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Archive for the ‘Therapy’ Category

Conflict Resolution Treatment with Couples: Arenas of Intervention

Like a three ring circus, conflict resolution therapy with couples includes three arenas of interventions.

In Arena A the therapist identifies and guides resolution of the issues over which couples have been experiencing tensions.  Tensions can be manifest in squabbles, fights, or reluctance to address specific issues for fear that talking would lead to arguments.

In Arena B the therapist serves as coach, teaching the couples skills for collaborative partnership.  These skills include

  • talking cooperatively,
  • resolving conflicts in a win-win manner,
  • managing emotions so they are able to stay in the calm zone, and
  • giving forth loving positivity via fun times together, smiles, hugs, and agreement, appreciation, gratitude and affection in their speech with words like “Yes!” or “I agree that…”

In Arena C the therapist heals each individual’s tendencies to experience negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and depression, and also pathological behavior patterns such as compulsive lying or addictions.  Treatment here can include visualizations for releasing depression and anxiety, anger management, family of origin exploration, changes in interaction patterns between the spouses, medication, and other psychological intervention techniques.

In each arena, the therapist takes a different role.  In Arena A the therapist serves as a mediator.  In Arena B the therapist dons a coaching cap.  In Arena C the therapist becomes a healer.

In sum, the skill set that a therapist needs for effective conflict resolution treatment requires expertise in all three of these realms—mediation, marriage education, and emotional healing.

Conflict Resolution Treatment with Couples: Levels of Intervention

Three Levels of Conflict Resolution Treatment

Susan Heitler, Ph.D., and

 Jon and Julia came to therapy for help toning down their continual bickering.  Now they rarely bicker and enjoy instead a warm and loving partnership.  What does a conflict resolution therapist do that turns a couple like this from conflict to cooperation?

My therapy colleague Matthew LeBauer has terminology that I like a lot for explaining the three levels of intervention that conflict resolution treatment typically includes.

Level I: How To.  As early as in their first session I guided Jon and Julia through to an effective discussion of an issue over which they had locked horns.  Jon wanted to bring the family on a lengthy car trip for summer vacation.  Julia wanted to go to a beach and stay put. 

Learning as they went, I explained to the feuding spouses the basics of collaborative conflict resolution, shepherding their skills as we proceeded. By the end of the session Jon and Julia had experienced the pleasure of cooperative dialogue, plus the delight of having ended up with a truly win-win solution. 

Their decision to rent a fun fancy car, which was Jon’s main concern, and use it for occasional day trips from the beach house they would rent and where Julia would be able to enjoy the calm of being based in one main and beautiful spot, satisfied both of their underlying concerns.  In subsequent sessions, with the therapist’s help, Jon and Julia came to similarly mutually satisfying solutions on many issues that had been contentious.

Having seen that win-win really does work, Jon and Julia were eager to learn the skills that would enable the couple to solve similar conflicts collaboratively on their own.  In addition to augmenting and practicing new skills in their therapy sessions, they committed to learning from the Power of Two program.  At that time the program involved weekend workshops.  Now it’s on the internet at 

Level II How Come

Having seen that their old ways of interacting were filled with needless irritability and anger, Jon and Julia both found it helpful to look at some of the sources of their bickering.  Insight about the origins of difficulties makes it easier to pull up old bad habits from their roots.

Partly their bickering stemmed from never having seen and heard too little of the language of collaboration as they were growing up.  If their parents had modeled cooperative problem-solving they might have grown up speaking that language instead of the language of bickering that had prevailed in both of their families.

Partly also Jon’s training as a lawyer had strengthened his tendency to say “But…” and poke holes in Julia’s every attempt to express her concerns. 

Julia by contrast had gradually become depressed in the relationship.  Jon’s ability to trump whatever she said with his perspective had gradually worn her down to having little confidence in her own views.  She experienced a sense of having lost the “self” she used to have.  Now her identity had become mainly just to be a counterweight to Jon.  Whatever he said, she now would negate.  Speaking up for what she herself felt and thought scarcely happened any more.  Her comments had become mostly limited to why she was against what her husband wanted. Depression was both a cause and effective of her perpetual negativity.

Level III:  Tracking Down and Neutralizing the Sources of Negative Energy

Honing in on and easing the deeper emotional well-springs of distress completes the therapy process.  

