Utilizing PBSP in Couple’s Therapy:
Helping couples embrace their true self and expand their possibility sphere with one another.
Curtis A. Levang, Ph.D.
In PBSP an organic therapeutic milieu is created in which the client can consciously connect to his/her true self and experience historical antidotes which welcome, bless, and give birth to aspects of the true self that were previously unborn. In the couple dyad, each partner projects both negative and positive attributes of their parents/caregivers unto their partner and relate to one another in an intricate life dance hoping the other will see, meet, and satisfy historical longings and desires, while conversely protecting and defending themselves from the rejection, abandonment, and assaults that they know will happen, just as they did in their histories. Therefore, the focus of PBSP couple’s counseling must be to untangle those unconscious distortions that reinforce negative constructs of the self that were created long before the couple came to be. In addition, therapy must be aimed at helping each partner see their own historic true scene, while also seeing that of their partner.
In couple’s therapy, the PBSP therapist can offer the creation of
countershaping the true self. This is done by addressing historic wounds,
holes in roles, and creating a larger possibility sphere. At the same time, empathy and compassion for self and other can be engaged, and blame and guilt decreased. These new experiences lead to a more positive communication pattern which allows each partner to respect and honor the need for place, nurturance, support, protection and loving limits. The dyad now can function in a consciously piloted state where problems can be addressed and, even more importantly, love can be expressed.
PBSP is an approach that provides tremendous insight and wisdom into the development and treatment of individuals. It is a very hopeful and positive theory, suggesting that we are all born with the DNA to have a pleasurable, satisfying, meaningful, and connected
We also are born with a true self, which is the essence of our potential, our total uniqueness and being. However, in order to have a conscious image of that true self, we must having loving interactions that validate, affirm, and give license to those aspects of the soul.
The more our true self is counter-shaped by loving caregivers at age appropriate times, the more we can we live in harmony with our
selves, and the more functional, healthy and loving we can be with others. As we become conscious of who we are, of what we feel, of what we want, our pilot is developed to execute those internal desires and needs.
When we are out of touch with who we are and do not understand how our historical deficits are interfering with our relationships, we project negative images onto our partners and become increasingly resentful and disappointed in our beloved. Over time these unfulfilled expectations lead the couple to disengage and, potentially, dissolve their commitment.
The purpose of this paper is to postulate that PBSP can be a useful and healing tool in providing couple’s therapy. It can be seen as pre-structure work for individuals in committed relationships. Three specific outcomes of PBSP couple’s therapy are:
1. To untangle those unconscious distortions that reinforce negative constructs of the self and other, and put an undue strain on the relationship.
2. To help each partner see their own historic true scene, and also that of their partner.
3. To develop new interactions whereby each individual creates a more expansive possibility sphere that will respect and honor each other.
THEORETICAL ASSUMPTIONS OF SELF
There are two components of the self:
1. Predisposed genetics
These elements contain all the historical wisdom and knowledge of past relationships.
2. Psychic gods
Every individual is shaped by his/her environment, especially parents who function as
When our true selves have been inadequately seen, been abused, or been arrested due to
holes in roles, the ego will be in conflict with the true self. Consequently, symptoms show up in the body: for example, depression, panic, inattentiveness. Symptoms will also take root in the relationship: for example, withdrawal, acting out emotions, infidelity.
We all have longings for a soul mate who will finally fulfill those previous unmet needs and see our best side, our potentials, our goodness. We believe that this person, the love of our life, will at last recognize our true self. Will this occur?
For those couples that seek therapy, clearly they are on a collision course with history and present day reality.
THE ANATOMY AND FLOW OF PBSP COUPLE’S THERAPY
Central to PBSP is creating an organic emotionally safe, therapeutic mileu where the individual can initially become consciously connected to his/her true self and then be offered historical antidotes to create new memories which would welcome, bless, and give birth to aspects of their true self.
In couple’s therapy, each partner has projected onto their partner both negative and positive attributes of their caregivers. They relate to one another in a cha cha dance of hoping the other will see, meet, and satisfy those longings and desires which were not seen and met in childhood.
Conversly, they are protecting and defending themselves from the rejection, abandonment, and assaults that originated in their history and may now be replayed by their partner.
