describe why Nan was yelling. To do this, she pointed out that yelling is a natural behavior that emanates from desperation and anger, and not from personal enjoyment.

The second key part of this intervention involves helping parents make a new plan.

Consultant: It’s important to remember that you’ll be angry again. You can’t stuff your angry feelings and say and do nothing, so you need a new plan for exactly what you’ll do next time your children misbehave. You can’t just decide to stop yelling. Most of us tried that and it doesn’t work very well. You need to come up with something else to do instead. Does that make sense?

Parents: Yes.

Consultant: Nan, this new and improved plan is all about you and only a little about your children. It should be a plan you feel good about and have a chance of enacting successfully. Your child’s misbehavior may or may not continue. You just need to do something different. What possibilities come to mind for you?

The consultant is using a solution-focused “Do something different” task and, while doing so, can engage one or both parents in a problem-solving process. In particular, the consultant is thinking in the back of her mind about ways Ed might be supportive by being available when Nan calls for his help (like tag-team wrestling). Additionally, this is a time when the consultant might share a brief personal story about how she effectively dealt with yelling (as long as the story is compassionate and joining, not condescending, and offers hope for positive change; see online resources at http://www.familiesfirstmontana.org/ for John’s favorite yelling story).

The third part of this intervention involves making a plan to practice the new plan.

Consultant: Okay. Now you both came up with ideas about what Nan might do to deal with her anger instead of yelling. Having good ideas is important, but ideas won’t magically cause less yelling. It’s really hard to stop yelling. Sometimes that’s because your kids are so used to it that they’ll automatically keep misbehaving until you yell—because that’s the established pattern. Because of that, unless you think it through mentally by imagining exactly what you will do and practice the behavior physically (with a friend or with Ed), you may quickly return to yelling because that’s what you all know best. Which of these new alternatives to yelling could you two practice together?

In this case it will be critical for Ed to support Nan as she experiments with alternatives to yelling. Like many spouses, he will need to be coached on what to say and do. Most importantly, he’ll need to agree to refrain from criticism and to notice and comment on her progress (as long as that’s okay with Nan) because his current attitude is likely contributing to Nan’s anger and yelling. Getting a commitment from Ed should be conducted in a direct and positive manner.

Consultant: Ed, can I be completely straight with you?

Ed: Uh, yeah. Sure.

Consultant: For couples, it’s always easier if both people make changes. I know Nan’s yelling is completely her responsibility. But, at the same time, you have the power to make this situation better or worse. If you just stand back and let Nan sink or swim, in a way, you’ll be contributing to the yelling. If you support her, if you take your share of time with the kids when she needs you, if you tell her you love her and how great she’s doing, you’ll be contributing to the solution. It’s really up to you. Can you step up here?

As with all interventions, the exact wording needs to be your own. Our tone may seem too direct and confrontational.  However, if you do brief work with parents, you’ll need to find the right words for talking with parents in a way that engages them in the change process. In fact, we’ve found that parents, especially fathers, appreciate a brief, respectful, and direct approach that acknowledges their power within the family system and challenges them to contribute to a healthier and happier family.

In the end, Ed agreed to take complete responsibility for the kids three times a week so Nan could go to the gym and work out. They also agreed to sharing the bedtime ritual more equally, because being on her own to put the children to bed was annoying Nan. For her part, Nan agreed to develop a monitoring system for her anger and to take a break on her own (if Ed wasn’t home) or to ask Ed to step in and take over the parenting responsibilities. Ed agreed to step in when Nan made the request.