Deeper, as once described very nicely by psychologist John Norcross, refers to subconscious feelings, concerns, or other phenomena that occurred historically earlier in ones life, and/or that are deeper in terms of less accessible to conscious awareness.

How does a conflict resolution therapist address these deeper issues?

Conflict resolution therapists identify the specific deeper underlying concerns that tend to resurface again and again in their client’s lives by listening closely to clients’ descriptions of moments that triggered upset feelings.  Situations, thoughts or feelings that trigger these “core concerns,” Lester Luborsky’s term for inflammatory thoughts that frequently bring up strong negative feelings.  For instance, whether the conflict involved where to go for vacation, how to help their daughter with her homework, or whether to renovate their kitchen, the same repeated deeper underlying concerns such as wanting to be heard or appreciated or free of blame would again and again lock Jon and Julia into angry escalations.   While deeper concerns tend to be universal preferences that virtually everyone prefers, Jon and Julia’s hyper-intense emotional reactions evoked hostility instead of a positive response from their loved one.

One frequently-evoked deeper core concern for Jim involved resentment at feeling negatively judged by his wife.  He hated to feel unjustly accused, stemming from having been the recipient of unjust accusations in his youth.  For Julia, feeling unheard or that whatever she said was being dismissed raised upsurges of hurt and angry responses stemming from her up-bringing in a large and chaotic family.

Conflict resolution therapists access these deeper concerns with a range of techniques.  They may use visualization techniques, utilizing, for instance, what I refer to in my book From Conflict to Resolution as a “depth dive.” They may use bioenergetic techniques such as Nelson Bradley’s Emotion Code or EFT.  Or they may choose to use other alternative options.   

Once the triggering earlier episode has been identified and the negative emotions released vis a vis this point of origin, the neutralized emotional reaction then needs to be brought up to present time.  That can be accomplished by distinguishing the ways in which the present differs from the past, by using energetic neutralizing techniques such as a magnet or EFT tapping, or by other procedures for removing toxic emotional residues.   

In sum, successful exploration of deeper core concerns begins with identification of the triggering thoughts or situations that are occuring in present-day life.   Second, the origination point of the reactions in a moment of sudden or intense emotions earlier in life needs pinpointing.  Lastly, these triggers then can be neutralized, that is, emptied of negative emotional reactivity.  The result should be that thoughts and situations that feel similar to traumatic moments in a person’s past then will no longer evoke negative energy such as irritation, anger, or distrust, in the present or future. 

Having completed all three levels of treatment, Jon and Julia now enjoy a calm, fun-loving and collaborative relationship.  Jon doesn’t need to even use his anger management techniques because angry feelings no longer rise beyond an occasional whisper within him.  Julie feels appreciated and taken seriously, so she too enjoys a steady pattern of warm and loving feelings toward Jon.

Mission accomplished.

The Win-Win Waltz: A Strategy for Conflict Resolution and Shared Problem-Solving

Couples often seek information on how to fix a relationship, how to communicate with your spouse, how to handle marriage problems, and how to save a marriage.  They are wise to seek out this kind of information, especially about skills for communication in marriage.

That’s because most marriages end because of insufficient partnership communication skills–skills that can be learned.

Communication skills include keeping your emotional cool, talking tactfully, listening to genuinely understand your partner’s concerns, and sprinkling your dialogue with a steady flow of appreciation, agreement, humor and other positive vibes.

These communication skill sets will almost get you to a vastly improved relationship.  One more skill though is essential: shared problem-solving, also often called conflict resolution.

All couples have differences.  Skills for finding win-win solutions to your differences are a vital addition to keeping couples in love-mode.

The good news is that if you follow the three steps and guideline details below, success may be surprisingly easy, provided you consistenly utilize all the while the communication skills listed above.

Begin by recognizing each time you feel a tug of war begin.  If each of you is pulling for your preferred solution to a problem, switch immediately from arguing in favor or against particular plans of action to exploring your underlying concerns.

Once the two of you have succeeded in generating a full list of all of your underlying concerns, with the concerns of both of you all listed on one list, generating win-win solutions can become creative and fun.

