Yours, Mine, and Ours: Relationship Work with Stan Tatkin’s Psychobiological Approach to Couple Ther
As a doctoral level psychotherapist with over 20 years of private practice experience working with adult individuals and couples, I have trained with many renowned experts in the fields of individual and couple therapy. Currently, about half of my clients are couples and about a third of my clients are therapists or other helping professionals themselves. Because I consider myself a lifelong learner in both my personal and professional life, I am always on the lookout for new ways of not only growing in my own personhood but bringing my very best when serving my clients. I seek only trainings where I learn the theories and the methods, and have personal experiences in the role of client during the training experiences. I have always held that I would never ask of my clients anything that I would not be willing to do myself or have not personally experienced from their end of the therapy couch.
But before I say more about models of therapy and such, let me tell you about who I am personally. I am a 62 year-old female who is a mother, grandmother, pet parrot parent (say that three times!), lover/companion to my sweetheart, friend, reader, gardener, dancer, curious cat, and all around lover of life.
In 2014, I experienced an unexpected and painful end to my marriage. While I had some other long term relationships throughout the years, the end of this one really toppled my sense of, well…just about everything I believed to be real in my life at the time. After all, this was the relationship that had taught me how to love with more maturity than I had previously been capable, to persevere in the face of occasional dissatisfaction and disappointment, and to practice, again and again, my commitment to show up in the face of whatever calamity might occur in our lives. I was deeply in both love and our relational soup for the long haul.
While I couldn’t see it at the time (even though I readily see “it” in others), I became acutely aware of how our childhood histories influenced many aspects of both the beginning and the demise of our relationship. Here is what I know for sure: no matter how much some of us might want to deny it, we all bring our childhood and developmental histories with us into adulthood. There is increasing scientific brain and nervous system-based evidence to show us that these personal histories are encoded and stored in every part of our being. Some experiences we remember, but many we do not. However - and make no mistake about this - the effects of painful unresolved experiences from our past may influence *every.single.moment with our mates. (Read that again, please).
Luckily, many of us have healthy templates from our childhood that will contribute to the wellbeing of our intimate adult relationships. And unfortunately, we will also bring into the mix our histories of painful, scary, perhaps even traumatic experiences. Keep in mind that many of these are outside of our awareness. I bring my stuff, you bring your stuff, and this becomes the stuff that WE both have to deal with, but only nearly every day, for as long as we both shall live together. Yours, mine, and ours.
So, back to the theories and models and methods of couple therapy: There are some really good ones to pursue in training! To tell the truth, I find myself using the most helpful elements of all of my diverse trainings. But because of my own painful relationship ending and the desire to more deeply understand not only what happened but also how to help couples in the face of their difficulties, I was fortunate to find Dr. Stan Tatkin’s Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (www.thepactinstitute.com). I completed the three modules of the Level I training and will be completing Level II with Stan later this fall.
What I - and my couple therapy clients - appreciate so much about the PACT model is the immediacy of both the somatic information about self and other and interactions each couple experience during a PACT session. From the very first session, the couple sits facing each other in rolling chairs, and the PACT therapist sits on the outside of the ‘couple bubble’, constantly observing, and also teaching the couple to observe their own experience as well as the other’s. What happens in the moment within and between them during an eye gaze, a turning toward or away, a shrug of the shoulders, a hesitance to speak, or a loud voice? The PACT therapist always keeps everything in real-time, thus helping each partner learn how to become “an expert on each other’s owner’s manual” and to experience safely relaxing into “each other’s care,” as Stan so eloquently puts it. This model asserts that no matter what historical experiences we bring into our primary adult relationship, we can all develop a securely functioning base from which to flourish with our mates. According to Stan, it is all about surviving and thriving together in an unpredictable and sometimes dangerous world. Who is in the foxhole next to you? (Dr. Tatkin has such a way with words!) I especially love that the PACT model helps us see that how we each misbehave/misinterpret/mis-attune in relationships is not personal; we’re all just trying to ensure satisfactory survival the best we know how, especially within the context of our childhood experiences.
I cannot do justice to the well-grounded theory and organic and dynamic process of PACT by describing it. Those of us on the MN Trauma Project team (www.mntraumaproject.org) are so very excited that Dr. Tatkin will be coming to Minnesota on September 21-22 to teach us more about the PACT model.
Regardless of your level of professional experience or theoretical orientation, please consider joining us to learn from Dr. Tatkin as he teaches us to effectively and compassionately work in the service of our clients to heal from painful past experiences in the context of couple work. We will learn ho
w the relationship itself can heal the individuals within it. We hope to see you there!