By Annie Chen, LMFT (https://www.changeinsight.net)
PACT Level 2 Therapist
The Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT) centers around a set of principles that are grounded in relationship fairness, mutuality, and safety, what we call secure functioning. Everything I do as a PACT couple therapist is guided by these principles. Time and time again I’ve seen that it’s an effective model for sustaining two people’s needs in a relationship. Secure-functioning principles are also versatile; they can be applied to nearly every type of issue and problem that couples encounter.
I’m often awe-struck at the work that couples do in my office. It makes the difference between joy and misery; between wanting to stay together and wanting to end the relationship.
But like all good models, couple therapy has limits to what it can accomplish. I’d like to identify some caveats and limitations to using this method so that therapy seekers can align...
PACT Level 2 Therapist
I was voted “Most Likely to Become the Next Dr. Ruth” in my high school yearbook, but not until 16 years into my career as an individual therapist did I finally complete sex therapy certification. I had virtually no experience with couples therapy (let alone the PACT approach), but I would soon know a lot about sex! What could possibly go wrong?
I nailed my framed certified sex therapist diploma to the wall and got to work. The first three couples who sought my services were kind, collaborative souls, more reticent than fiery, whose secure functioning gifted me a false sense of clinical competence. Psychoeducation did the heavy lifting, and the couples happily headed off into the sunset with improved sexual functioning.
My fourth couple continued chatting with each other on their way to my office from the waiting area, hardly acknowledging me, then sat on my couch (no PACT set-up then) and stared at me in stony...
Welcoming Baby Bomb
The following is an excerpt from Baby Bomb: A Relationship Survival Guide for New Parents, by Kara Hoppe and Stan Tatkin, now available for purchase here.
When Jude was only a few days old, Charlie and I were sitting all cozy on our couch on a winter afternoon, as we’d done many times before—me on my side, Charlie on his. Only now there was a third person, and his place was on me to nurse. Nursing didn’t come easily for Jude and me. It was challenging to learn how to direct his lips to my breast so he could get a good latch. I had to listen for the sound of him swallowing and watch for his little jaw moving, signs that he was nourishing himself. If I didn’t hear swallowing or see his jaw move, it was time to pull him off gently and retry for a better latch. Eventually I came to think of breastfeeding as one latch at a time, and I did that until we became nursing pros. But on this winter day, pros we were not, and nursing was...
Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT
In the summer of 2020, the PACT Institute – and Tracey and I personally – made a commitment to improve our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts and to better serve systemically marginalized communities. We immediately started working with a DEI consultant to help us look critically at our organization and where we could do better.
My Personal Journey
My own understanding expanded significantly at the end of the first training this year. When someone asked about what I considered betrayal, I mentioned mismanagement of thirds and the reveal of information that, if previously known, would have changed everything. I gave examples of this and rattled off my usual list, including finding out your partner is not the gender they were assigned at birth.
I was initially shocked to find the chat room buzzing with accusations of my acting out transphobia. Me? Transphobic? No! People are misunderstanding my meaning. What?
PACT Level 2 Therapist
You’ve been betrayed. Or maybe you did the betraying. Either way, your relationship is on life support, and you’re wondering if the only answer is to say goodbye and pull the plug.
Maybe. Maybe the cut is too deep, the hurt too great, the brokenness too extensive.
But maybe a relationship can survive the trauma of betrayal, and even thrive afterward. I believe this because I see it every week in my office.
Betrayal’s Many Faces
Take Mark and Rachel. After 16 years of marriage, Rachel discovered that Mark had been with more than a dozen other women, two being long-term emotional and sexual affairs. Rachel was devastated to learn that her perfect, fairytale story was a figment of her imagination based on partial truth of her actual reality.
Or consider Liz and Dave, a young couple in their early 20s. They’d been together since they were 16, and Liz found herself pregnant. Now, two children and a...
Yvonne Oke, LMFT
PACT Level 2
One of my favorite things about the PACT model is the ability to be creative. As a marriage and family therapist, I have the opportunity to work with not only romantic dyads but also dyads that consist of family members, friends, and coworkers. As I began to learn about the PACT model, I wondered what secure functioning would look like in dyads of other structures. My use of some of the PACT principles and interventions in other dyads proved helpful in allowing my clients to create relationships that felt safe and secure.
Of course, secure functioning looks different in relationships that are not romantic. The expectation to meet the needs of others is not the same as those of our most important relationship. However, I have found that every relationship has a set of rules and expectations for how to stay connected, and PACT can help people identify what those rules need to be.
As we all know, people can...
PACT Level 1 Therapist
There is an elephant in the room. It is big, it is smelly, it is old, and it doesn’t seem to want to go away. Money won’t move it. Ignoring it doesn’t change it. Some choose to dress it with niceties to make it appear more tolerable, but its harm still remains.
This elephant takes many shapes, making it hard for some to recognize when it’s right in your way. It can be subtle, overt, passive, abrupt, implicit, covert, and even micro. Until we are able to address the elephant in all its forms directly by name, it will continue to fester and transform, creating havoc in all spaces, even in those as esteemed as the therapy space.
Its name is racism, and some would say it is as old as humanity. It is the foundational economic structure for the United States and many other parts of the world. Although structures such as American slavery and Jim Crow laws are no longer in existence, the residual impact and trauma of...
PACT Level 2 Therapist
The best piece of parenting advice I ever heard had nothing to do with sleep, solid foods, or baby wearing. In fact, it had nothing to do directly with my baby. It was simple yet radical wisdom from a trusted source: my mentor and Baby Bomb coauthor Stan Tatkin. Stan taught me, with the science to back it up, to always put my relationship with my husband first. No matter what.
He told me to do this as a student, as a therapist, and as a new mom. And let me tell you, I never needed that advice more than when I was in the throes of early motherhood. Except maybe during this past year of the pandemic. In times of crisis, we all need our partnerships to hold us steady and provide us with a secure base from which we can grow, be creative, and problem solve.
This is so, so, so important that Stan and I wrote a whole book about it: Baby Bomb: A Relationship Survival Guide for New Parents (New Harbinger, 2021).
PACT Level 3 Candidate
Irish novelist Samuel Beckett once said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
When I graduated from Naropa University with my master’s in counseling, I was fortunate enough to have Buddhist teacher, author, and nun Pema Chödrön give the commencement speech. As a longtime fan of Pema, I was thrilled to be able to hear and see her (and bow to her as I received my diploma), but what stuck with me the most was not the star-struck nature of being in her presence, it was the lesson she provided in her speech. When trying to decide what to tell the auditorium full of graduating people, fresh-faced and new into the world of counseling and other fields, she thought about what skill we really needed that was not stressed enough: the fine art of failing.
“There is a lot of emphasis on succeeding,” Pema said, “and whether we buy the hype or not, we...
PACT Level 1
In Japanese, the phrase sottaku doji means “simultaneously pecking from inside and outside.” Zen Buddhism uses this as a metaphor for the relationship between teacher and student; the student is pecking from the inside, and the teacher from the outside at the shell of the student’s limited understanding and ability to perceive the true nature of reality.
With a deep bow to the wisdom of that lineage, I suggest we borrow this image to better understand the process of change and transformation in general. Does change occur from the outside in, using external behaviors to alter one’s internal state? Or, does it originate from the inside out, changing one’s mindset to support choosing new behaviors?
Just as in the pecking metaphor, the short answer is both; we need upgraded, more effective behaviors as well as internal meaning-making shifts. And, particularly in the case of successfully...