THE SIX PRINCIPLES OF PBSP AND COUPLE’S THERAPY
1. Microtracking to develop an alliance
2. Identifying a present day issue
3. Introducing basic needs as a contributing factor in the relationship
4. Externalizing the mind’s eye picture of their partner and negative transference from their history
5. Creating a role for the observing partner
Microtracking To Develop An Alliance
As with individual PBSP psychotherapy, there is no cookie cutter, or prescribed formula of couple’s therapy. Rather there is a set of principles that guide the work from beginning to end. It is critical that the therapist join with both partners. The best way to create this alliance is to microtrack each person’s verbal, emotional, and behavioral expressions.
I do this by first introducing the concept of a witness figure and place the witness in the air and use hand and arm motions to engage more dynamically with the witness figure. I also offer teaching on the importance of witnessing and validating feelings and state that I will, along the way, ask each person to become a witness figure for their partner so they can experience what that feels like. I explain that while this intervention will slow down the normal pace of conversation, it will help interrupt patterns of mutual non-listening and blaming which contribute to marital strife.
Identifying A Present Day Issue
It is important to have a here and now, present day issue to anchor the therapy. Included in this point is the idea of a shared contract. If the couple can focus on an issue that involves both of them, then each has an interest in solving the dilemma.
Mary (a fictional name) came to a session quite angry. She had just discovered that her partner charged over $1000 on their credit card. As with individual therapy, it is best to follow the highest energy, and for this couple, the credit card bill was a highly charged issue. John (a fictional name) was willing to deal with this conflict in session. Since Mary had the highest affect, I initially worked with her by microtracking her affective responses.
At the start, Mary said,
I felt so abandoned and alone when I saw the credit card bill. This was a particularly telling point for Mary and I wanted John to
witness. that emotion. For him to understand what I was asking of him, I explained that witnessing is a form of validation and not a place to defend or justify one’s actions. I further clarified by stating that his role was simply to witness her emotional response. After John followed my directions and witnessed Mary’s affective, I checked with her to ascertain her reaction. As with any typical witnessing, the
client may say either, that really helps to hear you understand or they are just saying those words because the therapist said to. With the latter statement, I will have the partner say,
I can see how skeptical or distrustful you are that I was just told to say that and you are not sure that I really mean it. This is often better received and can be a beginning to building trust in the PBSP process as well as their partners participation.
At this juncture, I instruct and lead each partner in microtracking interactions with their partner so that each can experience the positive empathy that results from accurately being
witnessed. Usually after a few microtracking interactions a partner may remark how different it is to be validated in this way. In turn, their partner may appear to have mixed feelings about this comment. I would read this as both foreign and soothing. In return, I would have the partner say,
If I were your witness figure, I would say, I can see how foreign and soothing it is to have your words validated like this.
Depending on time, the therapist can continue the witnessing process or reverse direction and process with the other partner. Often times the couple may initially engage in nervous laughter or use humor to cover their uncomfortableness. Yet as the process unfolds, typically they become softer and less blaming of each other.
Introducing Basic Needs As A Contributing Factor In The Relationship
In the beginning phase of couple’s therapy, I review the five basic needs and deficits that result when needs are not adequately met. We discuss what each person believes might be their strengths and weaknesses regarding these basic needs and how they may play out in the marriage. I find it useful to demonstrate the support exercise of lifting and lowering their partner’s arm and then processing the experience. I also have found it very helpful to have the couple sit on the floor back to back and have one person enrolled as the supporter and the other as the supportee and then process this as well.
The support exercise quickly gets at how their body responds to support. It is not unusual for the partner who is most distressed about the lack of support in the relationship to also be the one most uncomfortable receiving support. This then allows the therapy to legitimately move away from the
here and now to the back
then and there.
Externalizing the mind’s eye picture of their partner and negative transference from their history
The next stage in therapy is introducing the idea of mind’s eye and how images of our history are projected onto our partner. It is important that the couple be able to externalize their inner mind’s eye map so that they can more accurately understand themselves and their partner.
I will return to the client with the highest energy and use an object to represent the aspect of their partner that is vivid in their mind’s eye. Time permitting, I allow the client to choose an object. My office is filled with many different objects from carvings of animals, to stuffed toys, to baskets, to tribal masks and small statues that clients can choose.
If time is very limited, I have developed a time-saving technique whereby I choose a stone from a reed basket full of smooth rocks of various shapes, sizes, weights, and colors. These stones have come from the shores of Lake Michigan as well as from Dachau, Germany and the French Alps.
