What you get working with John is markedly different than what traditional marriage counseling offers. This is not merely due to his intensive retreat format. It is also due to his unique approach. John’s work is deeply informed by ground-breaking scientific research on what couples need to build and maintain a secure, happy connection.
This vital information is just beginning to make its way into traditional marital therapy training programs. Developing a solid scientific background was a big part of John’s primary education in psychology. For over a decade, he was a research psychologist at Stanford University. After receiving his Ph.D. there, he co-founded an internationally prominent research center at Stanford funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Psychobiology.
With science as his background, John keeps close tabs on two areas of psychobiological research that show what underlies distress in relationships. Thousands of studies in these areas reveals the crucial factors for a happy, mutually satisfying, intimate partnership. These areas are neuroscience and attachment theory.
Neuroscience provides critical information about how the primitive parts of the brain, wired for survival, can hijack our higher brains. This is what unconsciously pulls couples into states of fight, flight or freeze — where partners escalate into states of anger or withdrawal, blowing up or shutting down — where productive, loving communication becomes impossible. Such reactive patterns increase over time, eventually hijacking a couple’s ability to feel good together.
Attachment theory studies how partners bond emotionally, examining what determines whether a couple will interact in ways that promote security vs insecurity. Research in this area reveals the critical factors and behaviors necessary for healthy emotional bonding — where partners share a deep sense of secure connection, well-being, mutual positive regard, love and happiness — where each person feels understood, accepted, and their needs are met.
Practical Tools Based on Scientific Findings
John has extensive experience in the practical application of this research to helping couples transform their relationships into a secure and satisfying intimate partnerships. He has developed practical tools to help couples resolve emotional blocks, heal old wounds, tame inner triggers, and overcome insecurities. John helps partners to effectively do this healing with each other. Traditional therapy has largely missed utilizing the enormous power couples have to co-heal their own blocks and reactive cycles.
As a coach, John is dedicated to giving you the tools you need to shift the patterns of reactivity that keep a relationship stuck in negative feelings. His approach utilizes the most recent findings on what increases couples satisfaction and decreases reactivity. He shows you methods to successfully work out issues together as a team — and communicate in ways that help you feel more connected, accepted and valued by one another. In terms of attachment science, this is called secure functioning. But you don’t have to have a scientific background to benefit from the simple tools you will learn to turn an insecure, reactive pattern of relating into a secure, happy connection.
The approach found in typical marriage counseling still misses this vital methodology. Traditional couples therapy is just beginning to recognize the significance of findings from neurobiology and attachment research, and largely has not yet put this information to practical use in helping couples. This new, science-based approach is just beginning to show up in but a handful of educational institutes and training programs for therapists.
In general, the assumptions that have guided the field of couples counseling for the last half century have been based on individual therapy models which largely aim to make people more self-sufficient. This approach has not helped lower the divorce rate or raised the level of satisfaction couples experience. A couple is an interdependent system, not simply two individuals. To work with a couple, one needs to support healthy patterns of collaborative interaction.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many therapists tend to split couples up — because they over-emphasize self-sufficiency and lack specific training to support couples to overcome core reactivity and help them to build a happy, secure bond. The latter is John’s main focus in how he works with you, to empower you to co-create a healthy partnership. While most therapists act as if it’s their job to arbitrate a couple’s issues, John gives you practical tools to solve your own issues — yourselves! Instead of trying to give you a fish, his approach is to show you how to fish.
Intensive Format + A Tool-Based Approach
The most obvious difference between the traditional model of counseling and how John works is his intensive retreat format, which provides ample time, space and safety to discover what is at the root of your stuck places as a couple — and learn tools to get unstuck. But it’s John’s tool-based approach that truly differentiates him. John has long been dedicated to coaching couples to help themselves.
Rather than supply you with external answers to your issues, he coaches you to use tools that enable you to effectively find your own answers together — answers and solutions to issues that you both feel good about, that lead to increased happiness and satisfaction. In essence, he shows you how to be a much more collaborative couple, and overcome the tendency to be combative or competitive.
John’s approach focuses on showing you the skills to successfully work as a team to heal your triggers and reactive patterns, and resolve your issues. Due to shortcomings in the traditional view, counselors typically miss helping a couple repair underlying negative behavioral and emotional cycles that keep them reacting in an insecure mode of connecting — what attachment scientists call insecure functioning.
The traditional view of seeing couples in terms of power struggles and the need for conflict management misses giving partners what they really need. They need effective tools that are simple and practical to use, that work fast and get results. Unless a couple has the tools to shift into a secure mode of relating, they will continue to suffer from underlying feelings like a sense of unfairness or injustice, not feeling good enough, not feeling cared about, feeling trapped, or feeling alone and disconnected.
John’s approach is to coach a couple to successfully work together as a team-of-two to build a secure connection — to communicate well and increase mutual happiness. His shows partners how to decrease triggering, insecurity, stuckness and reactivity. The point is to minimize stress or upset within the team, so you can maximize shared good feelings. The aim is to become a secure team-of-two, where you each feel fully accepted, valued, connected, and thrive in your intimate partnership.