Level 2 Training in Pragmatic/Experiential Therapy for Couples (PET-C):

Healing Conversations, Navigating Everyday Frustrations, and Creating Truly Enjoyable Relationships

Prerequisite for Level 2:  Completion of PET-C Level 1

Click Here to Register

Knowledge of the habits that make or break relationships is essential for anyone who hopes to sustain a satisfying relationship over time – but often, it isn’t enough. Knowing is one thing; doing is another – especially when new habits must be applied in emotionally-charged situations. Old habits often persist because they are woven into the fabric of internal states which are automatically activated in daily living, often without conscious awareness. For changes acquired in therapy to last, they must be integrated into internal states that become active when upsetting situations occur. Unless automatically-activated internal states are rewired, under stress clients’ perceptions, interpretations and actions become organized by the dictates of fight/flight states. For clients to develop new emotional habits that enable them to respond more flexibly when upsets happen, they must re-wire the automatic habits of thinking and reacting that typically become active during upsetting situations.

The process for developing new habits of thinking and reacting during emotionally charged situations is no different than the process required for acquiring any habits that are too complex to be consciously implemented in linear fashion (such as the development of complex musical or athletic skills). Practice must be focused, repetitive and intense. The person practicing must be clear on the specific movements that need to be practiced, and the movements must be practiced during “game conditions” (i.e., when the client is experiencing the internal state that typically becomes active when upsets occur).

In PET-C Level 2 Training, you will learn how to help your clients engage in state-specific practices that rewire their brains for more flexibility, enabling them to develop the habits that are needed to sustain satisfying relationships.  You will also learn methods for helping each partner increase his/her capacity for truly enjoyable moments with his/her mate. Studies suggest that partners who demonstrate more interest in each other, engage in more acts of caring, notice more positive things about each other and express more appreciation have relationships that are more satisfying than do couples who do less of these things. However, recent brain studies suggest that caring behaviors like these are likely to impact relationships differently depending on the areas of the brain that they emanate from. The secret to cultivating intimacy has to do with figuring out how to “turn on” the brain’s intrinsic connecting states that make us naturally feel more interested in our partners, invested in our relationships, and desirous of satisfying forms of attention from our partners. In PET-C Level 2 Training, you will learn how to help each partner engage in practices that 1) spark genuine feelings of love and desire in the other, and 2) prime his/her own brain in ways that increase naturally occurring feelings of love. Dr. Atkinson will share a variety of methods for helping partners establish routines and practices that enable them to consciously open their hearts to each other, allowing feelings of warmth, tenderness, affection, playfulness, sexual interest and the desire for loving connection to emerge.

PET-C Level 2 Training Format:

As a PET-C Level 2 training participant, you will watch videos of Dr. Atkinson teaching every step and nuance of the Healing Conversations, Navigating Everyday Frustrations, and Cultivating Connection components 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 and/or other senior PET-C supervisors via Zoom in order to ask questions relevant to the teaching videos assigned that week. These live interaction sessions 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 (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:

Nov 1, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 1.1 – 1.6)

Tools for Helping Partners Change

    • Why knowledge and good intentions aren’t enough.
    • How to cut the length of couples therapy in half.
    • A 7-step protocol for recalibrating when discussions get off track.
    • Relationship Boot Camp
    • Couples Therapy for One
    • Helping your clients develop 20/20 hindsight.
    • On Demand Guidance: Audio recordings that will help your clients react effectively when upsetting things happen.
    • A step -by-step protocol for helping partners avoid going down rabbit holes when a discussion goes south.

Nov 8, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 1.7 – 1.9)

Working with Differences in Nervous System Wiring

    • The limits of conscious willpower: Automatic predispositions, tendencies, feelings, and inclinations play a much larger role in influencing our day-to-day decisions than previously assumed.
    • The Master Aptitude: Why it’s so important.
    • Can reactivity be changed?
    • Tired of overriding your impulses and reining yourself in? Changing the way your nervous system reacts when you get upset.
    • Why “rational” people are just as influenced by emotion as “impulsive” people.
    • The limits of “living more consciously.”
    • The synergistic relationship between attachment and reconditioning practices.
    • Exercises that strengthen brain areas responsible for mood-regulation, self-soothing, response-flexibility, empathy and attentiveness.
    • Bottom Line: Getting the most bang for the buck:  Change the brain’s automatic reactions.

