At The Family Institute, stories matter.
The families, couples and individuals who walk through our doors bring their varied and complicated stories with them. Our expert clinicians help guide their clients through their own personal narratives and begin a new chapter of strengthening and healing their families’ bonds.
Reclaiming positive stories can help couples that have become distant, strained and stressed. Dr. Karen Skerrett, a staff clinician and faculty member at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, explores this concept in her co-authored book, Positive Couple Therapy: Using We-Stories to Enhance Resilience (Routledge, 2014).
We asked Dr. Skerrett a few questions about her book, the book’s central idea of “we-stories,” and how these ideas impact her work at The Family Institute. Stay tuned this month for more information about We-Stories, including a guest post by Dr. Skerrett and a few “we-stories” from the book.
TFI: What was your motivation to write this book?
KS: The book arose from a joint passion to rebalance the negative emphasis in the field of couple treatment; to articulate the positive aspects of successful lasting relationships; to identify the positive interventions that can increase and sustain the development of compassionate love.
TFI: The concept of the “we-story” is central to the book’s thesis and overall arch. What exactly is a “we-story,” and why is it so important?
KS: A ‘We-story’: a shared story between the members of a couple that defines and guides their relationship. It contains one or more of the following elements: security, empathy, respect, acceptance, pleasure, humor, shared meaning and pleasure (SERAPHS). We-stories serve four vital positive functions for couples: help shape the couple’s mutual identity; provide meaning and purpose in the couple’s life; serve as guides for current interaction and future growth; they are repositories of the couple’s wisdom and a means of transmitting their legacy to others in their lives.
The book defines and illustrates in concrete ways what is meant by the ‘we’-an element increasingly found in research to be a key dimension for couple resilience. It is filled with vivid couple stories, and case examples of couples from diverse perspectives in age, sexual orientation and background. It contains many exercises for individual partners and couples. It is unique in highlighting a developmental perspective, illustrating opportunities and challenges for couple growth at various stages across the life cycle. It is unique in illustrating the ways in which the identification and elaboration of the positive can serve to deepen bonds and enhance individual and partner resilience.
TFI: Who is the book’s target audience?
KS: Our audience is couples and the therapists who care for them as well as graduate students in the helping professions.
TFI: How can couples therapists as well as graduate students use these ideas to help couples?
KS: The key ideas can be applied in therapy by assisting partners to discover memories of particular significance that can form the basis of their we-story. The memorable image or metaphor that emerges can become a couple touchstone and positive symbol of the relationship and used as an anchor during challenging times.
Dr. Karen Skerrett is a licensed clinical psychologist, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse and faculty member at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Skerrett maintains a clinical and consulting practice specializing in the treatment of couples and families, particularly those challenged by illness and disability. She also teaches in the Counseling program and is a clinical supervisor for the postdoctoral fellows.
To read Dr. Skerrett’s full bio or to make an appointment, visit our website.
To learn more about The Family Institute’s services for couples, visit our How We Treat webpage.