As you can read under my Specialties, one of my core areas of clinical practice is couples therapy. I have more than twenty years experience and nearly ten years of specialization with this population. Presently, nearly half of my practice is devoted to working with couples. The vast majority of these clients are in committed relationships while some are seeking to iron out areas of concern prior to settling down together. Still others are looking to strengthen their relationship as they prepare for major life transitions such as parenthood or retirement. I welcome LGBTQ couples and interracial couples who face a unique set of challenges. Periodically, I meet with couples seeking to part in an amicable manner and looking for counsel to reduce friction, to understand the roles each played in the demise of their loving partnership, and to lessen the impact on their children.
Some of the common reasons couples seek out my services include:
High conflict/communication problems
Emotional disconnection and loneliness
In-law and loyalty issues
Blended family tensions
Sexual Issues including differences in desire, performance issues
Diverging life goals or values
I consider my role more as an emotional coach and biopsychological educator. Some couples enter my office fearing or sometimes hoping I will serve as judge or interpreter. I explain that my function consists of creating an environment in which both of your perspectives will be validated and respected and providing you with a greater capacity to respond to one another with curiosity and receptivity rather than reactivity. I also stress the importance of carving out time for fun, romance and sex. Having trained extensively with John Gottman (I am a Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapist,) one of the leaders in marital research and therapy, in the early stages of therapy, I focus on eliminating contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling, the behaviors most predictive of divorce and/or significant marital strife.
The many challenges couples experience as their best friend abruptly is felt to transform into an adversary is rooted in our biology and our neurology. I offer couples ways of attuning more to their physiological response, namely the threat response that arises in a part of the brain called the amygdala and in turn prepares the body for a fight/flight/freeze response to danger. While this response is adaptive in life or death situations, in intimate relationships it is all too easily triggered yet, excepting in cases of domestic violence, rarely appropriate. Learning to note triggers, to deescalate and, when necessary, to take time-outs and practice self-soothing behaviors is often most helpful to high conflict couples.
In addition to my primary reliance on the Gottman approach, I am strongly influenced by the work of Sue Johnson and her Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples, having completed formal training in this method. Other influences include the work of Mona Fishbane and Brent Atkinson who integrate recent findings in neuroscience with couples therapy, the psychoanalytic therapists, David Scharff and Jill Scharff, and Stan Tatkin’s PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy). Finally, my training in Somatic Experiencing and its offshoots in the work of Diane Poole Heller, and her DARe (Dynamic Attachment Re-patterning experience) approach to attachment difficulties and trauma, enables me to focus on moment-to-moment fluctuations in the interactions of couples as they unfold in my office. By slowing a couple’s process down and offering alternative experiences to what are often automatic or typical responses, I promote an environment in which both partners can increase feelings of trust and emotional security.
In addition to working with couples in my private practice, I have facilitated workshops for couples and, in 2012, published a self-help book for couples. Steering Your Marriage: A Guide to Navigating the Road Together. The book offers couples strategies and tools for effectively navigating common challenges couples encounter across the lifespan. The book is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.