An Approach That Assumes
Things Can Go Wrong.
We specialize in the in-between -
between the spouses and between them and us.
Relational struggles between spouses show up in how they relate to us. We offer a straightforward approach that models a healthy relationship with the couple, even during turbulence in the clinical relationship. When therapy is stuck, we avoid the temptations of diagnosing someone, endless empathy (but no action), lecturing them about what they’re doing wrong, or coming down hard on the “resistant” spouse.
About the Trainers
Bill Doherty, Ph.D
The material I'm sharing in The Doherty Approach comes from my deep belief that most marriages can be healed if two people give fully of their time and energy—and if they work with a skilled therapist. The reason I've finally agreed to accept my daughter’s advice to share the approach I've developed in the past 44 years is that I’ve come to this belief: the everyday practice of couples therapy can be greatly improved. This belief comes from my new research on clients’ experience in couples therapy, from interviewing couples on the brink of divorced about their prior couples therapy, from participating in countless supervision and case consultation groups. We can do better, and I think I can help.
Let me be clear: there are many pathways to healing. I have no interest in model wars. But I should not have the ongoing experience of sharing a basic systemic, relational perspective in the first session with a couple, only to discover that this is a brand new kind of insight for them—despite months or even years of prior therapy with a therapist with extensive training or even certification in a model of couples therapy.
My daughter has pointed out that in my long career I bridge systemic family therapy, where I started, and couples therapy. (Nearly all couples therapy models come from psychology, not family therapy.) This has helped me understand that couples are more than dyads: they are embedded in broader family and other systems, and in therapy they form a new system with the therapist. And as someone deeply engaged in community and cultural change since the mid-1990s, I bring a historical and cultural lens to thinking about couples, families, and therapy.
I think that our field has been too captivated by individual psychology. We do not need to go rooting deep inside two individuals psyches in order to get to work helping their marriage. Research does not support the idea that this approach is necessary for effective outcomes. Nor is that what the couple are hiring us to do.
Inner work is great...in individual therapy. Couples therapy ought to be the "in-between" specialty.
Using three research-supported theories to address the wide array of marital stressors and problems, I offer a humanizing, practical approach to both spouses, in order to accomplish the task they signed up for: improving their marriage.
After workshops I've taught over the decades, therapists tell me my material "validates their instincts."
That is my favorite compliment.
Elizabeth D. Thomas, MS
I began working with my father in a community initiative setting in 2001, but it wasn't until 2005, helping run a marriage therapy directory, that I got more in the therapy weeds. I've been asking my father since, "What about teaching your approach to couples therapy?" He said that there are already good models out there.
Perhaps timing is everything. Since 2001, I've had life throw everything at me: marriage, babies, serious health crises, more surgeries than I have fingers, and big career changes. In 2013 I acquired my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from one of the oldest programs in the USA: University of Wisconsin-Stout.
It was there I began to realize who my father was, as he appeared in nearly every text book or article I was assigned.
In gathering his life story for this new venture, I am struck by a gift he and I share, which is to bridge very different areas of life, to better understand how and why humans as individuals, as dyads (in friendships or marriages or as patient-doctor), or as larger groups or associations, so often get in conflict and just how hard it is to get in synch again after.
Here’s an example of an insight from our conversations: Couples therapy is actually triadic work, yet our field sees it as dyadic therapy.
Or another: couples therapy comes out of psychology, which as a field has focused first on individuals and secondarily on couples, with three-person and larger systems remaining mostly invisible. This has enormous implications for blind spots in couples therapy models. The most startling example? Many couples are in complex stepfamilies, which can not be treated well if we only look at the couple system.
We won’t be sharing all of our conversations, as they got really nerdy (into research design, the history of disciplines related to our work—sociology, family studies, epidemiologists, and of course all the various science and medical experts who have been vital to our understanding of the body and brain,) but we'll share the highlights.
And now, finally, we go public. With excitement and fear, we hope to attract therapists as fascinated and hopeful about the fate of the marital union as we are, to join us on our new adventure.