Rewiring Automatic Internal Reactions

    • Taking Structured Breaks – every single time.
    • Taking the Edge Off
    • The Mental Readiness Expercies
    • Mental Time Travel
    • Working with Pre-Recorded Provocation
      • Three automatic reactions that derail arguments within the first 15 seconds.
      • Understanding Hebb’s Law and how to use it to change counterproductive automatic reactions.
      • Beyond Distress Tolerance.
      • Four conditions needed to develop new instinctive reactions during disagreements.
      • How mental rehearsal produces structural and functional brain changes: The scientific evidence.
      • The Reconditioning Practices

Nov 15, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 2.1 – 2.6)  

Resolving Gridlocks

    • Why partners argue about the same things over and over.
    • How to help partners get proactive, cut their losses, and get on the same page with a game plan for resolving their differences that takes both of their needs into account.
    • The seven-step protocol for resolving perpetual differences.
    • An assessment tool for identifying which among 29 common areas of frequent disagreement your couple is gridlocked on.
    • Why agreements fall apart.
    • The 5 ingredients of lasting agreements.
    • Five criteria for finalizing agreements.
    • When exceptions are warranted.
    • What to do when agreements are not kept.

Nov 22, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 3.1 – 3.3)    

Healing Conversations about Past Hurts

    • When are healing conversations needed?
    • Which comes first — Healing Conversations or Addressing Overall Blame?
    • Can an insecurely attached person avoid villainizing their partner?
    • 6 criteria for talking about hurt feelings effectively.
    • A 4-part exercise for clients for preparing to talk about their hurt feelings effectively.
    • 4 criteria for listening and responding effectively as your partner talks about a pasts hurtful experience.
    • The 4 most common reasons why people justify being less than fully honest about the hurtful things they’ve done.
    • The difference between factual and emotion honesty.
    • Helping a client engage in soul-searching to identify the real reasons why they engaged in hurtful behavior.
    • 3 common reasons why people hesitate to talk about the real reasons why they did hurtful things.
    • Effective steps for reestablishing trust.
    • A 12 part exercise to help prepare a client to listen and respond effectively as they partner talks about a past hurt.
    • The 7 ingredients of an effective healing conversation.
    • 3 common mistakes made after healing conversations by partners who did hurtful things.
    • 3 common mistakes made after healing conversations by hurt partners.

Dec 6, 2024 (Come with questions on the content of Modules 4.1 – 4.5)  

How to Create Truly Enjoyable Relationships

    • How much closeness is enough?
    • Why can’t love be negotiated?
    • 4 mistakes frequently made by people who want more closeness with their partners.
    • 10 things that block the desire for connection.
    • 4 mistakes frequently made by people who want their partners to be more satisfied with the closeness they already have.
    • Why acts of caring aren’t enough.
    • 9 steps for inspiring more desire in one’s mate.
    • 8 steps for increasing connection that is mutually satisfying.
    • Exercises that boost the potential for mutually satisfying connection.
      • Exercises for getting clear about the things that make your partner feel loved.
      • Exercises for increasing your enjoyment of the kind of connection that your partner craves.
      • Exercises for increasing your ability to enjoy nurturing attention and support.
      • Exercises for boosting qualities that will continuously spark your partner’s interest.
      • Exercises for increasing your ability to enjoy the present moment.
      • Exercises for taking take the pressure off your partner.

Dec 13, 2024 (No teaching videos assigned for this week)

In this final live session, participants are free to ask questions related to any aspect of PET-C, and /or to seek consultations on any couples that they are using PET-C Methods with.


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 2 Training:

In PET-C Level 2 Training, you will learn how to…

      • Help clients understand how a securely attached relationship enhances the ability of partners to self-regulate.
      • Help clients understand how self-regulation enhances the ability to form a securely attached love relationship.
      • Explain how automatic predispositions, tendencies, feelings, and inclinations generated by our brains exert influence without our being aware of it.
      • Expertly discuss why “rational” people are just as influenced by automatic, knee-jerk habits and predispositions as “impulsive” people.
      • Articulate why the most important thing needed by people wanting to be more skillful in their relationships is to change their brain’s automatic habits.
      • Help partners create the four conditions needed to recondition automatic reactions.
      • Identify the three types of automatic reactions that most often derail discussions.
      • Use Hebb’s law to rewire automatic reactions that occur in emotionally-charged situations.
      • Help clients engage in practices that enable them to learn new patterns of thinking and acting so thoroughly that they sink down into their bones, becoming “muscle-memory.”
      • Explain why mental rehearsal is so crucial to the process of rewiring automatic habits.
      • Equip clients and guide them expertly in executing seven reconditioning practices (Taking Structured Breaks; Taking the Edge Off; Mental Time Travel; Working with Pre-Recorded Provocation; Self-Recordings; Mindfulness Training; Focusing on Renewables).
      • Help clients understand the most crucial ingredients of truly enjoyable relationships.
      • Articulate why “caring acts” aren’t enough.
      • Explain the brain systems that create and sustain secure attachment.
      • Describe why brain’s attachment systems sometimes go dormant.
      • Equip clients and guide them expertly in executing 20 practices that prime the brain systems that enable secure attachment.