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Expert Relationship Advice

2013 Historical Event: Dr. Sue Johnson, John and Julie Gottman Hold Summit in Seattle

The three the top researchers in the world provide expert relationship advice for 1,200 couples therapists to take home to their practices.  I am honored by their invitation to report on their conference.  Here is a copy of the article they posted on their blog:

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In order to obtain a practitioner’s perspective on this historic event, we have invited Certified Gottman Therapist Laura Silverstein to share about her experience as an attendee. Laura earned her MSW from the University of Connecticut, completed an externship at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center, and has over 18 years of clinical experience. She owns a private practice in the suburbs of Philadelphia where she counsels individuals, families, and couples. Laura draws from her specialized training while maintaining her warm, collaborative style.

The Johnson-Gottman Summit
By Laura Silverstein, LCSW

My short walk to the University of Washington’s Meany Theatre for The Johnson-Gottman Summit was not unlike going to a sporting event as 1,200 people converged from every direction with palpable excitement of what was to come. We were sitting shoulder to shoulder, couples therapist beside couples therapist, and Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Julie Gottman, and Dr. Sue Johnson –the three central pioneers in evidence-based couples therapy and relationship research shared the stage.

My colleagues in the audience were an array of clinicians at all different levels of training from all over the world. It seems to me that we all traveled the distance with one central question in mind: What do we need to know to give our couples the most state-of-the art expert relationship advice we can provide?

It was a two-day conference dense with interventions, theory, and application. We saw videotapes of both successes and mistakes (thank you for that Julie, what a gift!). Our presenters sat on two couches around a coffee table and entered into conversation as if we were all in one huge living room. The three of them explored the differences and similarities in their theories, at times reverent and complimentary, and at times one could feel the tension of horns locking in the passion of their perspectives.

At the risk of gross oversimplification, much of the weekend pointed back to two main points: (1) it has been scientifically proven numerous times in numerous ways that human beings need one another, and (2) the couples in our offices are the experts on their own relationships. We need to stay out of their way and learn from them.

It is almost cliché to talk about needing love. We all know we need food, shelter, water, and love, but accepting this is not as easy as it may sound. In his lecture on building loyalty, John Gottman said, “We need someone in our lives whose world stops when we are in pain.” That requires one to be vulnerable and share the pain, and the other to say no to every other person who is knocking on the door at that moment. We can help by reminding people that allowing yourself to need and be needed is as important as allowing yourself permission to breathe oxygen.

And when it comes to love, people who are happily enjoying their partners are the experts. From Dr. John Gottman we have the benefit of 40 years of observation of such couples, and from Dr. Sue Johnson we understand the application of Attachment Theory to relationships as a way to create connection. Although we are informed by this research, the last words at the conference that were said were, “Go out and keep learning from your couples.”  They are the ones who will be providing the expert relationship advice, and we must never forget to stop listening.

We’ve read the books, understand the theories, and are skilled at the interventions, yet I think as therapists we must remember that we are not the most important teachers in the room. After we provide the climate, our couples will teach us what works and what doesn’t. They will teach one another how they like to be loved and comforted. They are the masters, and will be able to see that when they understand it is not only perfectly fine to need love – it is to be human.

With much gratitude for all my amazing teachers,
Laura Silverstein, LCSW
Certified Gottman Therapist

rev. 5/2014

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