Couple Power Therapy
In Couple Power Therapy, Dr. Peter L. Sheras and Dr. Phyllis R. Koch-Sheras demonstrate their positive approach to couples treatment. Rather than focusing merely on correcting specific relationship problems, they work with both partners to help them achieve a shared identity as a couple—an identity that centers on their vision for the future together, not on issues solely from the past that are the most frequent topics of couple sessions.
In this session, Sheras and Koch-Sheras work with a couple who have recently considered divorce. The husband has recommitted himself to the marriage, and his wife has hope that they might be able to make the partnership work. With the aid of the therapists, the couple develops a joint proclamation—a statement that expresses their vision of themselves as a couple. The couple then begins to use this tool to strengthen their commitment to one another. This creates a renewed sense of purpose and specific plans for proceeding in recreating a healthier relationship.
This groundbreaking approach presents a new paradigm of relationships—one that deals with the couple as a single entity with its own unique personality and dynamics. Challenging the prevailing paradigm of individualism prevalent in traditional psychotherapy and Western culture, the therapists work with both partners to help them achieve a shared identity as a couple—an identity that centers on a powerful vision for their future together, not on issues solely from the past, which are the most frequent topics of couples sessions.
The therapists demonstrate a simple, efficient model for achieving healthy couple functioning. This model, Couple Power Therapy (CPT), is based on a positive, solution-focused, step-by-step process of four basic tasks to be completed by the couple with the therapist's assistance.
These tasks, the Four Cs of Couple Power, in sequence are: commitment, cooperation, communication and community. Emphasis is on establishing a strong base of commitment to the relationship (vs. to the individual) and cooperation as a couple "team" before proceeding to traditional communications training. The approach includes not only efficient intervention but powerful maintenance and prevention strategies. This maintenance function is accomplished by fulfilling the fourth C, facilitating community support through a variety of means.
The Four Cs serve as an assessment and diagnostic tool for determining readiness for couples therapy and to help the practitioner to know when, where, how, and with whom to intervene for maximum positive treatment effects. By focusing on what is possible rather than what is wrong, CPT makes the treatment process positive and encouraging for both clients and therapists.
When a couple creates a "proclamation" of their joint vision with the aid of the therapist, they construct an arena where they are free to realize powerful possibilities together. The ability to construct a joint vision is prognostic of successful treatment and of the couple's longevity. Therapists using the Four Cs are not just applying techniques to fix a dysfunctional relationship in the moment; they are fostering an ongoing, cocreating process.
The partners' commitment to the couple as an entity may be seen as a "marital virtue," a concept explored recently by philosophical psychologists (Fowers, 2000; Richardson, 2001; Richardson et al., 1999; Cushman, 1990). This morally responsible view of "partnership marriage" (Fowers, 2000) includes notions of teamwork, active listening, and the couple as a "mini-community" going beyond just individual gratification. CPT expands the notion of mini-community to encourage couples to discover or create a larger community of couples. This larger community moves partners beyond the status quo and provides for lasting relationship satisfaction.
Both couples and therapists alike often mistakenly begin with the premise that a relationship in need of help must be corrected or fixed in some way. They have probably read a book or seen a program that defined the so-called "right" partnership or the "perfect" mate, and they are discouraged that they cannot achieve that ideal.
This is an example of the kind of obstacle the popular media creates by portraying unrealistic standards for couples to live up to. By presenting a framework of tasks for the couple to accomplish during therapy, rather than problems to fix, the therapist guides them to choose what they want to pursue. This allows the couple to focus on creating positive possibilities and visions for the future, rather than getting caught up in problems of the past.
The therapist identifies and builds on the strengths and competencies that are inherent in the couple itself to help the partners reach their goals. This possibility-based perspective on couples work is consistent with strategic, structural, and narrative therapy approaches that are the basis of Couple Power Therapy.
In summary, the major ideas of CPT include:
- A couple must be treated as an entity, not just two individuals together.
- Allowing a couple to see itself as an entity gives it the power to create new possibilities and behaviors for healthy functioning.
- The four basic tasks to complete as a healthy couple are commitment, cooperation, communication, and community, in that order.
- Most couples and therapists believe that good communication is the most important goal of therapy; this model presents the notion that good communication is effective only after commitment and ability to cooperate are in place.
- Couples maintain their health if they can live in or near communities of other couples that they can discover or create.
Couple Power Therapy is appropriate for a large number of people seeking treatment. It works best with those who are capable of understanding what a commitment is and are able to keep their word. If they are interested in making their relationship work, this model can be effective.
A few contraindications for treatment should be considered, however:
- clients who are not committed to their relationship or even willing to explore the possibility of committing or re-committing,
- clients who cannot imagine themselves together in the future,
- one or both members of the couple are having outside affairs and are unwilling to give them up while in therapy,
- abuse or the threat of abuse makes it impossible for one or both members to feel safe in the relationship,
- at least one partner is not willing to commit to be in couples therapy,
- one or both members of the couple are unwilling to consider forgiving their partner, or
- one or both partners suffers from an untreated serious substance use disorder or a psychological impairment which makes it unlikely that they will hear things in therapy accurately, will perceive reality reasonably clearly, or will be able to empathize with another person.
Most reasonably verbal clients with average intelligence are suitable for treatment.
Peter L. Sheras, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist and a professor in the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education programs in clinical and school psychology. He has been in part-time independent practice for more than 30 years and has authored publications on couples, parenting, youth violence, and adolescent development, including Your Child: Bully or Victim: Understanding and Ending School Yard Tyranny (2002), "I Can't Believe You Went Through My Stuff: How to Give Your Teens the Privacy They Crave and the Guidance They Need (2004), and Clinical Psychology: A Social Psychological Approach (1979). He is the coauthor of the Stress Index for Parents of Adolescents (SIPA). He holds a diplomate in clinical psychology, is a fellow of the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists and past president of the Virginia Psychological Association. He appears frequently as an expert in the media on topics of couples, adolescents, and families. He received his doctorate from Princeton University.
Phyllis R. Koch-Sheras, PhD, is a practicing clinical psychologist and coauthor of several books on dreams and couples, including The Dream Sourcebook (1995), The Dream Sharing Sourcebook (1998) and Dream on: A Dream Interpretation and Exploration Guide for Women (1983). She is past president of the Virginia Applied Psychology Academy and the Virginia Psychological Association. Dr. Koch-Sheras received her doctorate from the University of Texas and completed her internship at the VA Medical Center in Palo Alto, California. She has worked in state hospitals, university counseling centers, and has maintained an active independent practice for more than 25 years. During that time, she has specialized in working with couples, families and groups. Dr. Koch-Sheras is an adjunct faculty member in the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education.
The authors have been working with couples together since the mid-1970s and been training therapists for 25 years. They have been happily married for nearly three decades and have two adult children. Drs. Sheras and Koch-Sheras are heard regularly on the radio and currently live in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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