A group of independent counselors serving Kingwood and Houston
Specializing in Gottman MethodTM Couples and Marriage Counseling

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Contempt: The Deadliest of The Four Horsemen

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

According to John Gottman, there are four destructive patterns of communication that can cause serious damage to a relationship. He calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

So far I have covered Criticism, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.  Each of these patterns is capable of causing serious damage to a relationship, but it’s the fourth horsemen, Contempt, that is the most deadly.

Why is Contempt so deadly?

In Gottman’s research he found that when contempt has hijacked a couples communication, it’s the biggest predictor of divorce.

Listen to this short video to learn what contempt sounds like and what can be done to reverse its course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dog-tor Will See You Now: How Therapy Dogs Augment Counseling Sessions

Saturday, April 27th, 2019

Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation, and almost as good for the soul as prayer.  author Dean Koontz

John sat across from Alicia, with tears in his eyes, telling the painful story of his father’s rejection of him in childhood.  He spent the latter part of his teen years drowning out his pain with drugs and alcohol.

“Nothing I ever did got his attention.  It was as if I didn’t exist”.

At this very moment, my therapy dog, Fred, approached John and placed his head on his lap.

John responded by patting his head and smiling through his tears.

Alicia noticed. “Animals gravitate towards John.”

He nodded.  He relayed that as a child his pets, a dog and a bird, were the only connection to his family.  Pets have always helped soothe him.

Fred’s instinct to attend to the person in most pain is not uncommon for therapy dogs.  In their quest to be a useful participant in their social group, they know when to offer up warmth and support.

The History of the Symbiotic Relationship of Dogs and Humans

It is believed that gray wolves, the closest ancestor to domesticated dogs, and humans have had a social relationship since hunter-gatherer days.  Initially the relationship was built on survival and hunting for the same food supply.  This dependency on one another to live is what helped create the social bond between dogs and humans.

During the 1800s, dogs became essential to life.   They herded livestock, controlled vermin and protected homes.  Socially dogs were used for field sports, shooting birds and companion animals.   

Charles Darwin had a well-documented history as a dog lover.  They sparked his interest and affected his studies.  He noted biological traits that dogs and humans shared (and we now can confirm that we share 84% of our DNA with dogs), and that impacted his study of evolution.  His book, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, is still relevant today.  Current research is illuminating that animals are capable of reflection, bliss, grief and mental illness.  

Sigmund Freud often had his Chow Chow, Jofi, in his psychoanalysis sessions. He noticed that people seemed to talk more openly with the dog present, especially children and adolescents. Present day studies show that Freud was correct.  Dogs do indeed help reduce blood pressure and have been shown to be beneficial with autism, PTSD and addiction.

The first true service animal was Buddy, the Seeing Eye Dog.  But Guide Dogs for the blind are just one example of how animals can be of service.  Dogs can be trained for medical detection purposes, such as sensing when a human’s blood sugar is too low or an epileptic seizure is about to take place.

Today, dogs are the most common companion animals, with 38% of households having one or more dogs. They are part of our social group and our family.  We allow them into our hearts and our homes . . . and even into our beds.  A recent study on women’s sleep quality and pet ownership showed that dogs offer a sense of comfort and security when they share a bed with us. 

Simply put, dog lovers cannot imagine their life without a dog in it.

Are Dogs Good Therapists?

A meta-analysis by Dr. Helen Louise Brooks from the University of Liverpool found that animals can benefit people with mental health issues.  Pets give stability, continuity and meaning to one’s life. They help manage human emotions and provide distraction from mental health issues.  Their unconditional love and support ease feelings of worry, distress and loneliness.  Their need for physical activity encourages connection with the outside world, as well as social interaction. 

The downside to pet ownership regarding mental health is that it can be negatively impacted by intense grief when they die. But as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

Each and every one of my dogs was special and served as a personal therapist, but most would not pass muster in a counseling office.  

Pete, our energetic Australian Shepherd, is smart, loyal and protective of our home.  But he barks a bit too much and startles too easily.

Minnie, our beloved greyhound, was graceful, gentle and had the most soulful eyes.  She was also aloof and anxious, eventually ending up on anti-anxiety medication.  I believe her early days at the racetrack were traumatic and left emotional scars we could not heal.

