Gottman Therapists: We Aren’t So Scary, Really!

j04140351Dr. John Gottman’s research on predicting relationship stability or instability is remarkable and for those that are familiar with his research you know he is the first scientist/therapist to figure this out. Most couples are anxious about therapy to begin with, so when a Gottman therapist tells a couple that therapy doesn’t start until after an assessment, anxiety may go up a notch or two, the palms get sweaty, and the scary feeling of not knowing what to expect kind of works its way up to the throat – where it sticks. Sometimes people think assessment means that the therapist will tell the couple whether they should stay married or not, or they fear that maybe they will find out that the  relationship problem is their fault after all – just like their partner has been saying. Neither of these things happen in assessment because assessment boils down to two questions: What are the strengths in this relationship and what are the areas that need attention? We now know from the research what works to predict long-term relationship satisfaction, but if things are not working well then Gottman therapists are trained to explain why and what it takes to change the direction of the relationship.  It’s up to the couple whether they want to and are willing to take that path.

I am writing from Seattle at the end of day three of a four day training workshop in Gottman Method Therapy. Once a year the Gottman Institute offers advanced training to therapists deepening skills in assessment and methods to help couples struggling with conflict or with having grown apart emotionally. Along with several other Certified Gottman Therapists, I am assisting in helping during the small group role plays where therapists learn and practice therapeutic interventions based on Dr. Gottman’s research and the methodology of therapy he and Dr. Julie Gottman developed out of that research. Seventy therapists nationally representing 14 states and internationally from Canada, Mexico, Australia and the Netherlands, have joined ranks to learn and practice skills in Gottman Method Therapy.  Tomorrow Julie is teaching therapeutic approaches for couples with special issues like clinical depression, chemical dependency and trauma history.

Therapists know couples feel anxious about dealing with their relationship, it’s scary. Let me tell you, the therapists I j04140331have met this week are really nice people, not scary at all. Just like the couples we work with therapists learn new skills, seek guidance and coaching on those skills, and need to work to maintain those skills. Nobody has to be perfect; we just have to keep working at it. I remember going through my advanced training and the anticipation I felt before actually starting, a mixture of excitement and it felt a little scary not knowing what to expect. It didn’t take long, however, to experience connection and support with the Gottman community. Beginning something new can feel scary, but maybe that won’t necessarily stop us from taking the next step anyway.