Level 1 Training in Pragmatic/Experiential Therapy for Couples (PET-C):

PET-C Foundations and the Mutual Disarmament Phase

Click Here to Register for Level 1

Most people who are in distressed relationships believe that their partners are more to blame, but studies suggest that partners tend to engage in unhealthy relationship behaviors at approximately the same rates.   Studies further suggest that mistaken beliefs about overall blame are no small matter.  They fuel contempt – the single most powerful predictor of relationship dissolution that has been found by researchers to date.  In Level I training, Dr. Atkinson will demonstrate how you can go straight to the heart of the matter, helping clients realize that they can’t have it both ways (i.e., they can’t hold on to the belief that their partners are more to blame and also expect that their partners will be able to give them heartfelt understanding and caring responses).  You will learn methods for validating each client’s need for their partner to understand and care about the hurts that s/he has caused, while emphasizing that it’s almost impossible for this to happen as long as the client believes that their partner is the more culpable party in the story of their relationship.  Throughout the training, Dr. Atkinson will demonstrate how to talk to clients about their personal habits in ways that diffuse shame and defensiveness and generate excitement about the prospect of learning more effective ways of eliciting respectfulness and caring from their partners.

PET-C Level 1 Training Format:

As a PET-C Level 1 training participant, you will watch videos of Dr. Atkinson teaching every step and nuance of the Mutual Disarmament component of Pragmatic/Experiential Therapy for Couples. These teaching videos draw on live presentations Dr. Atkinson has given along with studio recordings and Dr. Atkinson’s therapy sessions in which he demonstrates specific PET-C methods and interventions. Every week you will be assigned videos to watch at whatever times are convenient for you (The total length of viewing time each week will average between 2 and 4 hours). At the end of each week you will have the option of meeting live with Dr. Atkinson via Zoom in order to ask questions relevant to the teaching videos assigned that week and interact with Dr. Atkinson as he answers questions. These live interaction sessions with Dr. Atkinson will be reserved exclusively for those who are able to watch the assigned teaching videos for the week and come ready to ask specific questions. Below are the topics of the videos that participants will watch each week in preparation for the live discussion with Dr. Atkinson (Live discussions will occur from 11:30 AM – 12:45 PM Central time each day). (Note: You don’t need to wait to begin viewing the PET-C training videos until the next scheduled live interactive sessions. You will have access to all of the training videos for each Level as soon as you register.)

Topics Covered by the Teaching Videos Each Week:

February 23, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 1.1 – 1.4)

The Secrets of Successful Partners

    • How scientists predict relationship fates with over 90% accuracy.
    • The abilities of people who are good at getting others to treat them well.
    • The habits of people who are destined for relationship trouble.
    • Why the most important relationship skills are not communication skills.
    • Watershed moments: How people react when they feel offended or mistreated.

Working with Differences in Nervous System Wiring

    • How to recognize differences in nervous system wiring that most often lead to judgment and criticism.
    • Five core differences in nervous system wiring.
    • How successful partners navigate these differences.

March 1, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 2.1 – 2.6)

Cutting Through the Blame Game

    • The relationship between overall blame and contempt.
    • Why overall blame is the kiss of death to a relationship.
    • Helping each partner see why it is in their own best interest to understand their role in contributing to the weakened condition of their relationship.
    • A step-by-step exercise enabling each partner to lay down the weapon of overall blame and release the other from the role of relationship villain.
    • Helping clients understand that the key to getting more respect and cooperation lies in their own hands.
    • What to do when one partner is trying and the other isn’t.

March 15, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 3.1 – 3.6)

Welcoming and Neutralizing Resistance

    • Five reasons why your clients may resist developing new relationship habits.
    • How to give your clients critical feedback without them feeling criticized.
    • 14 methods for cultivating receptivity in your clients.
    • How to avoid getting into arguments with your clients.