To be a good therapy dog, they must have many (not all) traits that would be welcome in a therapy session.  The list includes friendly, patient, obedient, few vocalizations, gentle, ease in all situations, exhibits calm with distractions, enjoys human contact, likes being handled/petted, good manners and clean.

Enter Fred, our 2-year old labradoodle. He literally checks every box and as an added bonus is non-shedding.  Seriously, he is an amazing pet and it was love at first sight.  It baffles me how someone could have relinquished him to a shelter.  

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  

Fred was well-behaved when he arrived, but we proceeded with basic training for good measure. Unbeknownst to us, the trainer we hired had trained many therapy dogs for local elementary schools.  She saw Fred’s special qualities and eagerness to please, and suggested additional training.

There are no regulations or laws governing the term “therapy dog”.  A licensed mental health clinician can choose to have a dog present in session, but at a minimum it is a good idea that the dog meets criteria to be an American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen.  From there, the therapist uses the methodology within their scope of practice and the dog augments the interventions. 

Options for registering a dog as a therapy animal include Therapy Dogs International and Pet Partners.  Additional trainings and certificate courses are available for therapists to learn how to best utilize animals in therapy.

So, what exactly does a therapy dog do?

The average dog has an IQ equivalent to a 2-year child, and a very smart dog about a 3-year old.  And while IQ is important for training purposes, it is a dog’s social intelligence that makes them a good therapy animal.  

First and foremost, dogs are social beings, so they will greet you warmly and accept you as you are. They don’t judge your looks, your flaws, your socioeconomic status or messy emotions.  Unconditional positive regard is a hallmark of a good therapist.

The mere presence of a friendly dog can serve as an icebreaker.  Client fears can be eased and small talk about the animal can be a great segue to rapport building

Therapy dogs will gravitate towards people in pain.  Their feedback is immediate.  Just like in my session with John and Alicia, when emotional mood shifts, the dog will be more attentive.  Fred often will take a nap near a client’s feet, as if to say “I am sticking close by, just in case you need me.”

Animals boost levels of oxytocin, also dubbed the cuddle hormone.  When you run your fingers through a dog’s fur, pat their head, look into their eyes or smell their puppy breath, your body can react to the interaction by reducing stress and blood pressure.  Oxytocin’s powerful affects help a mom bond with her baby during breastfeeding, generates feelings of closeness in couples through touch and orgasm, and promotes general feelings of well-being when we are  in positive interactions with others.  And who doesn’t want more of that?

Therapy dogs can also serve as bridge with difficult conversations.  As a couple’s therapist I often see partners struggling to communicate painful feelings with one another.  An attentive dog that looks you in the eye and tilts his head, as if he’s really trying to understand your words, creates a sense of safety.  Partners can practice their words on the dog before looking their partners in the eye.  This can be powerful.

Sometimes feelings get heightened in the therapy sessions, causing one to feel overwhelmed or emotionally flooded.  In these instances, hearts race and breathing becomes shallow.  By modeling the calm and steady breathing of a dog, either by watching their chest slowly rise and fall with each breath, or by placing your hand on the animal to feel it, a client can begin to self-soothe.  Once calm, therapy can resume.

Ultimately, what happens in the therapy session is a result of the therapist and client interaction. Skilled therapists can help move clients toward better functioning with or without a therapy dog in the room. However, for dog loving therapists and clients, the gentle presence of a therapy is dog is the cherry on top.  

For more information, check out Your Dog Advisor’s great article Therapy Dogs and Service Dogs: What Are They and Why Are They Important

You’re not the Grinch: You Don’t Hate the Holidays, You Hate the Work

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”  Charlie Brown and the Grinch have something in common, the lost meaning of Holidays. For the Grinch, being mean transfers his lack of joy on others.  For Charlie Brown, the holidays are things he suffers mostly in silence and endures.

Are you like the Grinch or Charlie Brown? You aren’t alone.  The holiday rush is a time when many people express to me unequivocally that they “hate the holidays.”  When pressed, they tell me that they really love the gathering and the festivities; it’s the work they hate.  They feel obligated to do things they don’t want to do or don’t feel supported in doing those things.

We spend some time considering how they might want to choose what they do and create holiday rituals that create joy instead of drain them.

