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

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

Next Level 2 Training Dates:  TBA

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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 Content

The Brain and Automaticity

  • Our brains operate differently than our experience leads us to believe.
  • Automatic predispositions, tendencies, feelings, and inclinations play a much larger role in influencing our day-to-day decisions than previously assumed.
  • How our brains take over when we get upset.
  • Veto Theory: “We don’t have free will; we have free won’t.”
  • Why “rational” people are just as influenced by emotion as “impulsive” people.
  • The limits of “living more consciously.” Why do some people have automatic reactions that are so much more functional than other people?
  • Empirical Evidence: Two conditions can change a person’s automatic predispositions and tendencies:  Secure Attachment and Reconditioning Practices.
  • 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 processes.

Rewiring Automatic Internal Reactions

  • Three counterproductive automatic reactions that derail arguments in the first 15 seconds.
  • Understanding Hebb’s Law and how to use it to change counterproductive automatic reactions.
  • Four conditions needed to recondition automatic reactions.
  • The perpetual problem:  Spreading ourselves too thin.
  • How mental rehearsal produces structural and functional brain change: The scientific evidence.
  • Seven Reconditioning Practices (Taking Structured Breaks; Taking the Edge Off; Mental Time Travel; Working with Pre-Recorded Provocation; Self-Recordings; Mindfulness Training; Renewable Internal Resources)

How Do Couples Who Have Truly Enjoyable Relationships Do It?

  • The greatest positive predictor: “Turning Toward.”
  • The active ingredient in “Turning Toward”: Positivity Resonance.
  • The crucial role of desire in creating connection.

The Brain and Intimacy

  • How the brain creates and sustains emotional bonds.
  • Neural systems that create connection:  The Big Four.
  • Why the brain’s intimacy systems sometimes go dormant.
  • Jump-starting dormant intimacy states.
  • Two types of things that can increase the amount of positive feelings you have toward your partner. (Hint:  Only one of them has to do with your partner treating you better).
  • Priming 101: Your brain gets good at whatever it spends a lot of time doing.
  • The investment principle: “Invest your money to make more money.”
  • Use naturally occurring good feelings to generate more good feelings in the future.
  • What if I don’t have many naturally occurring good feelings toward my partner?
  • The powerful tools of imagination, recall, and sustained inviting.

The Priming Practices

  • Practice 1:  Pictures and Videos
  • Practice 2:  Appreciations and Extra-Positive Moments
  • Practice 3:  Interest and Empathy Toward Your Partner
  • Practice 4:  Everyday Interest and Empathy
  • Practice 5:  Prioritizing Playfulness
  • Practice 6:  Becoming More Fully Engaged and Tuned In
  • Practice 7:  Things that I’m Grateful For But Sometimes Take for Granted
  • Practice 8:  Positive Happenings
  • Practice 9:  Things I Like About Myself
  • Practice 10:  Things I Like About Others
  • Practice 11:  The Best Parts
  • Practice 12:  Most Enjoyable Moments With Others
  • Practice 13:  Looking for Attention and Affirmation
  • Practice 14:  Increasing the Enjoyment You Get from Physical Affection
  • Practice 15:  Increasing the Enjoyment You Get from Emotional Support
  • Practice 16:  Most Enjoyable Moments With Others
  • Practice 17:  Preparing for the Next Adventure
  • Practice 18:  Small Acts of Caring
  • Practice 19:  Preparing for End-of-Day Reunions
  • Practice 20:  Making and Discussing Your Wish List

Making Skillful Bids for Connection

  • Healthy vs. Unhealthy Entitlement.
  • The greatest obstacle to creating connection.
  • A four-part formula for making a successful bid.
  • Responding to a bid:  Common Pitfalls.
  • Using the inventory, “What Makes You Feel Loved?”.


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.

Training Dates: TBA.  This is an interactive, virtual (Zoom) seminar.   Through videos and live teaching segments, Dr. Atkinsons will explain key PET-C princples, assumptions and methods, and demonstrate how to apply PET-C through videos of his therapy sessions with couples.  You’ll also have plenty of time for discussions with him as you learn.