Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Couples
A Clinician's Guide to Using Mindfulness, Values, and Schema Awareness to Rebuild Relationships
Published by: New Harbinger Publications
Imprint: Context Press
Relationships take work. In this much-anticipated book, best-selling author Matthew McKay and psychologist Avigail Lev present the ten most common relationship schemas, and provide an evidence-based acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) treatment protocol for professionals to help clients overcome the barriers that hold them back in their relationships.
Romantic relationships are a huge challenge for many of us, as evidenced by our high divorce rates. But what is it that causes so much pain and discord in many relationships? In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Couples, Matthew McKay and Avigail Lev provide the first ACT-based treatment protocol for couples that identifies the ten most common relationship schemas—and the coping behaviors they drive—to help you guide clients through their pain and toward solutions that reflect the needs and values of the couple.
Rather than working to stop relationship schemas from being triggered or to reduce schema pain, you’ll be able to help your clients observe and name what triggers their rigid coping behaviors when their schemas are activated. And by learning new skills when they’re triggered, your clients will be able to replace avoidant and coping behaviors with values-based action for the betterment of the relationship.
By making your clients’ avoidant behavior the target of treatment— as opposed to their thoughts and beliefs—this skills-based guide provides the tools you need to help your clients change how they respond to their partner.
“Couples play out symbolic themes that can come to dominate their lives together, such as ‘I will be abandoned’ or ‘my partner should meet all my needs.’ In this interesting combination of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and schema-focused couples work, the authors describe how to detect these themes and the pain they produce, and to change the avoidant coping strategies that rapidly turn these themes in disrupted relationships. ACT and cognitive behavioral therapists alike will feel at home inside this model, scaling their existing skills into effective couples work. A conceptual and pragmatic step forward. Highly recommended.”
—Steven C. Hayes, PhD, codeveloper of ACT
“There are no two authors in this world better equipped to marry the disciplines of ACT and schema process work than Lev and McKay. The way in which they bring their expertise to the specific challenges facing couples is nothing short of superb. When we get right down to it, couples work is difficult, and our technologies often fail us. This book is the state of the art in contextual behavioral approaches to couples therapy, and it should be on every therapist’s bookshelf, regardless of their theoretical stance.”
—Dennis Tirch, PhD, coauthor of The ACT Practitioner’s Guide to the Science of Compassion, and founder of The Center for Compassion Focused Therapy
“This book elegantly combines the strengths of ACT, schema therapy, and nonviolent communication in a very clear and coherent treatment approach to problems faced by couples. Reading it leaves you with the great and rare feeling of knowing what to do, and the confidence that it will really help your clients.”
—Matthieu Villatte, PhD, coauthor of Mastering the Clinical Conversation
“This is the ACT textbook we needed to have! A comprehensive and ever-so-practical guide to helping couples overcome their problems and build rich, intimate relationships. I especially like the way schemas are incorporated to fast-track defusion, acceptance, and self-awareness. Packed full of tools, techniques, exercises, and transcripts of therapy sessions, this excellent resource is a must for any ACT therapist who works with couples. And as a bonus, it’ll give you a lot of great ideas for improving your own relationships. If you want to help couples stop struggling and start loving, this book is for you.”
—Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap and ACT Made Simple
“Lev and McKay weave together their collective expertise in schema therapy, couples therapy, and ACT to bring us this much needed ACT-for-couples therapist guide. Whether you are new to schema work or ACT, or are a seasoned veteran, this well-organized, easy-to-follow book will be a valuable addition to your therapy bookshelf. Replete with sample dialogue and experiential practices, this is a must-have for any clinician who works with couples or with individuals in relationships—so basically all of us!”
—Jill Stoddard,PhD, coauthor of The Big Book of ACT Metaphors
“This book for practitioners beautifully synthesizes two distinctive therapy traditions, schema-focused therapy (SFT) and ACT, into a powerful step-by-step approach to couples therapy. Key SFT and ACT concepts and associated intervention strategies are presented in an easy-to-read, practical style. The authors present numerous highly revealing in-session dialogues designed to demonstrate each step of their novel treatment approach. Conducting effective couples therapy is a demanding enterprise; this book will materially increase your clinical skills and help you improve the lives of couples in distress.”
—Kirk Strosahl, PhD, cofounder of ACT, and coauthor of Inside This Moment and Brief Interventions for Radical Change
“As a compassion-focused (CFT) therapist, I was thrilled to see Avigail Lev and Matthew McKay’s clear and crisply written application of ACT to couples therapy. This excellent melding of schema therapy and ACT provides a compassionate and inherently de-shaming context for working with the tricky and acutely painful ways that attachment dynamics can wreak havoc in couple relationships. In their empirically supported approach, the authors guide clinicians in identifying problematic attachment-related schemas, and then in using the technology of ACT to help couples develop mindfulness, reduce experiential avoidance, improve perspective-taking, and address the barriers to values-based action so that they can build better relationships and happier lives.”
—Russell Kolts, PhD, professor of psychology at Eastern Washington University, and author of CFT Made Simple and The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Managing Your Anger
“This book successfully combines ACT with a schema-based approach to treating couples. The advantage of a schema formulation for therapists is that it clearly establishes a focus for treatment. It helps therapists identify schemas that underlie many conflicts, and use acceptance and emotion exposure techniques to facilitate distress tolerance. Therapists learn extremely useful strategies to help their couple clients face—rather than run away from—old unavoidable thoughts and feelings, and focus on shared values as an alternative to experiential avoidance. This well-written book uses simple, straightforward, accessible language, and does not require any prerequisite knowledge of ACT or schema therapy. With its many worksheets, exercises, and sample dialogues, this book is a great resource for any therapist who wants to help clients lead a less conflictual, richer, and more fulfilling life.”
—Georg H. Eifert, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at Chapman University, and coauthor of The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety
“One of the greatest assets a couples therapist can provide to a couple in distress is a clear, accepting, honest description of the different perspectives and experiences each member of the couple brings to a conflict. On this foundation of perspective taking, couples can begin to hear each other, connect again, and eventually move forward together. Schema therapy offers great insight into the range of perspectives and experiences a person might bring to conflict—the schema formulations have withstood the tests of time, clinical practice, and clinical trials. In turn, the core processes of ACT center on relating to such experiences—in ourselves and others—in flexible and values-based ways. By melding the insights of schema therapy with the processes of ACT, Lev and McKay offer clinicians and their clients a clear, practical framework for understanding what is happening in the heat of conflict, and beginning to build bridges of understanding and acceptance. This is a wonderfully useful, readable guide that every couples therapist (or therapist who works with people in relationships) will find to be of immediate and enduring value.”
—Gareth Holman, PhD, psychologist in private practice; lead author of Functional Analytic Psychotherapy Made Simple; and founding partner of OpenTeam, a consulting firm dedicated to helping business teams apply the science of psychological flexibility to communicate and collaborate more effectively towards purpose
“This book is a valuable resource for any ACT or schema-focused therapists working with couples. This text teaches how to effectively recognize and address maladaptive patterns and interpersonal styles in couples therapy, and offers a variety of clear and applicable examples, exercises, and worksheets. The authors seamlessly weave together schema therapy and ACT for couples in a meaningful way that is accessible and enriching for clinicians both new and experienced in this work. This book is bound to be an appreciated addition to any therapist looking to deepen their ACT or schema-focused couples therapy.”
—Laura Silberstein-Tirch, PsyD, director at The Center for Compassion Focused Therapy; adjunct assistant professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine; president-elect of the ACBS New York City Chapter; consulting psychologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and executive director of The Compassionate Mind Foundation USA