Couple Therapy For The Child's Sake

What if children witnessed their parents in a loving, secure relationship, and parents learned those skills affordably?

Photo of Andy Rose
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

We train intern psychotherapists to work with couples in a co-therapy model. Working successfully to improve a couple's relationship always includes reports of how their children's moods improve. The developmental, educational, and emotional outcomes for children of divorce are dire ( ) "Secure functioning" or "adult earned secure attachment" for the parents improves the child's life.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Colorado

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Colorado

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Boulder, Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, Nederland, Golden

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Raising children with attunement, limit setting, and autonomy requires effort, teamwork, coordination, communication, emotional regulation, forgiveness, flexibility, and love. Individuals may have insecure attachment styles that lead to conflict in the relationship and separation. The "roof" of childhood is a secure relationship between the parents. Moving a couple from insecure to secure functioning is the work.

The parental relationship is potentially the largest factor determining outcomes for children who have two parents, and yet it is rarely prioritized in child development work.  Children are identified as the "identified patient" because of at-risk status, qualifying adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), or acting-out behavior, while little is done to assess the functioning of the parent's relationship.  Modern psychobiological methods to shift the quality of the relationship are available and must be employed.

Parents with insecure attachment from their childhood experience, a life history with traumatic events, and poor emotional regulation are likely to have less time and energy for parenting, as that energy is used up by conflict or self-soothing.  A securely functioning parental relationship provides a "roof" for the child's developmental experience.  The challenge is moving a couple from insecure functioning to secure functioning through therapeutic interventions.

Logistically this work is done in an office setting, with two therapists, the couple, and without the children.  Expenses are training therapists, paying therapists, office with video equipment, and sometimes childcare. 

Effective couple therapy is based on leveraging the pro-social bonding "circuits" in the mind to help the couple be secure in the relationship.  Specifics interventions educate about perceptions of abandonment, rejection, and neglect (triggers), and adaptive self-soothing and relational soothing.  Video playback is used to demonstrate to the couple how their body posture, tone, gaze direction, and other non-verbal communication elicit an escalation. 

In the course of therapy the couple learns to negotiate the disruptions caused by historical vulnerabilities to perceptions of abandonment, adaptively self-soothe, and also the value and practice of regulating the other partner.  Couples practice "reunion" and "repair" and other small interventions that can turn the emotional tone of a household from cold and tense to warm and safe.

This work is an adaptation of Dr. Stan Tatkin's PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couple Therapy), Dr. Ingeborg Bosch' PRI (Past Reality Integration) and Gestalt methods. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Either parent contacts the agency for an intake, and couple therapy begins.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Interns (3rd year graduate students) provided couple therapy for 41 couples in 2015. Future work includes surveying couple satisfaction and behavioral/emotional scales for children.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $10k - $50k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Couples self-pay on a sliding scale, down to $40 per session. In low-income cases fees are reduced. Therapists are third year Masters candidate interns, and are unpaid. Supervisor trainers are paid hourly. This model works when there is a supply of therapists from nearby graduate programs. We receive no grants or government support.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Dr. Tatkin's PACT Institute is training therapists. Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco is an example of an emerging paradigm of educating pediatricians to screen for ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) in the office. See The realization that the home, particularly the relationship between the parents, is a source of stress demands novel approaches. Screening for ACEs invites the inquiry into the relationship and provides a chance for referral into couple work.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

The discovery (Schore, et. al.) of the relationship between adult psychopathy and the "window of attachment vulnerability" is the most important finding for the future of the planet. When a child is neglected beginning at three months of age and ending around fifteen months, the likelihood of adverse outcomes skyrockets. Society must protect the bonding period by providing the mother or caregiver sufficient support to attune to the child from an emotional regulated and available state. A functioning partnership is the most effective way to do this.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

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1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Christy Beighe-Byrne

In this clearly written proposal, the idea is seemingly simple: Support parents so that they can support their children. However, many HMO/PPO plans do not cover this kind of service, leaving families to just work it out on their own or split. It would be interesting to see this model offered to couples just about to get married, versus after they start having troubles and need the help. However, I believe the model "as-is" is something worth investing in. P.S. I LOVE, LOVE your picture of the family shadow :)