- Aetna, Lutheran Preferred
John Petersen is a clinical psychologist and a married father of three children.
John Petersen is a Clinical Psychologist with a practice background in family psychology who now focuses his clinical work on couples counseling, individual counseling about love relationships, and sex therapy. He completed his doctorate and clinical training at the Adler University in Chicago, a school he chose for its long history of maintaining a focus on both the art and science of psychotherapy. He and Sharon Bain, his spouse of 30 years, raised three sons. Outside of the office, Dr. Petersen is active in community organizing, St Augustine Catholic Church, and Sophia Zen Center.
What do you do in your work? Why do you do it that way?
The ingredients of my work are part creativity, part relationship, and part research.
Starting with the research, I am ethically obliged to use evidence from responsible, well-designed research. Relationship health has decades of robust research evidence. In addition, my spouse and practice partner Sharon Bain and I annually take time for further study with either the Gottman Institute, AASECT, or other leaders in the field to integrate these findings with clinical work.
From the first meeting with couples, I’m simultaneously learning about their story and tracking factors of relationship health. I give my very best effort to focus on areas statistically likely to pay off the most for the couple, and to offer the interventions in a manner informed by the personalities and dynamics of the unique couple relationship.
Sex therapy is a small part of my practice. While I work with all types of couples in sex therapy, most who seek my sex therapy services are straight, married couples. Facilitating dialogue, simple problem solving, and a little education go a very long way. It’s surprisingly rare to find a place to speak candidly at length about sex in a mature, respectful context. I bring the experience of dialoguing with thousands about their sexual life. I use evidence-based sex therapy interventions for erectile dysfunction, early ejaculation, delayed orgasm, and when pain interrupts pleasurable sex. Conflict about mismatched desire, frequency of sex, and quality of sex is more amenable to careful therapeutic dialogue. In many ways, sex therapy is a simpler, more straightforward process than other couples work and often supports the other changes couples are making in counseling.
My third area of clinical interest is anxiety disorders. The interest comes from having good research available and from my own practice of daily meditation. OCD, panic, and sleep problems are the most common presenting concerns and are well addressed with evidence-based approaches. I was surprised to find that I am particularly effective in treating children with OCD. My history of working with families early in my career helped me discover the importance of parents’ role in the treatment and, if not careful, their unwitting perpetuation of the symptoms.
What do you do in your work? Why do you do it that way?
Couples change with a combination of enhancing emotional connection, repairing hurt, and improving skills for productive conflict dialogue. Often there is a need to address ruptured trust and long-term resentments. Intentional and professionally guided dialogue with well-placed suggestions for behavioral change opens up the vibrancy of the original love affair in the relationship. We then find ways for it to be expressed sustainably in the couples’ busy daily lives.
Without denying the importance of professional wisdom and experience of the clinician, couples heal emotionally and sexually in very natural ways. Counseling puts a few things in place to allow for the innate desire and love to do a good amount of the healing.
Clients with anxiety learn to understand their anxiety and to side-step the fear of loss of control. They learn experientially how to reclaim their previous life and accept uncertainty. Their confidence grows with better understanding the intricate ways anxiety can rear its head and try to grasp control of them.
What research, teachers, or mentors influenced your work the most? What difference did it make in your work?
Barry Duncan and Scott Miller’s work in Client Directed Outcome Informed (CDOI) and Feedback Informed Therapy (FIT) sharpened my focus on just this one client or couple in front of me. Privileging the client’s judgment and the client’s assessment of what works unleashed a new level of creativity in my work. Studying with them via the International Center for Clinical Excellence from 2005 to 2007 was the second period of intense growth as a clinician from which I emerged less bound to theory and more committed to measuring what works for the unique client with whom I am collaborating in counseling.
The Gottman Institute and AASECT also offered research that was not theory-bound but also clarified how to intervene in the client’s problem.
My father was my earliest mentor. As a child in my preteen and early teen years, he taught me how to understand human behavior and human psychological suffering. He lived what he taught his clients and what he shared in his public lectures, and did so with sufficient humility and courage to make mistakes to inspire me to explore the field of psychology and counseling. The courage to be imperfect, community contribution, cooperation in relationships, and understanding symptoms as social behavior were among the early and profound lessons I learned from him (and my mother, whom my father credits for naturally embodying what he tried to practice).
My spouse Sharon Bain is a partner at so many levels. We routinely talk shop and study together. Our mutual support improves our work and our love of the work is point of connection in our marriage.
What is the purpose of your professional work? In other words, why do you do what you do?
The purpose of my professional work is to share generously what I’m most passionate about in the service of others’ wellbeing and their capacity to love and live fully and freely with others.
The purpose of developing our group practice at Family Psychology of South Bend is to increase the local presence of clinicians who trust their clients and to train staff to leverage client strength rather than studying disorders in a narrow medical model. We aspire to demystify counseling/therapy so it is more accessible or approachable for the community. The group also provides mutual support among the clinicians and office staff. We aspire to develop a culture of vibrancy and optimism as we each refine what energizes our work. Importantly, we are accountable to measured change and to our clients’ goals.