A new model of relationship counseling called Restoration Therapy is creating buzz in the world of psychotherapy for providing practical tools for couples who find themselves stuck in deep-rooted and painful relational patterns. .
After years of intensive counseling work with couples at a renown marriage retreat center in Texas, Dr. Terry Hargrave and co-author Terry Pfitzer pioneered Restoration Therapy and published their foundational book describing the concepts and techniques. Developed "from the tradition of Contextual Family Therapy, the Restoration approach provides the therapist with clarity of assessment of individual and relational issues yet utilizes sound mindfulness strategies to produce real and long-lasting systemic change," writes Hargrave.
One of the foundational concepts for Restoration Therapy is that it asserts that when emotional pain is felt in relationships, the feelings that arise are often universal due to our most basic relational needs: at the root of relational pain, individuals may feel unloved or unsafe.
For example, individuals who believe that they are unloved may feel devalued, worthless, insignificant, alone, inadequate, rejected, hopeless, abandoned, or disrespected. Similarly, individuals who believe that they unsafe struggle with the trustworthiness and reliability of their partner, leading them to perhaps feel powerless, out of control, insecure, used, fearful, disconnected, unknown, betrayed, or unable to measure up to expectations.
In Restoration Therapy, Drs. Hargrave and Pfitzer reflect that feelings of being unloved or unsafe may be triggered by current marital circumstance or behaviors, but the particular way that these feelings are manifested in marriage may also be a result of difficult childhood experiences. For example, if someone grows up with a father who was distant, that individual may be especially attuned or sensitive to feeling disconnected from their spouse.
In an effort to assist clients to responsibly attend to their emotional pain, Restoration Therapists are trained to assist clients by using visualizations of significant memories in therapy. During the visualizations, therapists provide opportunities for clients to respond to messages from pain (e.g., “I am not loveable” or “I am alone”) that may have been previously internalized.
Restoration Therapy reflects that when individuals in relationships are in pain, they will often cope in a manner that is destructive to the relationship. The client's particular coping mechanisms may have been modeled to them in childhood when observing how caregivers coped with their emotions. The four basic coping patterns that Drs. Hargrave and Pfitzer have identified when individuals are in relational pain are blaming (e.g., “This pain is your fault”), shaming (e.g., “This pain is my fault”), controlling (e.g., becoming perfectionistic or critical), or escaping (e.g., becoming avoidant or numbing the pain with addictive behaviors). Some individuals may find themselves enacting all four destructive coping mechanisms, although Dr. Hargrave suggests that most people are prone to only a couple.
When couples become aware that their feelings of relational pain are caused by feeling unloved or unsafe, and they identify a troubling coping pattern of blaming, shaming, controlling, or escaping in the relationship, what are their options? One of the most valuable resources offered by the Restoration Therapy model is an exercise called The Four Steps.
Restoration Therapy suggests that the first step to regulating distressed emotions may be to utilize non-aggressive communication by stating “I feel _____” in which individuals identify their particular feeling of pain. Next, in the second step, individuals humbly confess their typical destructive coping mechanisms (blaming, shaming, controlling, or escaping) in an effort to prevent themselves from reflexively falling into their typical relational patterns. For example, a person might say to their spouse, “I’m feeling abandoned, and what I would normally do is blame you.” The third step involves individuals checking the truth or reality of their perception by asking themselves whether their feeling is completely and accurately reflecting their current situation. For instance, individuals who feel abandoned by their spouse may ask themselves, “Is it true that I am being abandoned by my spouse? What about my family and community – have they abandoned me as well?” Lastly, in the fourth step, individuals are empowered to decide on an informed response or action now that they are emotionally grounded.
Once individuals in a relationship have stated their “Four Steps” to one another and are no longer emotionally overwhelmed, they are empowered to problem-solve together if needed. Famed marital researcher Dr. John Gottman writes in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, based on his extensive marital research in Seattle, that when individuals in conflict are flooded with emotion, they are not capable at that moment of engaging in successful problem solving with others. Once emotional pain becomes less daunting, couples are better equipped to problem solve through their relational challenges.
“What’s best for us?”
Sharon Hargrave, Restoration Therapist and director of MarriageStrong, a relationship psychotherapy program based on the concepts from Restoration Therapy, encourages couples to utilize the following question in guiding problem-solving discussions: “What’s best for us?” Rather than allowing problem-solving conversations as an opportunity to compete for each individual’s interests, Sharon Hargrave instructs couples to make an “us” decision by focusing not just on what’s best for each person in the marriage, but for “us” (the marriage) as a whole.
The Restoration Therapy model is becoming increasingly popular among couples therapists for its pragmatic approach to long-standing emotional and relational pain that intertwines concepts from family systems, cognitive therapy, and mindfulness techniques. Will Restoration Therapy be the new wave of relational psychotherapy?
Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Crown.
Hargrave, T., & Pfitzer, F. (2011). Restoration therapy: Understanding and guiding healing in marriage and family therapy. New York: Routledge.