Virtual Retreats Give Better Results

We are sometimes asked if virtual retreats are as effective as working in person. Actually, they are usually more effective! That surprised us, too…

Like most people, we had assumed that in-person work was superior. That turned out to be an erroneous assumption.

For over two years, we’ve been conducting virtual retreats online via Zoom. These have been successful far beyond all expectations. Read this in couples’ own words: What couples are saying about their virtual retreats →

At the bottom of this page, we also show excerpts from couples who were initially skeptical and hesitant to work with us online rather than in person.

When you read this client feedback you will see that we’ve suffered no limitations in our effectiveness using Zoom.

In fact, many couples found major advantages in having done their retreats virtually. And these couples were not merely dealing with light-weight problems, either. On the contrary, we helped them heal heavy issues like affairs, infidelity, and lying.

We helped couples who had been disconnected emotionally, avoiding each other, building up walls of resentment, or living like room-mates for years. We helped couples stuck in long term conflicts and fighting, or who were perenially bickering over everything. We helped couples who already had filed for divorce.

We helped these couples successfully, every bit equal in effectiveness to the in-person work we have delivered for decades in our intensive retreats. Usually the results have been even better compared to working in person.

That said, we are only doing private retreats. We did not find that virtual group retreats were as effective, so we stopped offering group work.

If you would like to discuss your specific situation and explore whether we can help you, please call John at (707) 536-5781 or contact us here →

Why Is Our Virtual Work Better?

As we thought it, we came to see a few reasons why our virtual work was so powerful, and actually better than our in-person work. Not that the latter was lacking. As pioneers of the intensive approach, we’ve been offering best-in-class help for the full range of couples’ issues for over three decades.

Yet there are several ways that the model we developed to strengthen and empower couples actually works better virtually. Here are some of those ways…

A Tool-Based Approach. First, our approach is tool-based. Couples do not need “therapy” as much as they need effective tools and models of what strengthens a marriage and enables partners to maintain high levels of shared happiness.

We teach tools that enable couples to communicate effectively and productively. We teach tools the empower a couple to collaborate well, get their needs met, and achieve mutually satisfying results.

We teach new understandings for how to achieve a secure, strong foundation in a marriage. One which has durability and increasing satisfaction over time.

To achieve these outcomes, we have developed a robust and engaging psycho-educational component as part of our program. This component has been strengthened when presented virtually.

As a result, we see couples come to understand and use these tools more rapidly in our virtual retreats. And thereby we see partners more quickly repair relationship wounds, collaborate better, and renew their positive feelings and sense of connection.

A Coaching Model. Another ingredient gets strengthened when we work virtually. It has to do with our coaching model, where we aim to coach from the sidelines.

Why do we strive to coach from the sidelines? Because couples want to communicate better with each other. Not with us.

And effective communication is a face-to-face process.

Thus, improving communication can only truly happen if partners are facing each other. So, the more we can coach from the sidelines, the more partners directly face each other, improving communication, resolving issues and reconnecting emotionally.

Using Zoom also strengthens this strategic feature of our approach. When we’re on a screen rather than in the room, partners more quickly get comfortable staying face-to-face. Doing so, they more rapidly improve communication, understanding and connection.

Empowering the Couple. People assume it is better to be in the same room with a therapist. Our orientation is to empower the couple rather than foster dependency on us. Virtual work actually is a stronger context for that to happen. This parallels our tool-based approach: teach people how to fish rather than feeding them a fish.

We are very aware of the dichotomy between dependency on the therapist versus empowering the couple. When we are in the room, there is typically much more facing and referencing towards us than when happens we are on a screen.

In typical counseling (intensive or not) partners initially tend to reference toward the therapist as the “safe” third, the adult in the room, the Dear Abby, or the judge and jury. This triangulation is not a part of our model.

We find that referencing towards us impedes a couple’s ability to acquire and use the face-to-face tools that empower them to take charge of their relationship and change how they operate in it.

So our approach emphasizes educating, training, and coaching a couple to use the tools to solve their issues. Again, teach them to catch their own fish. Working virtually is a better fit for this approach.

More Comfort & Productivity. Further related to this, there is typically more emotional acting out by couples when we’re in the room compared to on a screen.

Acting out is that upset and negativity so often occurring in the traditional counseling office that wastes everyone’s time and so discourages both couples and therapists alike.

Couples therapy turns out to be the segment of the mental health field with the highest therapist burn-out rate. This is primarily due to the amount of emotional activation that occurs with highly distressed couples.

The therapist’s nervous system automatically resonates with this elevated activation, thus reduces their resourcefulness and ability to help the couple. It’s a vicious circle where all parties suffer.

Even though our in-person model and approach did not produce this problem to the same degree, we were pleased to find in virtual work that couples’ emotional upsets or acting out was even further reduced.

So in addition to empowering the couple more, virtual work has turned out to be more productive as well as more comfortable for all parties, including us.

Getting Away from Home. But what about going somewhere nice and getting away from home? Isn’t that what a retreat is supposed to be? Don’t we know it… we started that idea over 30 years ago. So what do we say about it now?

