Case Study


Case Study

Last-Chance Therapy in a Tumultuous Time: Discovering Hope in Higher Values with Couples

By Peter Fraenkel

September/October 2020


Working with couples on the brink of divorce is never easy. Doing so during a pandemic, when couples are in quarantine with their children, and perhaps elderly parents, and without the daily breather of going off to work, makes it all more challenging. But just as the Chinese character for “crisis” represents the blending of two other characters—“danger” and “change point” (not, as is often said, “opportunity”)—I’ve found that the crisis of commitment and connection that characterizes couples in the last-chance moment can lead couples to take some chances to change, and even to love again. Specializing in this work for the past 20 years, I often feel like I’m conducting open heart surgery—highly focused and fully immersed, risky, invigorating, and a bit messy at times, but usually satisfying, when couples surprise themselves and come back from the brink, more in love than ever.

What I realized most from working with couples on the brink of divorce during this pressure-cooker time was that simply deploying our well-honed, research-supported psychotherapeutic concepts and interventions doesn’t often suffice. We need to help these couples actively “reach up” to their higher values, whether these be spiritual, religious, or ethical. Compassion, patience, grace, care, humility, relational responsibility, honesty—and that…

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