Colorado Couples Counseling with Bryce Mathern, LPC
Couples Counseling for Colorado

PACT Therapy

What does a PACT session look like?

Your experience during a PACT session may differ somewhat from what you would experience in other forms of couple therapy.

Key features of this approach include:

  • You will be seated in rolling chairs and most of the session you will be looking at each other. 
  • There will be less information given and more focus on how the relationship is experienced by each member of the couple. 
  • I will focus on present moment shifts in your biology (raising the eyebrows, shifting your feet) in an attempt to bring awareness to how each member of the couple is experiencing their partner from the inside out. 
  • I will help couples do experiments to get more information about how the couple engages in their relationship. 
  • Couples tend to work with me for about 6 to 9 months. 
  • The sessions are an hour and 40 minutes. Sometimes I ask for longer sessions if the couple needs this. 

I am a level 2 PACT therapist. What does this mean?

It means I use the principles of Stan Tatkin’s therapy. I help couples tune into each other and move out of the story that they are telling themselves about their partner. I help my clients notice the non-verbal responses their partner is exhibiting so that they can be more attentive to how their partner is feeling. The narratives we create about our lovers are often full of mis-truths. Our bodies help us to find the truth. 

In the PACT model the goal is often moving a couple towards secure functioning. Secure functioning means that the couple is only doing things that are good for both members of the relationship. They will always protect each other and make sure their partner is okay to the detriment of other relationships. It means that the first person they want to see when they come home is their partner and the last person they say good night to.  In secure functioning couples prioritizes their relationship above everything else. 

When I work with couples I often search for their “dance.” All couples have a relational dynamic that usually shows up early. An example of this is couples tend towards certain nervous system responses. One very common response is one partner gets very upset about something that happened (or didn’t happen) and exhibits a lot of emotional activity. They may yell, get very stern, make lots of gesticulations and talk rapidly. The other partner will then move towards a freeze response where they will feel emotionally shutdown. There will be a loss of awareness and an inability to talk. A couple will often get into these dynamics over and over again. In working with couples I help them to identify their most common dynamic and teach them  new ways of responding that will lead them to a more functional way of responding to each other. 

Often what couples come in to work on is not really the issue. Couples want to work on better communication and tools to not get so upset. My goal is to help couples identify what is really going on. This means paying attention to the underlying nervous system responses that are often causing them to respond in dysfunctional ways. As the couple gains awareness of this they start to work towards co-regulation. Co-regulation is the ability of couples to help each other regulate their nervous systems. This is different from auto-regulation where someone does this by themselves. At first this is difficult and requires a lot of effort. Over time they are able to work with each other with less effort and help each other stay regulated within the interpersonal distress that is happening. 

Personally I believe that the struggle and distress that happens in intimate relationships is often what is necessary to help each member of the couple grow and evolve. When couples come to me they often want to stop having conflict or feeling pain in the relationship. What I often say is that I cannot help this from happening. What I can do is to help couples get much better at going through the inevitable struggle of a relationship in a healthier way.