Relationship Enhancement

Bernard and Louise GuerneyRelationship Enhancement began when then graduate students Bernard Guerney and Louise Fisher first came to graduate school.  Their professor, fresh from studying with Carl Rogers, had the new students pair up to practice the bold, new concept of empathy.  Bernard and Louise paired up…..and listened to each other with such empathy they fell in love.  As they studied concepts of client-centered and behavioral psychology, they applied what they learned to their own relationship–and found it made their relationship strong and deeply satisfying.

They eventually married and went out to the Menninger Institute to do their internships at the Child Guidance Clinic there.  They noticed that the therapists who worked with parents often argued at lunch with the therapists who worked with children.  Bernard (Bernie) and Louise wondered if there was a way to get therapists and parents to work together for the good of all.  When they went to Rutgers to teach they developed Filial Therapy, a method that creates family system change by partnering parents and therapists to do child-centered play with the child.   While doing some of these initial groups, they heard, “This stuff works with my husband, too.”

A radical idea was born:  teach couples to use empathy with each other, adding other skills that would make communication honest and compassionate.  That radical idea became Relationship Enhancement.

The Guerneys spent their professional lives, mostly as professors at the Pennsylvania State University, developing the concepts of Relationship Enhancement and Filial Therapy.  They got grants, taught students, and conducted over 27 separate research studies of Relationship Enhancement, with many more of Filial.  See the Bibliographyor Meta-Analytic Study or Research Summary for details.

The Guerney’s work has left a wonderful legacy of healed families, competent practitioners, and top quality research.  All the work on this web site is somehow related to Relationship Enhancement.

Today Relationship Enhancement, commonly called RE, has gained a new popularity, thanks to the Healthy Marriage Initiatives and the Building Strong Families projects of the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Smart Marriages movement, spearheaded by Diane Sollee.  These initiatives provided resources for development of the Love’s Cradle Program, then the Mastering the Mysteries of Love RE program (MML), which have enriched the lives of over 20,000 couples.  Additional programs build on the simplified presentation of the skills in MML and Love’s Cradle presentations of RE.

Initially, there were four skills:  Empathy, Expression, Discussion, and what is known today as Coaching.  As the research and practice indicated a need, the numbers of skills grew.  Today there are 11.

Always, the foundation values of honesty and compassion have been at the core of RE.  Beneath those expressed values is the belief in the values of relationship–and of education as a way to achieve quality of life.

In 1973 Bernie founded IDEALS.  Today there are two offices, IDEALS for Families and Communities and the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement.  In 2007 the Association for Filial and Relationship Enhancement Methods,was formed.  AFREM is a membership division of IDEALS  dedicated to assisting families and the professionals who serve them as they work to enhance relationships across ages, cultures, family configurations, and needs.

We at IDEALS are deeply indebted to Bernie and Louise for their genius, their hard work and conscientious research, their dedicated supervision while we learned the skills, and their continued blessing of our efforts from their retirement in Bethesda, Maryland.