The Couples and Intimacies Project

The Couples and Intimacies Project started in the fall of 2009 when Michele Scheinkman, Peggy Papp, and Jean Malpas got together to better understand how to help couples move away from their most entrenched reactive impasses and evolve the intimacy they were seeking. In the Fall of 2016 there was a change of participants to include: Michele Scheinkman, Peggy Papp*, Suzanne Iasenza, Susan Lemor, Thomas Cronin, and Keren Ludwig.

Since the beginning we have met weekly with the focus of transforming couple impasses. The therapists have taken turns seeing couples, and every session is followed with a Reflecting Team giving feedback to the couple. We rely on the Family Process articles: “The Vulnerability Cycle: Working with Impasses in Couples Therapy” (Scheinkman & Fishbane, 2004), “The Multi- Level Approach: A Road Map for Couples Therapy” (Scheinkman, 2010), “Beyond the Trauma of Betrayal: Reconsidering Affairs in Couples Therapy” (Scheinkman, 2005), and others as our theoretical and clinical foundation.

Through the years we have experimented with many ideas and techniques. Early on we discovered the power of sculpting impasses and, after analyzing our cases we wrote the Family Process article: “Sculpting Impasses in Couples Therapy” (by Papp, P., Scheinkman, M. & Malpas, J. published in 2013). The article, widely read all over the world, describes how sculpting brings forward the gestalt of a couple’s impasse, nuances of each partners’ experience, as well as elements from the partners present and past situations. We discuss how sculpting brings forward the partners’ sense of self within the couple’s reciprocal dynamics. Through several cases we outline a protocol for sculpting and demonstrate how therapists can create a visual/sensory narrative to help unpack emotions, beliefs, and patterns that otherwise may stay on the periphery of the therapist’s awareness. We continue to use sculpting in most of our cases and find it to be a powerful tool to pivot couples away from their stalemates.

In a second phase of the project, we shifted our attention to articulate and refine our ideas about “intimacy”. We invited Suzanne Iasenza to the project and with her knowledge and help we have successfully integrated ideas and techniques from sex therapy with our relational approach. Two recent publications reflect our collaboration during this period. The first one is the Family Process article by Michele Scheinkman: “Intimacies: An Integrative Multicultural framework for Couple Therapy” (2019). The second is a book by Suzanne Iasenza, published by Routledge entitled, Transforming Sexual Narratives: A Relational Approach to Sex Therapy (2020).

In this phase we have addressed among other topics: (a) the vulnerability cycle as a tool to facilitate dialogue and negotiations of intimacy, (b) development of an expansive multicultural perspective to understand and deal with diversity of sexualities and intimacies, and (c) an integration of sex therapy and relational ideas and techniques. We have edited several videos from our sessions and have used them for teaching and worldwide presentations.

Since Covid-19, we have entered a new phase and we are now reviewing tapes, researching and writing collectively about sexual intimacy and aging.

We have used materials and ideas developed in the Couples and Intimacies Project to teach and train locally at: the Ackerman Institute for the Family; The Columbia University School of Social Work; NYU Silver School of Social Work; The Mental Health Corps of NYC; The Fifth Avenue Center for Counseling; The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy; and The Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center. The project has presented numerous international workshops, lectures, and keynote addresses.


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