Working therapeutically with couples contending with the effects of long-term illness

Course overview

The subject of illness and how it relates to couple functioning is often an overlooked area of research and clinical practice. This workshop will outline approaches to understanding the meaning of illness, how illness can be understood as a shared couple and family phenomenon and how illness, so construed, weaves its way into the matrix of mutual projections that constitute ‘couple fit’.

This course, delivered over two half-days, will provide an overview of key approaches to conceptualising the experience of being ill and how these approaches can be extended from an application to  sick individuals, as in the conventional medical model and in much of the research literature,  to being understood as shared by adult partners and other family members. The presentations will go on to illustrate how views held about illness can be located within the unique dynamics of the couple and family. In this sense a full understanding of what illness means requires an understanding of individual and family history and the ways in which past experiences of vulnerability and dependence have been managed.

 Some relevant ideas and concepts are introduced in this podcast:-

Presentations will introduce two approaches – the narratives of illness (Frank, 2013) and the phenomenological analysis of illness (Toombs, 1993)


Frank, A (2013) The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness & Ethics, 2nd edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago: London

Toombs, S.K. (1993) The Meaning of Illness: A Phenomenological Account of the Different Perspectives of Physician and Patient, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht: London.

An extended application of these ideas to couple interaction and couple psychotherapy can be found in:-

Vincent, C. (2019) Illness, couples and couple psychotherapy, British Journal of Psychotherapy, 35, 4, 628-641

D.O.I. 10.1111/bjp.12501

You will:

  • Have a knowledge of Frank’s three major illness narratives-the restitution narrative, the chaos narrative and the quest narrative.

  • Have a knowledge of the five existential challenges described by Toombs-the loss of body wholeness, the loss of certainty re the future, the loss of control over ones life, the loss of freedom to act and the loss of the familiar world.

  • Have an appreciation of how the ideas described in the bullet points above can be applied systemically to couple and family interaction.

  • Have an appreciation of how the ideas described in the bullet points above can surface in  troubled couple interactions and be understood as essential components of mutually creative and defensive processes.
This course is for all mental health and medical staff whose work involves providing remedial, supportive and therapeutic services to individuals, couples and families.

Christopher Vincent is a couple psychotherapist in private practice. Originally qualifying as a social worker in 1971, he was a senior staff member of Tavistock Relationships until 2002 when he worked for four years as a Consultant Psychotherapist in an NHS mental health trust before working exclusively in private practice.

From 2009 to 2017 he was a research student in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Southampton University where he completed a study into the impacts of Huntingtons Disease on couple relationships.

He coordinates a special interest group focusing on illness and couple functioning. He is a member of the editorial board of Couple and Family Psychoanalysis.

These courses will be delivered using Zoom. This is very easy and safe to use regardless of your level of IT skill.
You will need a device with a microphone and camera together with a suitably fast internet connection. Although mobile devices and tablets can be used, we recommend the use of laptop or desktop PC for the best experience. Some devices provided by employers may have restrictions in place. Please use this test link ( to check your set up before booking.
You will be sent joining instructions including all the necessary login links, passwords and guidance on how to use the relevant functionality about a week before the course start date.

Should you have any concerns about the accessibility of remote delivery please contact us at to discuss how we can best help you.

The course is delivered over two half days.

The course will run from 2.00pm- 5.15 pm on the following dates: 8 and 15 October 2021 


To book your place, please use the 'Apply' button on the left of the screen

Certificate of attendance
Admission status:
8 October 2021 14:00 to 15 October 2021 17:15

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