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ST-C Module 13: The „Highway to Hell“ – preparing a separation (by Eckhard Roediger)

The ST-C Modules 1 to 12 describe the good outcome of a couple’s therapy. You could call this the “Stairway to Heaven”. However, in many cases this is not a reachable goal. Getting to some kind of “living together apart” arrangement where the couples share conjoint fields of interest but live separate lives where they do not match is a reasonable and more frequently realistic result of our work. Nevertheless, more than quite a few couples discover that they actually do not really match with each other and one of the partners decides to quit the relationship. Unfortunately, it takes two partners to start a relationship but only one to end it. This are the steps to take in a separation process:

  1. Try to collect a feedback from both partners about their summary of your work with them up to this point.

  2. Use chair dialogues to clarify the pros and cons of separating (or staying together). Offer one chair for each tendency and ask the clients to sit on both chairs with eyes close. Let them picture their life on both chairs half a year after a separation and ask how they feel. Therapist: “Now you are sitting on the pro-chair. How do you feel half a year after you separated? What’s been working better? How is your life easier or more pleasant?” Then let the client move to the contra-chair. “How do you feel now on the “contra chair” half a year later? What do you miss about your partner and your relationship? What is more difficult now?” At the end ask the client: “How many percent are on the separation side of the balance and how many percent on the continuing side?” Do this exercise with both partners.

  3. If there is still enough “good-will” on both sides to give it another try make an agreement on what exactly the couple wants to work on for a defined period of time (e.g. one, two or maximum three months). Define the exact behaviour they need to show. After this time re-evaluate the process.

  4. If the result is not satisfying propose an experimental separation for a defined time (e.g. one, two or maximum three months). This works best if the couple can live in different places. Decide how you want to continue to work together during this time.

  5. Re-evaluate the process. If one of the partners wants to quit, state the mismatch of interests and make clear, that it is probably better to separate than to continue fighting.

  6. Try to find fair solutions for the remaining issues. Refer the couple to a mediator to fix legal issues. Clarify if one partner wants to continue individual sessions and the other partner accepts that.

  7. If possible, end the couple’s meetings with a positive feedback on what both partners are thankful for after all the years together despite the differences and conflicts they have now.

STC module 13 Prepare a separation complete Bild

The Schema Therapy for couples (ST-C) Module System (by Eckhard Roediger)

The modules described in the following are meant to guide you step by step through a strategically focused therapy process with a couple. It is based on the idea starting with the mode cycle in the first session without a prior diagnostic phase. The full model is outlined in the book “Schema Therapy with couples” published by Wiley*. Together with the content of the book and our ST-C training workshops the modules will enable you to “start working under fire” in a surprisingly effective way.

The underlying assumptions (in a nutshell):

  • The main interactional problem of the couple is getting stuck in their default mode cycle.
  • This mode cycle represents a rigid and persisting dysfunctional interactional pattern.
  • The pattern remains the same while the content changes. Thus we ignore all kind of content but solely focus on the presented cycle as the “common enemy” both partners contribute to.
  • In the sessions the couple plays out their default mode cycles too.
  • We work most effectively if we focus on the dysfunctional mode cycle presented in-session, because it is present in the here and now of the therapy room visible for everybody.
  • We try to work with the interaction in the present moment. We only ask for the most important social data, introduce the model and avoid going to past problems.
  • Once the couple learned to identify and stop the cycle, re-centre themselves and shift to a problem-solving oriented interaction pattern they are able to deal with critical content.
  • If we get stuck with the couple because one (or both) partner(s) is not able to leave their role in the cycle we can offer individual sessions to work with the individual under safer conditions. Then we might go deeper into the biographical background (e.g. underlying schemas).
  • We try to share content from individual sessions as much as possible in the following conjoint session to strengthen the bond of understanding within the couple.

The course of therapy:

  • The introductory part are the modules 1 to 4. With a functional couple they can be covered in the first one or two sessions.
  • If both partners are able to re-balance themselves in a functional way you can go directly to modules 9 to 12. Then the therapy might not take longer than 8 to 12 sessions.
  • If one partner fails to re-balance go to modules 5 and 6 (externalizers) to get access to the vulnerable side or to modules 7 and 8 (internalizers) to strengthen the assertive side.
  • If the client cannot access the blocked side in the presence of their partner offer individual sessions in the required amount, if necessary for both partners on parallel tracks. Once they are able to get into a balanced state continue with module 9 to 12.
  • If a separation becomes more likely go to module 13

The ST-C-Modules are:

  1. SCT-Module 1 - explaining the model
  2. STC Module 2 - Introducing the Mode Cycle Clashcard
  3. STC Module 3 - stopping mode clashes
  4. STC Module 4 - Rebalancing after separationSTC
  5. STC Module 5 - accessing the VC
  6. STC Module 6 - Honeymoon imagery
  7. STC module 7 - accessing the assertive side_new
  8. STC Module 8 - Empowerment imagery exercise_new
  9. STC Module 9 - Reconnecting through conjoint imagery
  10. STC Module 10 - training the healthy adult mode
  11. STC Module 11 - Connection dialog
  12. STC Module 12 - homework assignments
  13. STC Module 13 - Preparing a separation

Simeone-DiFrancesco, C., Roediger, E., & Stevens, B. (2015). Schema Therapy with Couples.
A Practitioner’s Guide to Healing Relationships. Oxford-New York: Wiley.