If I am using the stones, I will choose one to represent the negative aspect of their partner and then another stone to represent that historical person that reminds them of that same side of their partner. Over the next 10-15 minutes, I will do a mini-structure where I will introduce ideal parents, and perhaps
holes in roles, so that they can experience a taste of satisfaction or fulfillment of an unmet basic need. To conserve time, I will only enroll negative aspects of their partner and ideal parents. If I believe a
holes in roles component will be required, I will use the stones so they can see a
short take movie of people they have taken care of. After the client has identified an unmet need and an antidote can be given, I will have the client take in the new body memories and then deroll the objects.
The observing partner
As in any PBSP structure, I will have the observing partner share what he/she may have felt as they watched the work of their partner. I am on the lookout for any negative or diminishing comments that the observing partner might say. I may even coach the partner by asking what did you appreciate or benefit from by observing your partner work today.
In this fashion, I will stress that their partner did good work, that they took a step of courage by sharing this with her/him, and that it could be looked at as a gift. I can not think of any time where the partner was negatively impacted by observing. I will then ask the non-working partner if they would be interested in a mini-structure so that they can get an inside out experience of PBSP work.
After each person has shared some self-reflections and any new positive insights they have learned about their partner, I will ask what if anything would you like to focus on during the coming week. It may be that they will spend time witnessing the others feelings for 10 minutes or practice the support exercise at home. The more they generalize the work to their home life, the larger therapeutic impact will result.
CREATING NEW POSSIBILITY SPHERES
As PBSP sessions do not always include a full blown structure, couple’s work is no different. Still, in couples therapy it is essential to have a variety of therapeutic interventions ready for the client’s
One common theme for couples is being locked into verbally attacking and/or blaming communication patterns. Experiential experiences that take them out of these normal battlefields are critical. As with loving limits, the therapist is required at these times to stop the escalating negative communication patterns.
It may be helpful to ask, how do you think this disagreement will end? Typically, each partner has a ready response as they know all to well how the battle will end. The therapist can then intervene by asking if the couple is willing to experiment with something different to see what could be learned.
I developed the Follow Lead Exercise precisely to address the repetitive, negative behavior patterns that couples develop over time and fail to change on their own. This exercise falls in the category of a voluntary movement exercise. This exercise challenges the participants to be very mindful and present with themselves and their partner. It begins in the
here and now and requires the participants to tune into their bodies. It is a nonverbal interaction which interrupts previous negative verbal communications. As with the species stance, whatever feelings, energies, or resistence that may show up in the exercise can be processed afterwards and typically has historic origins, due to unmet needs, trauma or
holes in roles issues.
The Follow Lead Exercise is designed to give clients, and particularly couples, an opportunity to experience absolute attention to their needs. Participants are encouraged to focus on the inner experiences that result from an interaction in which their needs are observed, tracked, and
respected. The visceral sensations which result are an outcome of an interaction which has someone follow their lead. One participant consciously Follows by allowing themselves to submit to the needs or desires of another, while the leader intentionally Leads the action so as to
have their specific needs met.
In this exercise the body is used as a movie screen to monitor the experience, in regard to speed, direction, and space. There is an enrolling process where one person enrolls as the Leader and the other as Follower. This allows the client to move into a ritual space where they no longer are just my wife or husband. The first time a couple does the exercise they are instructed that this is a non-verbal exchange. In repeated trials language could be added. To begin, the participant’s stand and face each other.
1. The Leader will be instructed to hold one hand up, palm forward
2. Follower will place their hand approximately one inch away, directly in front of the Leader’s hand. It should mirror the Leader’s hand.
3. Leader is instructed to slowly move their hand while the Follower moves their hand, in as exact approximate as possible.
4. When the Follower is tracking and moving in harmony with the Leader, the Leader can experiment moving in a larger, up or down, back and forth motion.
5. Follower is to move with the Leader, keeping the 1 inch distance at all times.
6. Give a time limit initially (e.g. two minutes) and near the end of the time instruct the Leader to move in a way that provides a
Some individuals will end with a high five, touching the hand together, others will come to a slow stop, while others may make a large circle stopping at the top, like 12 o’clock.
7. De-role after Leader finds a
8. Reverse roles and repeat (ie. now the Leader is the Follower).
The next step is to dialogue about what it was like to be in each role (Leader-Follower). It can be helpful to ask what their body felt like in each role.
One can ask what was it like when the Follower was out of step and whether they were a patient Leader (allowing the other to keep up with their movement or did they make it difficult for the other to follow).
