Specializing in Couples Therapy, Anxiety and Mood Disorders
Hansen Counseling
Relationship/Marital Work
     I began my work with relationships in 1972 in York, Pennsylvania, working with couples committed to each other, marriages and families. I have been fortunate to have trained with some of the leading developers of this modality of treatment, including Harry Aponte, Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, Murray Bowen, Jay Haley, Cloe Madanes, Bernard Guerney, and last, but not least, Salvador Minuchin. I throw out these names not in an effort to ‘name drop’ (the reality is that most people ‘outside’ the profession don’t know any of them and some ‘inside’ have not heard of many of them), but rather to set the stage for my work with couples and families.

     One name I haven’t mentioned is that of David Olson, who as a professor at the University of Minnesota, did an extensive body of research in the different types and forms of marriage and family therapy. What he found was that in spite of the many fancy and complicated names for various aspects of relationships, that when you thoroughly evaluated all these theoretical postulations, there were really only three diverse dimensions of intimate or significant relationships. And this research has subsequently guided my work since my discovery of Olson’s research. Making sense of all those people I’ve studied with is what Olson has done for me. Basically his research found three dimension of interpersonal relationships:

  • Cohesion – the cohesion dimension describes the degree to which members of the system (i.e., a married couple, a committed couple or a family) are connected to each other. On a continuum this ranges from enmeshed to disengaged. Total enmeshment would reflect a loss of individual identity, while total disengagement would reflect divorce (though not if children are involved). Concepts involved in this dimension include emotional bonding, boundaries, coalitions, time, space, friends, decision-making, interests and recreations.

  • Adaptability – the adaptability dimension describes the degree to which members of the system have the capacity to change. This, too, exists on a continuum, ranging from chaotic to rigid. Concepts involved in this dimension include family power (assertiveness, control, discipline), negotiation style, role relationships and relationship rules.

  • Communication – the communication dimension is unique in this, in that it does not exist on a continuum, but rather is seen as a facilitating dimension. That is, it is specifically the dimension that allows for adjustments and corrections in the other two dimensions.

       All of my work, whether with individuals or with couple and family systems, is designed to develop strategies that enable people to move forward, meeting the challenges that life and relationships bring us, with tools developed in their work with me. I believe that is what Olson’s work did for me. From my first foray into family work, it was obvious to me that communication – the ability to hear and be heard – was at the heart of that work. And this is certainly accurate if your goal is to develop ways to resolve the problems that become a part of our lives on a daily basis. Having spent time studying Haley’s communication work, it only became obvious that this “facilitating” dimension would be the key to my work. Consequently, in all my work with couples and families, this is at the heart of every intervention. And it is important to say that this is not a didactic exercise, where I sit explaining theory to passive recipients. Rather, it is very much a hands on process utilizing very real problems identified through the evaluation of cohesion and adaptability within the couple or family.

     My work with couples begins with an in depth evaluation of the dimensions described. The outcome of that evaluation is presented in the form of a relationship map that not only reflects where each of you are on the two dimensions (cohesion and adaptability), but also assesses where each of you would like to be. From there our work together utilizes the components of communication theory and techniques to facilitate the movement each of you want and need to make your relationship work in a more functional manner, one that attempts to maximize the needs and desires that each of you have within your relationship.

     In an outpatient setting, I also highly recommend that we mutually contract for a limited number of weekly sessions, usually five. It doesn’t mean that we cannot contract for more if we mutually agree, but rather it provides a mechanism for both my clients and myself to revisit whether progress is being made toward the stated goals. If progress is being made, we can contract for additional sessions to accomplish the goal. If progress is not being made, we evaluate the reason(s), attempt to address those concerns, and move forward. Finally, when the work is complete, it is recommended that we do a “posttest” to more clearly recognize the progress we’ve made.

See: Acadia Couples Retreat

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