Intensive couples therapy (also known as marathon couple counselling) is a really new idea in Australia, although it is quite well known in the USA, where it was developed by Drs John and Julie Gottman.
It is ideal for busy couples, as the purpose of intensive couples therapy is to help couples fast track the communication or other issues that are occurring in the relationship.
On a recent trip to the Canada I was fortunate enough to study Levels 1 and 2 of the Gottman Method Couples Therapy program, and now am excited to be able to offer this exceptional approach to Brisbane couples.
How Intensive Couples Therapy Works
I begin by conducting a thirty minute phone interview with each partner within the couple, and having each partner complete the online Gottman Relationship Checkup assessment. The assessment costs US $29 for a couple.
Once the assessment has been completed, the intensive couples therapy session times are booked; typically, it is held over two days (ie a weekend), starting at 8am and going through until 4.30 or 5pm.
Each day is broken up into ninety minute sessions with a twenty minute break in between, and 45 minutes for lunch.
A deposit of $500 is required prior to the initial phone interviews and online assessment analysis, while the remain $2500 is to be paid before beginning the intensive couples therapy sessions.
The Gottman Relationship Checkup
The Gottman Relationship Checkup assesses five areas of the couple’s relationship:
- Friendship and Intimacy: relationship satisfaction, emotional connection, romance, and admiration;
- The Safety Scales: trust, chaos, commitment, and emotional philosophies;
- The Conflict Scales: stress, relationship harshness, and conflict management;
- The Shared Meaning System: shared rituals, values, and goals;
- Individual Areas of Concern: individual issues, or concerns such as safety, sex, depression, drug and alcohol use, violence, anxiety, or anything that may require psychological or psychiatric help.
The online questionnaire takes approximately two hours to complete. However, you can take a break at any time by logging out and back in, and your previous answers will be saved.
Once both you and your partner have completed the questionnaire, your results are sent to me as your therapist for analysis. At this point, I will invite you both to attend intensive couples therapy sessions. The information you have provided in the online assessment will help me to guide and direct your therapy, as it will reveal much about your relationship, such as your strengths as a couple, as well as what areas you find the most challenging.
The Gottman Method for intensive couples therapy is based on over forty years of research on marriage and relationships, and is evidence-based in proven outcomes.
Over the course of the two days, therapy is based on the “Sound Relationship House” theory. Work will be done on each of the seven levels, which are described as follows:
7 Levels of the Sound Relationship House Theory
- Level 1: Build Love Maps – The first level or foundation of the “house” is the Love Map – formulating a road map of each partner’s inner world. By asking open-ended questions, the couple learns about each other. As each member of the couple changes and grows as an individual, partners will need to update this information regularly.
- Level 2: Share Fondness and Admiration – The second story is about building a culture of appreciation, fondness, affection and respect in the relationship. Instead of scanning the environment for you partner’s mistakes and then correcting them, the focus is shifted to looking for what your partner is doing right.
- Level 3: Turn Towards – The third level examines the couple’s emotional connection – do they turn towards, or turn away from each other, in the many small moments which make up daily life? Seemingly small choices, can have a huge impact on a couple’s relationship. Is the couple depositing or withdrawing from their “Emotional Bank Account” with each interaction?
- Level 4: The Positive Perspective – The first three levels form the foundation of the relationship “house” and together create level four. If levels 1-3 are solid, the couple will have a “Positive Sentiment Override” (PSO). If these lower levels are not working, the couple will have a “Negative Sentiment Override”. This override determines the atmosphere of the couple’s interactions. Unfortunately if a couple is in Negative Sentiment Override (NSO), even neutral or positive messages are perceived as negative; partners see each other as adversaries rather than as allies. According to the Gottman theory, is is not possible to change NSO to PSO, except by changing the quality of the couple’s friendship (levels 1-3).
- Level 5: Manage Conflict – Couples identify not only the core issues in their relationship, but also the triggers (eg defensiveness, criticism, contempt) for the negative cycles that they have fallen into. Part of this level is exploring the role each of these triggers has played in the person’s pastaqws. There are two main types of conflict which couples will face:
- Type 1: Couple problems that are resolvable. As part of intensive couples therapy, couples will learn about the “Four Parts of Effective Problem Solving” and how to apply them.
- Type 2: Couple problems that are perpetual and probably not resolvable. In order to avoid getting stuck, the couple will learn about establishing a dialogue with the perpetual problem.
- Level 6: Make Life Dreams and Aspirations Come True – When problems and conflicts arise, how can couples continue to have a positive emotional connection? Connection needs to be built by the couple intentionally every day, through play, fun, and exploration/adventure. As each partner helps the other to realise important life dreams and goals, it creates the basis for unlocking conflict gridlock.
- Level 7: Create Shared Meaning – The final level is the “attic” of the house. This is where a couple intentionally creates (or does not create), a sense of shared meaning in their life together. Shared meaning is made up of a couple’s history and philosophy, their emotions and how they express them, as well as their rituals, goals and roles – both in their own relationship, the family of origin, and within the larger community. Shared meaning influences how a couple prioritises their time and resources.
If you and your partner are interested in finding out more about intensive couples therapy, and how it can help your relationship, please feel free to book an appointment with me.
Author: Linda Thomson, B Arts, Social Science, Human Services, Masters of Counselling, Master Social Work Studies, Social Work, AASW.
Linda Thomson has many years of experience in different fields of counselling, and has also managed counselling services in the not-for-profit sector. She has been involved in training and mentoring counsellors, and providing professional supervision.
Linda has extensive training in and a passion for relationship counselling and especially sex therapy, as she believes that it is such an important and often misunderstood part of our lives.
To make an appointment with Relationship Counsellor Linda Thomson, you can try online booking – Mt Gravatt or call Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.