Working with Complex Childhood Trauma in Couple Therapy: From Dissociative Collusion to Shared Responsibility and Connection

  • Saturday, March 04, 2023
  • 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM
  • Simmons University, 300 The Fenway, Boston, MA / Main College Building / Linda K. Paresky Conference Center, 3rd Floor


  • This registration is intended for participants who identify as belonging to racial or ethnic groups with historical barriers to access, and/or participants who primarily work with low income individuals or those who have also endured historical barriers to access.


Please read the COVID Precautions Policy below.

Couples in which one partner suffers from the impact of complex childhood trauma often encounter unique difficulties with physical contact, intimacy, sexuality, communication, and trust. Their relationship dynamic may be marked by reenactments of past traumatic relational patterns. This workshop will present a clinical practice that is founded on the assumption that establishing the witnessing lacked during the events in childhood can break the traumatic reenactments in adulthood, and spur recovery. When this process is achieved during couple therapy, the trauma survivor may no longer be forced to relive their private nightmare, and the couple gain an opportunity to live a shared dream marked by an enhanced sense of connection and responsibility.

The workshop will introduce Scheinkman & Fishbanes’ model of the Vulnerability Cycle (VC) as providing a perspective to working with these couples. VC conceptualizes couples’ presenting problems as embedded in a reciprocal interactional/emotional pattern that contributes to the couples’ derailment. The couples’ entrapment in such a pattern is due to the activation of vulnerabilities and survival strategies from their past traumas. These are embedded intrapsychically, and complicate the couple’s existing modes of relating. The workshop will explore the concept of “dissociative collusion” as a helpful theoretical and clinical tool, and describe specific clinical practices that establish a context for witnessing within the couple therapy sessions.

Dr. Nasim will use case presentations to demonstrate the techniques and illustrate how this approach is widely applicable to couples dealing with complex childhood trauma and its effects. Additionally, a clinician from a training institute, the Psychotherapy Institute of Back Bay will offer a relevant case presentation from their ongoing work with a couple.

Ron Nasim, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and certified couple and family therapist from Israel. He is a former coordinator and supervisor for the couple and family therapy program at LOTEM clinic for sexual abuse survivors at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv. Ron lectures and supervises at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo at Tel-Aviv University and at the Barcai Institute, as well as at the Ackerman Institute for the Family and Adelphi University couple therapy program. His main focus of interest and research is the impact of trauma on couples and psychotherapy integration.


At the conclusion of this program the participants will be able to:

1. Describe the unique difficulties and challenges that couples with trauma histories often encounter.

2. Name four traumatic reenactment patterns that these couples may display.

3. Describe the core assumptions of the Vulnerability Cycle model.

4. Explain how the couple’s traumatic entrapment reflects the activation of vulnerabilities and survival strategies from their past.

5. Explain the importance of the “lack of witness” at the time of childhood trauma, and its effect on the reenactments in the couple's adult life.

6. Explain how establishing the witnessing lacked during the traumatic events in childhood can break the traumatic reenactments in adulthood.

7. Articulate the concept of “dissociative collusion” as a helpful theoretical and clinical tool in working with these couples.

8. Describe an integrative intervention that facilitates the context for witnessing within the couple therapy sessions.


1)    Cancel up to March 4, with refund if due to COVID concerns: If you, or any of your close contacts, have any of the COVID symptoms outlined by the CDC, please follow the CDC guidelines for isolation and quarantine.  Our deadline for refund of the registration fee will be extended to the day of the workshop (3/4/2023), if your cancellation is due to concern about COVID symptoms, a positive test, or concern about a known exposure to COVID.

2)    Self-test:  We encourage participants to test themselves using a home test as close to the start of the workshop as possible.

3)    Masking:  Currently, masking is not required in the Simmons’ campus buildings.  We strongly encourage attendees at this workshop to wear a well-fitting mask consistent with CDC guidelines, throughout their time in the Linda K. Paresky conference space, when not eating or drinking.  We will provide additional masks for anyone who needs one.  All of the Simmons staff, will be expected to wear masks when working within the conference space.

4)    Social distancing:  The conference space is huge (3,520 square ft.) and has air filtration devices placed appropriately.  The space can comfortably hold 300 people.  We will cap our numbers at a much lower point to permit a limited number at each of the 5-foot banquet tables.  Additionally, there will be ample spaces in the lobby, and in the adjoining university center to allow people to take their lunches, and snacks during breaks to spots outside of the main conference room, if they choose.

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