This Valentine's Day: Make a Pact

This Valentine’s Day: Make a Pact

In Do, February 2016 by Kate Turgeon Watson1 Comment

Share this Post

Pact: How it’s different



Talk about the problem (“He just goes to sleep when he’s tired! He doesn’t say goodnight.”)

Psychodrama, also known as
re-enactments. Why? Because memory kicks in better when you’re in the same state (ex: standing, walking) as the incident you’re describing.

Address the therapist

Address each other

Therapist notices unhappy-looking husband as wife talks and asks
husband, “Did that bother you?”

Therapist notices same thing, but says to the wife, “Looks like he didn’t like that comment” to
facilitate a conversation.

Often aims to solve
one particular problem.

Aims to make the relationship stronger, because that one problem (you don’t discipline the kids, you let the dog on the bed) is often a consequence of something else.

Examines content
(what happened and what was said).

Gets partners to learn
and know each other better.

$160 for a 45-min
individual session.

$200 for a 2-hour session
for both partners.

The “Session”

Dr. Susan Orenstein sent me a warning email. Just to be clear, she wrote, she wouldn’t be doing true couples counseling with me and my husband.

After all, things can quickly get deep and personal. And we had a professional writer-source relationship to keep. Instead, we’d follow a model. Keep the conversation light. (Maybe one step above cap-off-the-toothpaste talk.) And shrink the session from 90 minutes to 30. That’s how I’d learn about a new type of counseling called PACT, or the psychobiological approach to couples therapy.

When we got to the office, though, I assured her that I wasn’t afraid to counsel and tell. Writers share all the time. Right? I turned to my husband and asked him how he felt about going through a session about us and letting me loose at my keyboard.

Hubby said it was fine. Unknowingly, we’d followed rule #1 of PACT.

Doc: One tenet is that couples protect each other in public and private. You asked him what his limits were; that’s a good thing.

Me: Yay. One point for me.

Doc: A point for the two of you together.

There it was. I wanted a score. But hubby wasn’t my opponent. And Orenstein wasn’t our referee.

She coached us off the couch and into two rolling chairs. That’s the deal with PACT; couples are supposed to move. And, awkwardly enough, they’re supposed to face each other, look silently and then describe their partner’s face. Giggles that first minute, sure. But then it settled. We described one another’s faces. (My eyes are round, btw. His? Like fall leaves. I know. You expected better.)

It’s called eye-gazing. While you may remember it from dating, it’s rare in marriage. When PACT gets people to gaze, the goal is mindfulness and experiencing the moment.

The next step, which we skipped, is often for couples to tell their family histories to each other. The whole process is about connection.

“It’s important that couples are saying that to each other, instead of to a therapist,” Orenstein says. “I think what I used to do, and what a lot of therapists do, is meet with partners individually and form a strong relationship where partners trust the therapist. But, with PACT, I want them to trust each other.”

How pact works

This kind of counseling is psychobiological—not just psychological. It uses the subcortical parts of the brain. Think: nervous system and body signals. In PACT, therapists focus on moment-to-moment shifts in face, body and voice and ask couples to pay attention to these.

Dr. Susan Orenstein

Dr. Susan Orenstein

Share this Post


  1. Great introduction to Susan Orenstein’s work with PACT! It’s a wonderful approach and Susan is gifted in her ability to help couples find each other. Lovely introduction to the PACT approach.

Leave a Comment