March 22, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 4.1 – 4.6)

Zeroing in on the Targets for Change

    • Understanding the difference between Disagreement-Related Offenses and Obvious Offenses.
    • “Front End” vs. “Back End” Offenses.
    • The Relationship Offense Quadrants.

April 5, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 4.4 – 4.10)

Resolving Resentment (The Greatest Obstacle to Relationship Transformation)

    • Why your client’s belief that their partner is more to blame is self-defeating (and why it is almost always not true!).
    • How to undermine the belief structure that fuels resentment.
    • Three common reasons partners mistakenly believe their partners are more to blame.

April 12, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 51 – 5.10)

Helping Partners Release Each Other From the Role of Relationship Villain

    • The language of release.
    • Guidelines for the “Letter of Release” Exercise.
    • Responding effectively to common hesitations about writing the letter.
    • Examples of Effective letters.
    • Giving Feedback to client about their letter.
    • What is a “good enough” letter?
    • When one letter is much weaker than the other.
    • When only one partner writes a letter.
    • Helping clients prepare to read their letters.
    • Helping client prepare to listen to letter.
    • Facilitating the letter session.

April 19, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 6.1 – 6.5)

Creating Internal Shifts during Couples Therapy Sessions

    • Advantages and Disadvantages of conjoint sessions.
    • Putting your money where your mouth is: The Stunt Double Method.
    • How to prevent partners from getting into each other’s business.
    • Why session breaks are needed and how to know when it’s time for a break.
    • The three-step method for getting internal shifts during session breaks (a.k.a., The GAS Method).
    • How to intervene firmly without criticizing or shaming.


After each training, you will be given the opportunity to enroll in a PET-C supervision group with Dr. Atkinson or another senior PET-C supervisor to facilitate your ongoing PET-C skill development.

Learning Objectives for PET-C Level 1 Training:

In Level I training, you will learn how to:

      • Tune in to the hurt and/or frustration each partner has experienced in the relationship, and convey understanding and empathy in a way that results in the client believing, “My therapist really understands what it’s like to be me in this relationship.”
      • Ask specialized questions that elicit detailed information about each partner’s problematic relationship habits along with an abundance of examples that can be used to help the clients understand the changes they need to make.
      • Summarize the most essential findings from landmark relationship studies and explain how they provide a road map for relationship success.
      • Help clients understand that they are trying to get more responsiveness from their partners in ways that are highly predictive of partner non-responsiveness.
      • Help each partner develop a clear picture of the abilities that need to be strengthened in order to elicit more responsiveness from their mate.
      • Talk to each client directly about their self-defeating habits in ways that help him/her avoid feeling shame and/or defensiveness, and help him/her feel excited about the prospect of learning more effective ways of relating to their partner.
      • Present a compelling case to each partner for a) why their own attitude and conduct over time has contributed just as powerfully to the depleted condition of the relationship as has their partner’s, and b) why it is in their own best interest to assume mutual responsibility.
      • Help each partner thoughtfully prepare and then 1) talk to their mate about past hurts in a non-blaming, non-accusatory way, 2) listen in a non-defensive, caring way as their mate discusses past hurts, and 3) express genuine regret and/or remorse about their past actions that triggered pain intheir mate.
      • Help partners shift from critical and defensive internal states to receptive state during disagreements by using the GAS (“Getting a Shift”) method.
      • Master the Session Break and Stunt Double methods for helping partners interact more effectively as disagreements arise.
      • Refrain from helping partners get what they want and need from their mates when they are going about getting it in ways that are clearly predictive of poor relationship outcomes.
      • Motivate and teach clients to use a powerful set of exercises, protocols and audio resources to resolve conflicts that arise between sessions.
      • Use a 12-step formula for helping partners become proactive, come to terms with their differences, cut their losses, and get on the same page with a game plan for handling perpetual differences in ways that involve compromise on both of their parts.
      • Increase and extend the effectiveness of sessions by learning how and when to assign specific readings and exercises from the client manual, Developing Habits for Relationship Success.