Collaborative Couple Therapy Explained

Couples counseling is the sole focus of my private practice and for some time now I’ve wanted to write a succinct description of the primary model I work from: Collaborative Couple Therapy (CCT). Recently I spoke to a group of local therapists about my work with CCT and I provided the following primer as a foundation for my talk. It may be a little wonkish but I hope it provides some helpful information.

Originated by Daniel Wile, Ph.D., Collaborative Couple Therapy suggests that most relationship problems emerge from a
loss of voice: An inability to adequately express one’s leading edge feelings, in other words, the authentic, often vulnerable, thoughts and feelings we all have from moment to moment. CCT attributes loss of voice to a lack of entitlement from freely expressing these authentic, vulnerable feelings due to self-critical beliefs. Inhibited from acknowledging uncomfortable feelings like shame, anxiety, self-doubt, or even desire during conflict, people often resort to fighting with or withdrawing from their partners.

The foundational task of CCT is to help couples have intimate conversations about their problems through relating with each other as allies and confidants. In a collaborative conversation partners talk with each other as if observing the problem from a
platform, suspended high above the fray, looking down at the situation and people with compassionate curiosity, awareness, and reflection. To facilitate these conversations, the therapist often speaks for both members of the couple at strategic moments to model and promote platform conversations within the couple and between the therapist and each individual. The method for doing this is called doubling (adapted from Jacob Moreno’s Psychodrama Therapy).

The ongoing question for the CCT therapist is, “How can I help this couple have an intimate conversation about their present dilemma?” CCT
solves the moment, rather than specific complaints, by gently returning to each individual’s expression of her leading edge feeling to her partner. Leading edge feelings are what is most “alive” or relevant for each person in the present moment. In this way, even arguments are an opportunity to deepen emotional intimacy when we permit ourselves to reveal our hidden and sometimes haunting feelings and vulnerabilities. --Doug