Interview with Corky Becker

Interview with Corky Becker, PhD, a Family Therapist and Clinical Psychologist who is overseeing the Monthly Master Series in Couple Therapy: Seven MORE Approaches to Interviewing at Therapy Training Boston starting November 6, 2019. These are the highlights from the interview. Watch the full interview here.

Jeremiah Gibson: Tell us a little bit more about the Monthly Master Series. What’s the format of it?

Corky Becker: I think the design of it is really special. I’ve invited seven different outstanding presenters and therapists who have different ways of thinking about couple wok, different ways of focusing their work, different personalities, but all excellent presenters. The format is that the class starts at 6:45, goes until 9:30, and the first half hour-45 minutes is the presenter talking about what their way of thinking about couples is, and then for about 45 minutes they interview a role-play couple played by people from the class who are carefully instructed and enrolled to be authentic. And we watch the interview—which is just a rare opportunity to see people in action. And afterwards we have time to really unpack and understand and discuss the therapists actions and the experience of the participants in the role-play—from their perspectives, what the turning points were and how they were influenced by the things that the therapist did—and then we open for discussion by the group. And we create a culture of support, appreciation and respect in which everybody’s voice is welcome and we create a space in which everybody will speak in a way where everybody can be heard. And then there’s usually at the end an exercise or an activity that the presenter brings that highlights some aspect of what they were discussing.

Jeremiah: Who are some of the speakers that are presenting with you and what are some of the models that folks can learn about?

Corky: This year, we have people who are discussing things that vary quite a bit. Robyn Deutsch is the first presenter and she runs the Center of Excellence for Children, Families and the Law at what is now William James College. The title of her presentation is “Conducting a Co-Parent Meeting in a Case Where a Child Resists Contact with a Parent.” She’s going to be talking about apology and repair, that’s November 6th. December 4th I’m going to be leading off. My specialty is working with conflict in couple therapy and also about how do people acknowledge and take responsibility for their actions with each other, and ruptures and repairs. Next January 8th is Alana Katz. She’s from the Akron Institute. She has a background in mediation and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, which is related to creating secure attachment between couples. She teaches all over the world and the country. February 5th Anne Fishel is coming. She is the Director of Family & Couple Therapy at Mass General Hospital. She has written a book—a heavily-researched book—on the lifecycle of the couple from dating to death. She has really a way of taking that research and framing questions that can be asked of couples related to the research. March 4th is Ellen Safier, she’s in Texas. She’s a social worker who teaches psychiatrists and psychologists and social workers couple and family therapy, and her specialty is Mentalization-Based Couple Therapy, which is Peter Fonagy’s psychoanalytic term for what goes into secure attachment which is the capacity to hold your own mind in mind and someone else’s mind in mind. Martha Edwards April 8th is at the Akron Institute. She’s going to demonstrate using experiential strategies in the room to get people to be more connected. She also has started a program called Bright Horizons which is a program for mothers with new babies and getting them off to the right start. And finally, May 6th Mona Fishbane has written a lot about the vulnerability cycle and neuroscience. She integrates neuroscience, couple impasses, and family of origin work. So it’s an amazing group of presenters. And I would say—if I had to say the similarities—I would say everybody’s talking about connection and disconnection, rupture and repair. Probably the differences are personal styles and personal interests. 

Jeremiah: Where can people learn more about the Monthly Master Series? 

Corky: Go on the website: When you get on the website, you can press “Training,” and under “Training” you will find the Masters Series. Under that it will say “Learn More.” Press that and you’ll get a very long description of each person’s presentation and their biography.

Jeremiah: What information about couples therapy do you expect participants to know prior to week one. Is this an introduction to couples therapy or is this more intermediate/advanced couples work?

Corky: I think that people come in at all different levels. For people who are beginners, I would say that it gives them a picture of the shift from individual to relational work, where the focus in individual therapy is on each person and in couple therapy is on the interaction and the relationship between people. So it’s a really good start for people to look at that shift. And for very experienced couple therapists, it’s a great way to see seven different people’s approaches to interviewing and expanding the possibilities for the kinds of questions you can ask and the ways you can work in the room. It really frees you up to think, “Oh, I could do that; I could do that; that’s really interesting.”  So I would say anybody could take it and you’ll get something different out of it.

Jeremiah: And you were mentioning in the process of each week that there’s room for dialogue, not just between the presenter and the participants but also dialogue between participants as you all work through a role-play. How have you seen the group also provide education for the people within the group?

Corky: Everybody is involved in a very warm, supportive, appreciative environment and culture so I think people can take a risk to talk about what bothers them or what they observed in relation to the couple therapy, or questions that it brings up for their own couple work. And it’s not supervision, so those comments are really a take off point for certain kinds of problems rather than the particular couple that somebody is seeing. But there’s a lot of time for discussion.

Jeremiah: What information and skills do you expect participants to leave with following the last week in May? 

Corky: I think that people will come away with the idea that a couple problem is perpetuated by a sequence of interactions in the present, which is driven by family of origin experience, attachment needs, and maintained by each person’s using their defenses or their protectors which in turn keeps the problem interaction going. I think the other thing is that people will see that there are many ways that people can use themselves as a couple therapist to work with people.

Jeremiah: So this is the sixth year that you’ve been doing the Monthly Master Series. How have the first five years shaped the way that you’ve created this year’s series?

Corky: Well, I think that I’ve gotten more informal about the structure and allowed the presenter to have a little more time to present, to interview as long as the interview goes, and to allow for a lot of questions and participation on the part of the audience.

Jeremiah: I’m curious, particularly for those that are newer to couples therapy, what are three tips that you’d like to share? 

Corky: 1) Stay in charge of the session. Be clear about your goals, purposes during the interview. Create an environment in which people are welcome to participate within the boundaries of your direction and guidelines. 2) View the couple relationship as the focus of the work while at the same time being interested in the experience of both partners and their contribution to the interaction between them. 3) Remember that change occurs in the context of a positive connotation. Keep in mind the positive intentions, hopes and goals of the couple. View their problem interaction as their way of protective themselves, and consider taking into account their history and current context, and figuring out how else they can stay safe with each other and with you and reach their goals.

I think that couple therapy is the most interesting therapy that I’ve ever done because people are struggling to make a connection and there are a lot of things that people have learned that they need to unlearn or skills that they need to learn in order to make that meaningful connection. So there are a lot of forces for disconnection and a lot of desire for connection. The other thing that makes it really interesting is that the work is between the couple; there’s less emphasis on the therapist relationship to each person and more facilitating of the relationship between the couple. So it takes the therapist to a more what Michael White calls a “de-centered position” and I think finding a way to be influential and be centered is really interesting.

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