PCFINE’S faculty takes an integrative approach that weaves together elements of psychodynamic couples therapy, family systems, and attachment theories. From our perspective, each partner’s current interpersonal behavior reflects adaptations to their early home environment – in particular, adaptive and defensive strategies developed to sustain connections to early attachment figures and to maintain a sense of one’s self as loveable and safe. We believe the early implicit relational and emotional schemas of each partner are painfully triggered by current couple interactions and, in converging, create familiar relational patterns where past and present, self and other, and perception and reality can become difficult to disentangle. It is the work of the therapist — ideally, with proper psychodynamic training — to help the couple recognize how each partner’s past is reenacted in the dynamics between them.
We believe that while insight into the historic roots of relational patterns helps to illuminate what each partner contributes to the couple’s difficulties, such insight is usually not sufficient to bring about enduring change. In our view, true change in couples occurs through the repeated experiencing of new patterns of feeling, thinking and relating – patterns that liberate partners from archaic roles and allow for greater agency and self-expression. The psychodynamic couples therapy process fosters in partners an emerging capacity for mutual perspective taking, compassion toward the other, and understanding of the meanings and motives of their interactions.
We teach psychodynamic training strategies that are effective in calming and containing strong affect in order to engage the couple’s reflective capacities. This is an important element in creating a safe, non-pathologizing environment that promotes a strong therapeutic alliance with each partner and with the couple as a unit. Once this atmosphere is established, the therapist is able to challenge assumptions, differentiate past and present, and guide the couple to a deeper, more mutual understanding of their repetitive and problematic interactional patterns. When partners can begin to regard their relationship as an organic whole, greater than the sum of its parts with needs and processes of its own, they become better able to put aside conflict and blame to make room for collaboration and connection.