Sometimes changing things up is part of the answer.  Think about what is really important about the holidays and think about curtailing some activities or tasks if they bring more aggravation than joy.

Even if you do that, you also need to ask for the help in doing all those holiday things.  But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.

Don’t be resentful.  Ask for what you need instead.  In my line of work, I help couples raise issues in their relationship that are sometimes conflictual.  That includes the holidays. Dr. John Gottman, well known for his research in relationship stability and divorce prediction and cofounder of the “Gottman Method” of therapy I practice, found that couples who stay together are gentlewhen they bring up a concern or issue in their relationship and they ask for what they need.

How we ask for what we need creates opportunity for connection with those we love.  When we don’t ask for what we need, we can feel disconnected and resentful.

That leads to problems sooner or later.

Broader requests are not as good as specific ones.  Let me give you an example from my own Thanksgiving dinner.  Several people were standing around doing nothing.  I could have yelled “help me!!!,” but that would neither be polite nor asking for what I specifically needed.  Instead, I asked those standing around to please cover the leftovers with aluminum foil.  Seems so minor but even that asking matters because if I hadn’t, I could have felt angry that people weren’t helping and could have felt overburdened.  Instead I felt supported.

With so many things happening over the holiday season, it is vital to ask those you love for what you need. Whether its help with the shopping, wrapping, decorating or cooking, asking for what you need is essential. Being gentle and clear also gives the person hearing the request the greater possibility for success.  So if you start to feel overwhelmed.  Turn to your partner and let them know, “Honey, I am feeling overwhelmed and I would really appreciate your help.  There is a lot of shopping left to do and I need you to help with getting the gifts for your parents.”

Practice this, and maybe you too can rediscover the joy of the holidays like Charlie Brown or the Grinch.

How to Sail Through Certification in Gottman Method Couples Therapy

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

Reposting a blog I wrote that appeared on The Gottman Relationship Blog

In October 2012, my business partner Alysha Roll and I travelled to Seattle for Level 3 Training in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. We were so excited to learn from the Gottmans in person and the experience did not disappoint. We left feeling energized and inspired, so much so that we spent the four-hour plane ride back to Texas planning our future as Certified Gottman Therapists.

We got off the plane in Houston and hit the ground running. Fast forward six months, and certification was the sweet reward for our “nose to the grindstone” approach. If you’re considering your own journey toward becoming a Certified Gottman Therapist (CGT), here are some tips to sail through the process.

Buddy Up

Since Alysha and I worked closely together, we opted for group consultation. This proved to be a very advantageous strategy as we provided each other with a great deal of support throughout the process. Being each other’s cheerleader, technical consultant, video screener, and honest opinion giver was enormously beneficial.

Choose the Right Consultant

Before leaving Seattle, we made it a point to meet and interact with many of the consultants. While Alysha and I viewed them all as experts, we sought out a consultant that was a good match for our personalities and business style. In addition to receiving clinical consultation, we tacked on some extra sessions to discuss the business side of being a Gottman therapist so we could see a maximum return on our investment. Selecting the right consultant is paramount. We scheduled weekly appointments with our consultant, which created good momentum and put some pressure on ourselves to obtain and produce tapes.

Market Yourself

Our initial to-do list was full of ideas to recruit more couples to our practice, not only to get a wide selection for the certification process but also to establish ourselves as experts in our community. We updated our website, changed our business name, and restructured our work schedules to accommodate more couples. We changed our advertising, sent postcards, informed other therapists of our new specialty, and hosted an Open House. We utilized the power of social media by blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting, and Pinning. If you build it, they will come. We had (and still have) an abundance of couples.

Have a “Can Do” Attitude

As a firm believer in “I will believe it when I see it,” I knew that I had to shed any doubts about my ability to become certified. The importance of a “can do” attitude can’t be stressed enough because anxiety and fear of failure will surely slow the process or make it come to a screeching halt. Our consultant was masterful in using softened startup when he had to give a negative tape review and I worked very hard on not becoming defensive. Trusting his opinions and expertise, while at the same time affirming my ability as a therapist, helped me keep my eye on the prize. I looked at negative feedback as an opportunity for growth rather than a failure on my part.