No need to argue!  Just use the Worksheet below to guide you to a resolution that will please you both.  In addition, if you think you might need more help to upgrade your collaborative communication and conflict resolution skills, check out

The Win-Win Waltz Worksheet

by Susan Heitler, Ph.D., founder


A’s Initial solution proposal:________________________________________________________________________________________________

B’s Initial solution proposal: _________________________________________________________________________________


  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________
  • _______________________________________________________

Note: Be sure to list all the concerns of both participants on one list, indicating that any concern of one of you immediately becomes a shared concern of both of you.

STEP 3: CREATE a WIN-WIN SOLUTION, responsive to all the concerns

  • Start by identifying the most strongly felt concerns, building the plan initially around the most strongly felt concerns.
  • Add enhancements until all the concerns are responded to.
  • Suggest only what you yourself might be willing to do.
  • Express appreciation of what the other offers
  • Add additional concerns that each proposed solution may raise, and create solution options responsive to these concerns as well.
  • Aim to build a solution set, a comprehensive solution

Potential win-win ideas:_________________________________________________________________________

Circle back one more time: have all the concerns been responded to in the plan of action?  Add further details to the plan as needed.

In sum, WIN-WIN means that the plan of action has elements responsive to all of the concerns of both of you. While neither of you may have “gotten your way” with regard to you initial solution ideas, both of you will have succeeded in getting what you wanted!

Copyright@ Susan Heitler. Ph.D.  For more information see or




Based on the Audio CD Anxiety: Friend or Foe? by Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

available at or

This guide is for therapists.  At the same time, individuals are welcome to use it on their own, or with the help of a friend.

Step I. Identify the conflicts

  1. Ask client to close his/her eyes, and to focus on where in his body he feels the anxiety.
  2. Ask what thought would make this anxiety feel even more intense.  What additional thoughts would also make the anxious feeling more intense?
  3. The therapist explains, “I’m going to be your secretary” and writes down these thoughts word for word, numbering the thoughts sequentially as they come up, until the client has no more anxiety-producing thoughts to add.

Step II.  Guide conflict resolution

  1. Ask the client then to open his/her eyes, and explain that you will proceed together to circle back on the list, taking his/her anxiety-producing thoughts one by one as genuine dilemmas (conflicts) that need a plan of action in response.
  2. Discuss each item on the list, clarifying the underlying concerns, and finding a possible plan of action.  Sometimes deciding on a way to gather more information regarding that concern is a sufficient plan of action, as information is often the best antidote to anxiety.
  3. Have the client close his/her eyes again after creation of each plan of action.  Visualize that action plan, checking to see that it looks like it will be helpful, and how others will respond.  If problems are foreseen with the plan of action, the client opens his/her eyes, and alters the solution plan.  Check again with the new action plan, until when the client visualizes the plan it looks like it will work.
  4. When all the issues appear to have been brought to a positive plan for resolution, the anxious feelings should be lifted.

Step III. Summarize

  1. Circle once more through the list to be certain that each concern and each anxiety-producing dilemma has been responded to.
  2. Ask, “Are there any little pieces of this that still feel unfinished?”

For further guidance on the conflict resolution process, check out

What is psychological reversal? How can it be treated?

Psychological Reversal:

Assessment and Treatment of Self-Defeating Tendencies

By Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

Posted March 2, 2011

Note: Dale Petterson, one of the independent therapy professionals in my office suite, is presently conducting free testing for psychological reversal.  To schedule a test, please contact the secretary in our office suite at 303 388-4211.  The test generally takes approximately 10 minutes.

What is psychological reversal?  How can you find out if you are psychologically reversed? And how can this reversal be turned around?

Psychological reversal is a subconscious condition of self-sabotage.

It could be that you have been functioning in a state of psychological reversal if you have noticed that in your life that sometimes, just as you are in a process of attaining something that you want, you somehow manage to end up spoiling it.  If your sub-conscious mind is set on thwarting your successes, you will find success harder to attain and sustain.

For instance, one person who was psychologically reversed easily made good friends, but then would find herself antagonizing them.  Another would work hard to attain financial success, and then lose his fortune with bad investments.  Yet another would find herself criticizing and picking fights with her husband bringing to a halt each period where they were beginning to enjoy each other’s company.  Instead of experiencing positive emotions and situations with self-acceptance, people with psychological reversal experience positive situations as uncomfortable and therefore inadvertently undo them.