One advantage of this exercise is that it is nonverbal. Thus the client does not have to verbalize their feelings or thoughts. Rather, all they are required to do is to engage in movements that can be repeated by another individual. This can be particularly helpful for the client who is more nonverbal or is unable to ask for what they want or need. Some clients indicate surprise at how much energy it requires to closely follow another person’s lead.
The de-brief questions can quickly lead to discussions of the couple’s own
histories, particularly regarding those memories of not having anyone attend
or give a thought to their needs. It sometimes results in clients bringing up basic need deficits, abuse memories, or other emotionally laden historical experiences. It also has a strong diagnostic component that can shed light on unconscious aggressiveness, lack of trust, and passivity in the couple’s relationship.
For example, one partner may make sudden movements which will make it impossible for the other to respond to their needs. The exercise also can demonstrate the consequences of having someone continually break the rules, or not permit the other to take on the role of an attentive partner. One couple noticed that their movement never went into the other’s space and how that symbolically represented how distant they each had become. When asked to do the task a second time, allowing movement into the other’s space, this couple reported both feelings of nervousness and excitement.
After discussion, it may be helpful to take what the couple has learned about the other and repeat the exercise. The couple can also be asked to practice the Follow-Lead Exercise at home and report on its impact at the next session.
The Follow-Lead Exercise is designed to help couples respond to one another in a non-verbal way that can demonstrate how attuned and connected they are to one another. It may bring up underlying issues of trust and hostilities, as well as their ability to allow themselves to submit to the others lead in the relationship. Some couples find this exercise as a type of playing together which may have been missing. At any rate the dialogue will help them have a real life, here and now experience that may be a metaphor for the relationship. It also may awaken unconscious longings or unmet needs and can lead to a full PBSP structure.
PBSP BENEFITS FOR THE COUPLE
The purpose of this paper was to outline how the therapuetic power of PBSP is not limited to individuals or groups, but also extremely beneficial for couples. First and foremost, PBSP creates a respectful, safe, welcoming environment where each person’s soul can be validated, seen, and affirmed (countershaped). Its power is not only for the receiver, but the observer is also impacted in a way that increases empathy, compassion, and a better awareness of the similarities of the human condition.
For couples who have been involved in toxic, devaluing relationships, this is like visiting a foreign country. It challenges their mind’s eye view of themselves and their partner. Rather than a relational dynamic based on control, manipulation, submission or acting-out, the PBSP therapist walks along side the couple, aligning not only with the individuals outward expression of the relationship, but also aligning through microtracking with the individual’s inside, heart issues that may never have been addressed or even spoken of prior to therapy.
PBSP and BASIC NEED: PLACE
Once an alliance and trust is made with each partner, the therapist can then begin to help teach and model ways that the couple can better understand themselves and their partner. To me this is analogous to the basic need of place. The therapist, with the client, works together to create a safe place where wounds can be seen and treated with care. These wounds normally are layed at the feet of their partner as the sole cause and creator of those injuries.
PBSP and BASIC NEED: SUPPORT
The PBSP therapist brings into couple’s therapy principles that reframe the couple’s perceptions of the
identified problem. For example, the husband who is angry, hurt, disappointed that his wife is not supportive, begins to see support as a basic developmental need that was not adequately met from his early childhood and recognizes that he has spent his life building walls and defenses to be his own support and has sabotaged the support of others. By helping him cognitively understand his unconscious distortions, and more importantly, by giving him antidotes of historic support, a new empathy for himself and his partner will begin to develop.
In this case, his wife, who has been warding off her husband’s accusations and blame, can take a step back while the therapist does a mini-structure with her husband. Now she can see the little wounded boy in her husband and may discover a side of compassion or love for him that she has not had before. In addition, whenever one partner works it draws an aspect of self-reflection from the observer, how did this apply for me, what basic needs were met or not met in my own childhood. This results in an increase readiness for self-examination, disclosure and openness that likely has been absent in their relationship.
PBSP and COUPLES
A primary principle of PBSP is that all feelings are welcomed, validated, and responded to in a way that is countershaped. A therapeutic experience that is based on interest and curiosity in the other, that respects and honors the other’s history and the overall being of the person, is such a wonderful model of how to treat others. Using PBSP in couple therapy increases their
possibility sphere so that the couple can develop a true soul connection, initially for themselves and then for each other. How sweet is that?