The Five Pathways of the Couples Conference



Couples therapy is difficult. Many therapists do not get enough couples-specific training, and as a result they end up being reactive during their sessions, instead of being able to successfully lead a couple through steps of resolution. The Couples Conference is a great opportunity for therapists who are new in the field to choose one of five models, and dig deep into it — or, for practitioners to broaden their range and concepts of what, in general, works in couples therapy.

For 24 years, the Milton H. Erickson Foundation has been promoting the progress and development of couples therapy with the Couples Conference programs. We feature presenters who spend their careers practicing and evolving their unique approaches to therapeutic problems in relationships. This year, we are celebrating five specific pathways to interpersonal excellence in couples therapy:

  1. Relational with Terry Real, LCSW;
  2. PACT with Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT;
  3. Developmental with Ellyn Bader, PhD;
  4. Gottman with Donald Cole, DMin and Carrie Cole, MEd;
  5. EFT with Sue Johnson, EdD


We want our participants to walk away with a lot of practical skills, tools, and the ability to see what is wrong in a couples’ relationship, and then have a way to help the couple facilitate change. Through beginner and advanced workshops, as well as video presentations and discussions, attendees of the Couples Conference will be provided the necessary tools so that they will become better equipped to deal with the challenges faced in the often highly-reactive couples therapy sessions.


The Relational model is a form of couples therapy that quickly produces deep, permanent change in couples. This is achieved by doing deep individual character work in the presence of a partner. Terry Real’s Relational model can be administered in three phases; the first we call “Waking up the Client.” This is considered the phase of loving confrontation, or joining through truth. We try to identify the dysfunctional relational stance. We are on your side, but we are also going to look closely at your behavior. One of the cardinal rules in couples therapy is: “Thou shall not take sides”. Well, we break a lot of rules here.

The second phase is examining where the relational stance comes from — by looking at the adaptive child part of the individual. How did the individual adapt from their family’s origin story? This may involve some early childhood trauma and therefore inner child work. The third phase is education and skill building. But it is really the combination of all three of these phases that produces such profound change.


PACT is the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy. The PACT model is based on cutting-edge research in three specific categories: neuroscience, attachment theory, and the biology of human arousal. PACT therapy is unlike other forms of couples therapy. Key features of the PACT approach include focusing on moment-to-moment body language indicators, re-creation of troubling experiences in order to work through them in real time, and the use of video recorded seminars to allow clients to view their own responses.

PACT is specifically designed to address a range of issues that may impact a couple’s relationship, and as such it’s not designed to treat individual issues, such as depression, anxiety, or trauma. PACT sessions can often be in-depth, occasionally lasting three to six hours. These longer session times can allow PACT practitioners to go much deeper into the therapy, often resulting in fewer sessions needed overall. Instead of targeting specific relationship problems, the PACT model focuses on attachment styles and the psychobiological makeup that can affect interactions between individuals in a relationship.


The Developmental model looks at couples relationships as having the possibility of evolving through a series of stages, which are often fairly predictable. Unfortunately, many couples get stuck in the first stage of this progression. They become entrenched in patterns that prevent growth and development of the two individuals — and the relationship. People inadvertently get caught up in this symbiotic bind, and are often unable to get out of it without the help of a therapist.

You will come away from the Developmental workshops with a deeper understanding of a healthy couples relationship, one in which people grow and change. You will also be able to spot what is wrong in an unhealthy relationship, and know specifically how to assess it. What kinds of targeted interventions make the most sense, given what you’re seeing about where this particular couple is stuck? What is the best opportunity to gain some leverage and create development? How can you help a partner develop a connection with the other person again?


The Gottman Method is an approach to couples therapy that includes a thorough assessment of the couples’ relationship and integrates research-based interventions based on the Sound Relationship House Theory. The Gottman Method focusing on disarming conflicting verbal communication, increasing intimacy, respect, and affection, removing barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy in conflicting situations, and creating a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship.

The Gottman Method is designed to support couples across all economic, racial, sexual orientation, and cultural sectors. Built around the Sound Relationship House Theory, the Gottman Method focuses on trust and commitment through seven layers: 1) building love maps, 2) sharing fondness and admiration, 3) turning toward each other instead of away, 4) the positive perspective, 5) managing conflict, 6) making life dreams come true, and 7) creating a shared meaning. Gottman-trained therapists aim to overall help couples build stronger relationships and healthier ways to cope with issues as they arise.


Over the course of 35 years, and through 20 studies, Sue Johnson has developed a map to progress through the difficult terrain that couples therapy presents. Using Emotionally Focused Therapy as our guide, we will show you how to use emotion to create change. Nothing changes a relationship like emotional music. Once you change the emotional music, you change the dance.

We will teach you how to deal with escalated couples who spend their whole time blaming each other (and YOU) for their problems, couples that are withdrawn and depressed and do not want to talk, and couples that are traumatized and dealing with depression and anxiety. We will also delve into Attachment Theory, where you can understand how attachment and emotion work. Through that understanding you can make a map to create change across all modalities: the individual, the couple and the family.


Law and Ethics – Really Hard Work

On Thursday, April 11, this six-hour program will provide information and recommendations for mental health professionals whose work includes the assessment and treatment of couples and families. The program begins with an update on legal and ethical developments that affect providers, and then moves on to a discussion of risk management strategies for clinicians, including the most critical issues faced by clinicians in their work. We continue with important issues concerning confidentiality and “secrets” in couples and family therapy, and then to a discussion of licensing board complaints against couples and family therapists, beginning with the fact that the highest frequency of board complaints involves conflicts regarding child custody. Finally, we discuss the developments in the use of Telehealth in the provision of services to couples and families.


Accredited with ACCME, AMA, APA, BRN, ASWB, FL LCSW, NY, NBCC, New York MHC, Licensees with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, New York MFT, and FL MFT. Click here for more info.


Pre-Conference Thursday, April 11th
Friday, April 12th through Sunday, April 14th


westdrift Manhattan Beach
1400 Parkview Avenue
Manhattan Beach, California 90266

Register now!

About the Couples Conference

Milton H Erickson Foundation
2632 E Thomas Road, Suite 200
Phoenix, AZ 85016