Short answer: you can still get away if you want. And, yes, we are often asked if we recommend that a couple stay at home or go somewhere else for their virtual retreat.

There is no single one-size-fits-all answer. It’s entirely your choice as to do whatever you feel would work better for you. You have even more choices with virtual work.

Certainly there can be a benefit for some couples to get away from the home front and feel more relaxed in a vacation-like location. Many couples do that for their virtual retreats, going to a second “lake” home or other desirable travel destination.

Other couples who chose to stay at home for their retreat reported an advantage that their issues got handled in their home environment, directly where those issues live. So the progress they made integrated more rapidly into their daily lives. They said that was far better than going somewhere magical then returning home and trying to remember or apply what they learned.

Some commented on how the safety and comfort of being on their home ground helped them learn faster. Others mentioned that using the tools at home felt very real and relevant, more so than if they were saying in an unfamiliar place. Still others appreciate the increased flexibility of scheduling virtual sessions.

details about virtual retreats

Feedback on the Effectiveness of Virtual Work

Here are excerpts from the feedback we got from couples many of whom were initially hesitant or skeptical about doing a virtual retreat. Several of them ended up finding reasons they thought the Zoom retreat was better than doing it in person.

“We were initially quite apprehensive about doing an intensive retreat online vs. in person. But John coached us the same as if we were together. He is an incredible coach, the best in his field. We learned a huge amount about each other and how to communicate far better than we ever have.
“I first thought ‘I don’t want to do this virtually. I need the person right in front of me.’ I thought I wouldn’t get as much out of it doing it online. But now I can say that it was life-changing. Just the couple of days have really opened our eyes and our hearts. Doing it online was actually much better for us. To experience being 100% tuned into while in the comfort of our own home was amazing.
“We’ve done an in-person retreat in the past, and now this virtual retreat. The virtual retreat was actually far less stressful. Being in our own home was much better than being in a strange place. It was easier. No stress from travel. No being in a different place. Being here at home and scheduling the sessions to suit us helped us apply the tools and make the changes we wanted in our daily lives.”
“In hindsight, there are no negatives to doing this online, and there are some real positives, in addition to just the easier logistics: we were alone together during the off hours and the breaks, in our own comfortable, familiar surroundings. That made it far easier to focus on what we were actually there to accomplish and it made the breaks and meals very relaxing relative to being far from home in a hotel.”
“I didn’t know if I would like online work because I have never done it before. But it felt very good to have that distance between you and us. It felt good to be in my own space, use my bathroom, take a 10-minute nap if I need to during the break. The safety of our home made us more open to the process which went deep and was healing for us.”
“The worries and fears that we had in regards to the lack of efficacy of the online program dissipated on the first day working with you. Your reassurance and commitment to making the program as beneficial as in-person was apparent and truly appreciated. We do not feel that the online program was lacking in any way and would highly recommend it to our family and friends.”
“This has been awesome to do during the coronavirus time. We’re really grateful for you. We really weren’t doing very well. The emotional repair process you gave us has been huge. This all has been really effective.
“We’re definitely glad we did the retreat virtually. The comfort and safety of being in our own home made such a big difference. We wouldn’t have been as comfortable doing it somewhere else. Although getting away from home is the common idea about a retreat, that would not have at all been as good as how secure we felt at our place. Being here really helped us do the work better.”
“You helped us so much. We thank you from the bottoms of our hearts. This retreat was a really good experience, in the comfort of our own home. We have received such great tools from you.”
“Our online virtual retreat has been a very good experience. We have come a long way. Being in our own house helped a lot. It is easier to be more truthful and access emotions not having the therapist sit in the room. I felt like we as a couple were a unit.
“During this stay-at-home period, the online intensive we did with you has literally saved our marriage. We are so glad we found you. And we thank you for the security we have found with each other through working with you.”
“I really liked doing the retreat from home. In our own house, in our surroundings, we felt more comfortable, we felt we could be more intimate, and it’s not unnatural in any way. And it felt like it was us doing the work, with you just making sure it kept moving along, so we didn’t get stuck.”
“When you go somewhere else, it almost makes it seem like this other place is the important thing. And people say, when they go on retreats, that they ‘come back to reality’ at home again, and it’s terrible to come back to the same old thing. But with our virtual retreat, the transformation happened in our reality. There was no ‘back to reality.’ This is our reality. So it gives our changes a much more solid foundation.”
“We had hoped to get away and come to see you in beautiful Sonoma. But it worked out well to stay home and be able to spread out our sessions. That gave us plenty of time to put the tools we learned from you into practice for a day or two. And then we could get further coaching from you and improve even more.”
“We ended up glad we did the work virtually rather than being somewhere that might have felt more artificial. You were in your spot, and we were in our spot. That felt very organic. I can see some people might want to get away from home, but being here in our own home was a very good thing for us. There was a sense of pride that we could be improving our ’emotional home’ and doing it right here where we live.”
“In the end, I thought the virtual retreat was preferable to doing it at your place. If we had gone away it might seem the location made all the magic happen there. But here, it was in our own home we were making it happen. I really do think that doing the retreat virtually works quite well. I would never have thought it would be as productive this way. But now, I can say I prefer it.”