The Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT) is a cutting-edge development in the way problems between couples are dealt with. PACT is based on years of research into attachment styles, recent discoveries in neuroscience and research on how we manage emotions. It is a therapy for couples at any stage of their relationship to facilitate insight into their own and their partner's behaviour.
PACT offers highly effective tools to overcome problems in relationships. It is dynamic, active and often faster-working than traditional forms of couples work. Authored by Stan Taktin PsyD
1. Neuroscience, the study of the human brain. Understanding how the brain works provides an understanding of the physiological basis for how people act and react within relationships. In a nutshell, some areas of your brain are wired to reduce threat and danger and quickly alert us about our safety, while other areas are geared to establish mutuality and loving connection.
2. Attachment theory, which explains the biological need to bond with others. Experiences in early relationships create a blueprint that informs the sense of safety and security you bring to adult relationships. Insecurities that have been carried through life can wreak havoc for a couple if these issues are not resolved.
3. Biology of human arousal, meaning the moment-to-moment ability to manage one’s energy, alertness, and readiness to engage. Issues of differing arousal levels are not referring to sexual appetite but to case of one partner having a high level of energy and excitement, to be more excitable about life, whereas the other partner is low-key, slow to get up and go and may appear to the other as disinterested.
It isn’t necessary to understand the scientific basis of PACT to realize its benefits. Your therapist will use the PACT principles to guide you in overcoming challenges you face as a couple.
Your session with a PACT therapist might be a little different from other forms of couples counselling. A PACT therapist will be actively guiding you towards a secure relationship, showing you what you are doing to upset each other and helping you see far beyond the issues you thought were the cause of your problems. Exercises and role plays may be incorporated so you can learn in real time what to do to fix things. Even if you do decide to split up, the things you learn within the PACT sessions - about how you are when in a relationship - will keep serving you as you move forward.
A little more on PACT therapy (if you like the technical stuff):
Attachment is the survival mechanism hard-wired into human babies (and other primates) that makes us seek the care and comfort of primary caregivers (usually mum and dad). As proposed by John Bowlby in 1988 and researched since by Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main, the strength and quality of early relational bonds can affect our ability to have secure and lasting relationships in adulthood. Attachment has little do with our temperament and personality but everything to do with how we relate when we are a "WE". It does not mean our parents did not love us or that we do not love our partner.
If we have internalised an 'insecure' attachment model, this could be the reason that we never feel connected to our partner and that problems with communication keep repeating.
Attachment styles can change over one's life span. We can learn to become more securely attached; it's called ‘earned security,’ and the ideal place to do this is in the context of a loving, committed relationship. PACT directly assesses attachment style and can highlight where a couple may get into trouble.
Your therapist will also pay attention to how each partner experiences and regulates their emotional levels, what psychologists call 'arousal levels'.
Nervous System Arousal Regulation is not as sexy as it sounds. It describes how we manage our emotions and internal states. Arousal levels are produced in reaction to another person (including your partner, kids or colleagues) or as a result of our own inner workings (e.g., caffeine overload, stress or high anxiety). Whether we are controlling our arousal levels constructively, letting rip, or suppressing until we explode, how we manage arousal (feeling) can make a huge difference in our relationship.
Couples are often not aware that they are mismatched in their arousal levels (and yes, this does carry through into the bedroom), and this alone can be a great source of conflict and of not feeling connected. This doesn't mean the couple is mismatched as partners, but it can interfere with good communication and closeness.
Cognitive and emotional deficits assessment The psychobiological approach when used by an attuned therapist can also uncover 'deficits' in partners. Adult ADHD, especially when it is yet to be diagnosed, or being ever so slightly on the autistic spectrum (usually high functioning Asperger's) and certain personality and mood disorders can significantly affect relationship dynamics. It is important to assess and understand the influence of these often misconstrued issues. For example, a person with undiagnosed Asperger's can come across as a narcissist due to the apparent lack of empathy, but they are very different manifestations.
Learning about your own and your partner's attachment and arousal regulation style can be like having an 'owner's manual' for each other that can lead to major improvements in your relationship. It is recommended to see a therapist who is specifically trained and experienced in couples therapy so as to increase the likelihood that the therapy will be effective.
Why wait? Start learning about your partner and get on track to the relationship you want.