Yesterday, I finished a two-day training at Yeshiva University with the Gottmans, Dr. Jon Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz-Gottman. Couples therapy is, for me, an odyssey. Even though I have been working with couples clinically for some time now, the dynamic that exists in couples therapy–between the members of the couple, between the couple and the therapist, even between the couple and the therapy itself–is always something that challenges me, something that is as unique as the people I sit with in the office.
Having the proper tools to approach this type of work is vital. One of the main points of emphasis at the conference, was the need for research to validate treatment interventions, which is something that Dr. Gottman has been doing for 35 years. Thousands of hours of videotaped sessions, where the members of the couple are wearing heart monitors and pulse oximeters (which measure oxygen saturation in the blood), and sitting on chairs atop platforms known as “jiggle-ometers” (which measure fidgeting) have yielded results that can verify one way or another if treatment interventions are working and if the theories behind them are true.
I think what interests me about this point is that it seems like a novel idea to subject adult treatment methods to verification through research. Anyone who has browsed the self-help or psychology sections of bookstores has seen the scores of volumes touting the latest and most avant-guard approach. Has anyone ever wondered if these would hold up to research? Are we courageous enough to face that as practitioners?
But the fact is, when it comes to child treatment approaches, the research has been extensive. I had the pleasure of meeting Roni Loeb-Richter, who runs the Pinat HaYeled (child division) at the Family Institute in Har Nof, and who gave me a window on what has been going on in that field for years. And it’s research. Extensive research. The best professionals in that field are always getting refreshed by examining the latest findings in medical and psychological research, videotaping, going to conferences, studying parent-child relationships, and incorporating all of that into their practices. It’s refreshing to see a similar process going on in adult treatment, and couples treatment.
Bandler and Grinder did this type of work as well, and their findings eventually coalesced into the modality known as Neuro-Liguistic Programming (NLP). But NLP is more of an operator’s manual for effective human communication. They showed us what works, and how it operates. Their work has been an important contribution to the fields of personal development, which in turn has had positive ramifications for communication in business and in therapy. However, if you look at the Gottmans’ Sound Relationship House model, which is the organizational basis of their method, you will see that the top “floor” of the house is “Shared Meaning”. In other words, although they have researched and documented “what works” in couples’ communication and coping skills, the entire method aims towards this ultimate goal of creating shared meaning for the couple. It is with a clarified sense of the meaning shared by the couple that conflicts can be managed.
We heard at the conference that nearly 70% of all conflict items in a couple are perpetual, an that success comes not from resolving them, but managing them. I imagine that this is one of those instances where Frankl’s concept of attitudinal values–where a person can take a stance towards an unchangeable reality?