The term psychological reversal was coined by Roger Callahan, a psychologist who noticed that some patients seemed to be unable to benefit from the same interventions that most people found very helpful in reducing their psychological stresses.

Callahan explained psychological reversal as a state that blocks positive results from his TFT (Thought Field Therapy) interventions.  While most people accept with pleasure the healing impacts of therapy, psychologically reversed individuals have subconscious blocks to feeling happy.  They therefore subconsciously resist letting go of their emotional distress symptoms such as fears, depression, addictions or angers.

Dale Petterson, an energy psychology therapist whom I recently invited to work from our office suite of independent therapy professionals, has spent over twenty years amassing expertise in a wide variety of energy psychology interventions.  To augment his use of EFT, a streamlined version of Callahan’s original TFT tapping techniques, as well the effectiveness of his multiple other energy-based psychological treatment methods, Dale has developed an exceptionally rapid, potent and long-lasting intervention strategy for treating psychological reversal.

As with any problem, medical or psychological, the first step is assessment.  Dale starts therefore by assessing whether or not there is a state of psychological reversal present in the person’s functioning.

How does he ascertain the presence or absence of subconscious state of psychological reversal?  Dale uses muscle kinesiology techniques, simple muscle tests that indicate small variances in muscle strength in a person’s outstretched arm.  When the subconscious wants to say “Yes,” this positive energy response is reflected in strong muscles which easily hold the outstretched arm aloft in response to slight pressure exerted by Dale on the arm.  By contrast, when the subconscious answers Dale’s questions with “No,” the answer is manifest in momentary muscle weakness which causes the client’s outstretched arm to drop.

Using this muscle kinesiology test, Dale uses three questions to test for psychological reversal.  One test involves having the client put his hand on his head facing upward, then downward, then upward again.  One involves showing the person a blank piece of paper with a large X on it; then a paper with two parallel lines.  The third involves  muscle testing with the client saying the words “I want to be happy,” and then “I want to be miserable.” Clients who are in a state of psychological reversal consistently test as reversed on all three of these tests.

As to treatment, Dale Petterson’s creative innovation, which I have observed working with consistent success in treating psychological reversal, begins with using muscle testing (muscle kinesiology) to communicate with the client’s unconscious mind to track down the age and incident in a person’s life when he or she first became psychologically reversed.

Clients generally are surprised, and at the same time generally find quite credible, when Dale brings forth a memory, for instance, of a frightening interaction with a parent at age 5, or an upsetting rejection from a valued schoolmate at age 7, that initiated the flip from a positive psychological state to gravitating toward negative emotional states.

Once that originating moment has been clarified, Dale then uses a brief treatment such as running a strong magnet down the governing meridian, (meridians are familiar to users of acupuncture and other Eastern-based medical systems) to reverse or replace the negative energies.  As he rebalances the energy system with the intention of eliminating the psychological reversal, the psychological reversal is itself reversed.  Now that the reversal at the age of origination has been eliminated, Dale brings the change up to present time so there is no longer psychological reversal present.

The full process of diagnosing and reversing psychological reversal generally takes under an hour.  The result?   Within a single treatment session people regain the natural state of being able to enjoy positive emotions and to sustain positive situations.

I have been amazed, in working alongside of Dale in treating clients of mine who appear to be therapy-resistant, to see that addressing the psychological reversal then enables both Dale’s energy-based techniques and my more traditional therapy techniques to become effective.   Long-standing anxieties, emotional hyper-reactivity, chronic longings or sadness, quickness to anger, and other distressed states now respond positively to our therapeutic interventions.

In sum, psychological reversal indicates a subconscious patterning of self-sabotage because the person’s energies have become oriented to sustaining unhappiness rather than to sustaining happiness.  Instead of taking joy in successes, a reversed person feels uncomfortable when certain dimensions of his life that are important to him are going well.  Eventually he or she will do something that relieves this discomfort by re-creating self-defeat or a negative emotion of some sort.  By contrast, with psychological reversal no longer present, the odds of a person being able to sustain feelings of happiness, joy and lightness of spirit, and sustained successes at home and at work zoom upwards.

Resolution, Not Conflict; Dr. Heitler's blog on Psychology Today
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