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A conversation with Tammy Coder Mikinski

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Tammy Coder Mikinski is program director and a lecturer for the master’s and doctoral programs in counseling psychology in the Department of Educational Psychology. Mikinski recently became a certified Gottman therapist through the Gottman Institute. Mikinski is one of only 324 people in the world who has gone through the rigorous and exhaustive process to earn the certification, and, as far as she knows, the only one in Kansas. Beginning the certification requires completion of three levels of Gottman training, a master’s or doctoral degree in a mental health field, a minimum of 1,000 hours of postgraduate therapy experience, and licensure or certification in a field related to mental health. Completing the certification involves conducting hundreds of hours of counseling sessions for couples, many of them videotaped and evaluated by Gottman reviewers and meeting established benchmarks.

Mikinski started the training nine years ago. She completed Levels 1 and 2 and then, she says, “Level 3 is a practicum and I had to go to Houston to do that. Every time I thought I was going to stop at the level, I just learned more and more, so I just thought I’m going to keep going until I finished.”

When asked why she pursued the certification, Mikinski says, “It really works. I tell couples it’s the best thing I’ve seen in my 25 years as a psychologist. If the couples do the work it really can improve their relationship.” The Gottman Method, she notes, “is probably one of the best known in the world. It’s based on 40 years of research on couples.” It was developed by John Gottman, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington and his wife, Julie Schwartz Gottman, who is a clinical psychologist. “They put his research and her practice together and created their approach to couples therapy,” Mikinski explains.

School of Education counseling students have been able to complete the first two levels of the training during their time at KU. Two doctoral students, Michael Baglieri and Kristen Sager, took the initiative to bring the Gottman University Outreach Program to KU. This means, says Mikinski, “for the last two years there has been an opportunity for KU graduate students to get the Level 1 and Level 2 training at a much-reduced fee which they provide for college students.”

Mikinski teaches the department’s class on family and couples therapy. One of the ways she and her students incorporate the Gottman method is by using the Gottman Relationship Checkup. Some volunteer couples who seek counseling at the Center for Psychoeducational Services (CPS) can take the online assessment. “We call it a MRI of their marriage,” she says. “Some of my students from class will work with couples that they’ll see in CPS, and videotape and interpret this assessment with them.”

A School of Education alumna, Mikinski earned her doctorate in counseling psychology in 1993 and became the counseling center director at Rockhurst University. In 2001, she was brought back to KU by Tom Krieshok, then the chair of the department, to teach the required practicum. She now teaches two classes a semester as well as coordinating the master’s program. In addition to her position at KU, which is three-quarter time, Mikinski maintains a small private clinical practice. “My teaching informs my clinical work, and my clinical work helps me be a better teacher."

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