Dr. Kathy McMahon, Psy.D. is now a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist. She’s only the third in Massachusetts, and one of a few hundred clinicians to be certified worldwide, and a handful nationwide that is also a certified sex therapy diplomate.
Considering this research work is one of the pre-eminent methods in the field of couple’s therapy, and has gone on for 42 years, it is remarkable that so few therapists have achieved this distinction.
Dr. McMahon believes she knows why:
“It’s grueling,” she said, from her home office in Cummington, MA, “… and not just the three levels of training, including a flight to Seattle to train with the Gottman’s themselves. The toughest part is the supervision, where you submit videos for review, and a senior Gottman therapist rates them for the accuracy of your instructions and presentation. But it’s even more than that, because the interventions need to be effective with the couple, as well. That’s something you can’t control. I’ve probably reviewed hundreds of hours of videotape from my clinical practice.”
When asked for an example, Dr. McMahon said this:
“One couple did a beautiful job with ‘Dreams within Conflict.” They really were able to go deeply, and talk candidly about the significance of the issue for each of them. Unfortunately, each of them spent longer than 15 minutes, and that’s the cut-off for the review. Being a working couples therapist, there is no way I’m going to say ‘Can you speed up your conversation a bit, so this video can qualify for Gottman Certification?’“
The veteran couples therapist and graduate school professor was asked what it was like for her to be once again in the role of the student:
“I’m reminded how it feels to be waiting on a ‘superior’ for feedback, and recognizing that, despite the clear guidelines, different reviewers are going to see things in their own way. For example, two of the first videos I submitted, I was assured by my supervisor would pass. They didn’t. The two others that he expressed serious reservations about, [but allowed her to submit anyway,] were readily accepted. You can argue that process is random, but the fact is that different senior clinicians are going to see clinical matters differently… I’m just relieved it’s over.”
And what did she learn in her 26-month journey?
“My biggest take-away is the crucial importance of excellent assessment. I might have taken that to the extreme with my Big, Big Book, but I have no apologies. Before I do five minutes of treatment, I know a tremendous amount about the two people in front of me. I’m not taking wild guesses, and hoping this or that intervention will land. The couple and I are both working from the same assumptions, and that has to streamline treatment…”
When asked about the most challenging aspects of being a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist, her answer came immediately:
“It’s managing all the papers, especially when working with couples from all across the world. In my home office, I have two full drawers full of interventions, and these have to be kept in regular supply. I tried to automate as much as I could, but this approach still requires a lot of paper.”
When asked if she plans to continue her Gottman journey, to become a trainer in the method she said:
“At this point, no. I may take still more advanced training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy. But at this point, I’m happy to focus solely on studying one model. At one point, I was studying four distinctly different approaches…”
Interview by Daniel Dashnaw
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. using EFT, Gottman Method, and the Developmental Model.