Immerse Yourself in the Gottman Method

After Level 3 Training, I realized that my knowledge of the Gottman Method was inadequate and I had a great deal to learn to become proficient. Reading most of the books on the required reading list helped me gain confidence and drilled the concepts into my head. Alysha and I began applying Gottman strategies in our own marriages but quickly realized that our husbands were not up to speed. We returned to Seattle with our spouses to attend The Art and Science of Love. Seeing John and Julie Gottman do a live demonstration of Aftermath of a Fight was incredibly poignant and helped our partners embrace the process as much as we did. Being workshop participants showed us how the interventions build on one another, melding the entire process for us. We left the workshop with an additional surge of energy to focus on the certification process.

Channel Your Inner Techie

Making and editing videotapes was not as daunting as I expected. Using a very basic video camera and extra rechargeable batteries allowed me to record and download several sessions per day. At the time I used Microsoft Movie Maker and have since switched to iMovie, but both are easy to use. Gaining consent to videotape was also less challenging than anticipated. My pitch was very brief and included three reasons to tape: video playback, self-critique, and consultant feedback. As I spoke I handed them the consent form on a clipboard, indicating that I expected them to sign. Not one couple refused to sign and they quickly got used to the camera. The most difficult thing about taping was taking the time to watch and edit tapes after coming home from work.

Certification Isn’t the End of the Road

We breathed a sigh of relief once we were certified, but Newton’s second law of motion was in play and we quickly moved forward, planning our own Art and Science of Love workshop in Texas. We have since conducted 16 couples workshops and it is one our favorite things to do as CGTs.

Many doors opened for us after we became certified. We continued our training with The Gottman Institute so we could teach Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 Trainings, as well as work with consultees. Clients began to seek us out specifically for Gottman therapy as well as Marathon Intensive Therapy sessions. Local groups asked us to speak about relationships from a Gottman perspective and we have both been interviewed by the national media.

One of the things I value most about being a CGT is the Gottman community. We ”rove” at The Art and Science of Love workshops in Seattle a few times per year and get to interact with the staff of the The Gottman Institute as well other CGTs. I never get tired of hearing John and Julie present at the workshop and learn something new each time. We also participate in the CGT Facebook group to share information and get support. Having a tribe that speaks the same language has been a tremendous source of encouragement.

Our goal was never just to “get it done,” but instead to embrace the journey of lifelong learning. We can’t wait for what’s next.

 

5 Things We Love About Our Couples Weekend Workshop

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

IMG_1669In October we put on another Art and Science of LoveWeekend Workshop.  It was our biggest workshop to date.  As we reflected on the success of the workshop we realized there are many reasons we love this work.

1.  We love seeing couples committed to working on their relationships.  At this workshop we had couples travel far and wide to deep their connection, IMG_3654including Virginia, Illinois, Mexico and even South Africa.  Good things happen when couples commit to building friendship and intimacy.

2.  The fact that we had couples from such diverse locations speaks volumes to how Gottman Method Couples Counseling is spreading.  Therapists trained in this method are now in Australia, Canada, Korea, Norway, Sweden and Turkey.  A therapist from Mexico attended our workshop and she now is seeking Level 1 training.  It is exhilarating to be involved in this global movement.

3.  We love and appreciate the support of our partners in putting on our workshops.  Both of our husbands help us role play techniques taught over IMG_3651the course of the weekend.  We demonstrate how to deal with actual issues from our personal lives.  Invariably evaluations show this to be a favorite part of our workshop.  Seeing the vulnerability of our partners and learning that all couples have conflict make this approach very accessible to participants.

4.  We love that this is a comfortable process for couples.  Couples appreciate that we make the workshop fun and interactive, yet a private, intimate experience.  It is not therapy yet yields the same results as 6 month of marital therapy.

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5.  This material works!  Time and again we have seen couples re-ignite the flames of passion, smooth out rough spots or make a complete transformation in their relationship over the course of the weekend.  Gottman Method Couples Therapy is based on 40+ years of research and the techniques used are powerful.

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Power, Respect and Influence . . . How Does Your Relationship Rate?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

We are just a few years short of the century anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Much has changed for women in the last 100 years and that has spilled over into changes in relationship dynamics.

For example, in the early 60s men were not allowed in the delivery room to see their children born. But now 91% not only watch, they actively participate in that special moment. When my son was born by C-section, I was being stitched up and my husband was the first to hold our bundle of joy . . . now I was the one that felt left out. Yes, the times have changed.

