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Heather B MacIntosh PhD CPsych

Author of: Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma: A Manual for Therapists

Dr Heather B MacIntosh has devoted her career as a clinical psychologist, professor, researcher, and supervisor to understanding and improving the experience of trauma survivors in their couple relationships. Her clinical research helps couples dealing with complex trauma including the struggles survivors sometimes experience in their ability to regulate their emotions and understand the experience of their partners. These challenges can get in the way of couple therapy, how well it works and how well it is tolerated by survivors. Her new book, Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma: A Manual for Therapists, will help therapists and survivors understand more about the impact of trauma, especially severe childhood trauma, on relationships and how to help survivors and their partners improve their relationship through a therapy that is specifically designed to help survivors develop the capacities necessary for doing the hard work of therapy.

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Childhood trauma can fracture the basic fabric of human relationships. In spite of these challenges, survivors of childhood trauma continue to long for an attachment relationship that is not fraught with fear and pain but rather is loving, gentle, safe, and secure. What is it that fuels the longing of childhood trauma survivors to find people to love them, and to love in return, in the face of remembered traumas often inflicted by the very people who should have been protecting them? I reflect on this question every time I sit with a couple that seeks intimacy and security yet struggles to navigate the consequences of devastating childhood attachment relationships and violent, destructive traumas. What is it that defies the lesson of history – people are dangerous – and allows them to try, against the odds, to find love? There is no easy answer to this question, but I am awed by the forces that drive attachment as a basic, primal, human need.

Heather B MacIntosh: Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma: A Manual for Therapists (2019)

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A Bit About Heather

Heather B MacIntosh PhD CPsych is a clinical psychologist who teaches at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Her teaching and research focuses on the impact of trauma on couple relationships and the process of couple therapy with survivors of trauma. She is the recipient of McGill's H. Noel Fieldhouse Award for Distinguished Teaching as well as a number of awards and grants in the area of trauma, interpersonal relationships, and psychotherapy research.

Heather's research began through working with sexual abuse survivors using traditional models of couple therapy. Over the course of this research it became clear that many survivors found these approaches to be challenging as a result of the high levels of emotion that were evoked through the process of therapy. For survivors, this can create challenges with tolerating their emotional experience in the therapy and managing to be fully engaged. At times, survivors found that the emotional process of couple therapy was overwhelming and could lead to them being unable to manage their emotions without shutting down or being overwhelmed and, this could mean that the therapy would have to stop for a while or that their partner felt left out, misunderstood or bad about the impact that the process was having on their partner and the relationship. Through this research, and other work with survivors on the challenges they faced in their relationships and therapy experiences, Heather developed a model of couple therapy that specifically addresses the challenges that survivors of trauma may experience in their relationships and in therapy, Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma. This model starts with helping the couple learn to understand more about how trauma impacts themselves and their relationship, builds up skills for helping the couple navigate their relationship and the therapy, and then moves on to more active work of processing trauma, helping heal the couple's sexual relationship, and directly address how the trauma may be living in the couple's relationship in the present. Couples who have participated in research on this new model have said that they feel safe, understood, and that they have been able to make progress in both their relationship and their own healing from trauma.

Heather lives on a small farm in Eastern Ontario with her partner and a menagerie of small and large creatures. Sophie the 17 year old cornish rex cat is the only one that makes the cut to live in the house. Outside live two Icelandic horses, Trissa and Hnaggur, Faith the rescue pony, and 13 barn cat refugees relocated from the inner cities of Montreal, Cornwall and Ottawa. Heather's first career was in music. She is a singer and choral director who has also done research on the experience of trauma survivors singing in a choir. She continues to sing in a number of choral groups and an all female quintet, Nothing But Treble. These passions keep her well and revitalized to continue her work with survivors of severe trauma.

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Supervision & Consultation

Trauma, Complex Trauma and Couples

Dr. MacIntosh provides supervision and consultation to professionals working with trauma survivors in individual and couple therapy. She brings her years of clinical and research experience with survivors and couple therapy to her work with professionals.

Couple Therapy

Developmental Couple Therapy for Complex Trauma

Dr. MacIntosh continues her clinical research and private practice in the area of working with couples dealing with the impacts of trauma on their lives and relationships.

Workshops and Teaching

Continuing Education for Professionals

Dr. MacIntosh can be available to your organization, class or practice to provide workshops, consultation or lectures in the area of trauma, individual and couple therapy.

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