It’s no surprise that two income families are becoming the norm. Women outnumber men in higher education enrollment and that means they now vie for higher paying jobs.  While women still lag behind men in equal pay, men are losing their status as sole breadwinners.  A recent Pew Research analysis showed that of all married couples 24% had women as breadwinner, and that number is 30% among newlyweds.  This is up from 6% in 1960.

In his research of couples, John Gottman found that men who accept these changes are way ahead of the game in the world of parenting and relationships. They are sharing power and allowing themselves to be influences by their partner’s point of view.  Women who feel respected in this way are happier in their relationships.  And as we say in Texas, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

But accepting your partner’s point of view is a two-way street.  Women must allow themselves to be influenced by their husband’s point of view, especially in the area of parenting or other traditionally held female roles.  But the truth is women generally do a far better job of accepting influence from men than men do from women.

Developmental psychologists have found the roots of this  in childhood.  Girls accept influence from boys, but boys almost never accept influence from girls. This is most likely due to the fact that boys and girls are raised to manage emotions differently.  Boys learn to deal with emotion quickly and “to keep the ball in play”.  Girls “play house” and nurture baby dolls in their play, and they love playing with others. This means that when both genders come together at puberty, girls are more experienced about relationships.

Gottman’s work suggests there is a new kind of male partner that is emerging, one that is adapting to these changes.  The new male has reset his priorities and is turning towards relationships.

When men have a hard time accepting influence they say “no” and try to hang onto their power.  They become obstacles in the relationship.  They dismiss their wives needs and emotions and become righteously indignant.  And they also become lonely.

We are living in a world-wide revolution that is trying to correct the imbalance that has been historically there for women.  As women become more psychologically and economically empowered they no longer accept feeling powerless or stuck in unfulfilling relationships.

How are you doing with accepting influence in your relationship?

Rituals of Connection Strengthen Relationships

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Sound houseThanksgiving is upon us and that warms my heart.  Over the past 20 years my husband and I have unwittingly developed  rituals around this day of gratitude.  We honor his family tradition of tamales and football and my love of Brussels sprouts and my friend Mary, who has spent 18 of the last 20 Thanksgivings with us.  When any of these things are missing from our day, it simply doesn’t feel right.

And that is how rituals go.  They are routines that create shared meaning in relationships and strengthen emotional connections.  Notice that Creating Shared Meaning is at the top of the Sound Relationship House, the model we use in Gottman Method Couples Therapy.  Rituals are important in relationships because we look forward to them  . . . they symbolize who we are as a couple or as a family.  They have the power to smooth over rough spots and transitions that we all naturally experience over the course of time.

We tend to think of rituals on holidays, especially ones that honor cultural heritage, faith or family values.  But rituals on a smaller scale are equally important.  How couple and families routinely come together creates a sense of belonging.  Rituals demonstrate that we take time out of our busy schedules to make one another a priority.

Here are some examples of rituals from my own family, as well as ones I have heard from other couples and families:

  • Six second kiss when you wake up, when you say goodnight, and when you come and go
  • Family dinnertime where everyone talks about their day
  • Walking the dog every evening
  • Making a cheesecake for your partner on their birthday because it is their favorite dessert
  • Going for pancakes every Saturday morning
  • Weekly date night
  • Returning to your honeymoon destination every year on your anniversary
  • Leaving love notes by the coffee maker for your partner to find every morning
  • Training for a distance bike ride together
  • Watching a favorite TV show together
  • How you approach your partner for sex
  • Family game night
  • Going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
  • Snuggling for 10 minutes every morning after the alarm goes off
  • Parents and kids volunteering once per month at an animal shelter
  • Planting a vegetable garden every year
  • And my son’s favorite . . . serving his “lucky” foods (Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino and shrimp cocktail) before he plays a football game

Rituals create positive memories and are like glue in relationships . . . they keep you connected. What are the rituals in your relationships?

 

 

 


Couples Counseling and Professional Training Associates provides service to Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita, Porter, Fall Creek, Summerwood, North Houston and surrounding areas.

Couples Counseling & Professional Training Associates

1525 Lakeville Drive
Suite 107 & 108
Kingwood, Texas 77339
Ph: 281-348-0878

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