- Glenn Russell
- Hannah Caterino
Name: Hannah Caterino
Job: Certified conscious uncoupling coach
Hannah Caterino was 11 when her parents divorced. Afterward, the two never spoke to each other again.
Today, Caterino knows that even terrible marriages don't have to end poorly. The fortysomething Burlington woman is a certified conscious uncoupling coach, providing a form of end-of-relationship counseling that's based on the 2015 New York Times best seller, Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After, by Katherine Woodward Thomas.
A New Jersey native, Caterino has lived in Vermont since 1995. Over the years, she's worked in various fields, including the tech industry, teaching and broadcasting. When she's not seeing clients through her practice, Inner Grace Coaching, Caterino works for the Vermont Office of Child Support. There, she's "basically talking to parents who are arguing about money," she said.
While anyone can read Conscious Uncoupling and guide themselves through the process, Caterino acknowledged, "The reason that breakups are so difficult is the same reason coaches serve clients well: People need people. We're hardwired for connection with others."
Caterino's approach is very 21st century in that she coaches virtually all of her clients via online video conferencing. She explained her practice to Seven Days last week.
SEVEN DAYS: What exactly is conscious uncoupling?
HANNAH CATERINO: There's been no model for breaking up in a way that leaves people feeling whole and even healed. If anything, previous models have been all about damage control. What makes Katherine [Woodward Thomas'] model different and inventive is that it goes back in time in an individual's life and helps them understand their primary patterns and the stories they tell themselves, all of which are based on their childhood relationships with their primary caregivers. That's where we formed our original patterns for relationships, which play out in our own long-term romantic relationships.
SD: What do you mean by "damage control"?
HC: I use the term "damage control" because there are tremendous amounts of emotion fueling everything. When it comes to divorce, there's a lot of sudden scrambling for resources, and [the perception that] money equals respect. So, between the emotions and the money, sometimes it feels like people are just trying to plug the holes in the boat to keep themselves afloat.
The family court system in the U.S. is based on conflict, not harmony, wholeness or healing. Neither the court system nor mediators are equipped to guide people's emotions [and] long-term future intentions. This is the deeply human gap that conscious uncoupling fills. It supplements the legal proceedings with compassionate humanity during what can be a very traumatic time.
SD: How does it work?
HC: Katherine's model is a five-step process, which is neatly outlined in her book. The first step is about creating a new relationship with your emotions and learning how to seize them in the ways that work best.
Step two involves making a really close examination of your choices and the actions, sometimes microscopically, of how you arrived in the relationship. No breakup is ever just one person's fault. So, when I work with a client, the client and I focus on how they made choices and took actions.
Step three [involves] going back in time and looking at their past. Steps four and five are more upward and outward and are about setting a positive intention for their lives and their future, and working on communication techniques. Every relationship is different, so every conscious uncoupling is different.
SD: What are the most common reasons that relationships end?
HC: Most of the clients I help are middle aged [and] have been married for 10 to 20 years, and the culture has changed since they got married. The other reason I see is that one of the two parties is utterly toxic and has a personality disorder. I don't serve clients with the disorders directly. I refer them out. But the No. 1 disorder I work with indirectly is narcissistic personality disorder — literally [the partner of] every other client.
SD: How long do you typically coach people?
HC: Most of my clients come to me when they are really close to their breakup: It's about to happen, it's in the middle of happening, or it just happened. And there's a big difference between coaching and psychotherapy. There's basically no cap to psychotherapy. When it comes to coaching, there are definitely concrete goals, objectives and a model that we're following.
I can work with a client for about three months and cover everything in the book. If the client wants more, we can continue doing what's called integrative sessions, which is more of the application of conscious uncoupling principles to whatever their circumstances are.
SD: Why do you see clients electronically versus in person?
HC: The benefit of doing this by video is that I still see the people. I see their eyes and their facial expressions, and I pick up on all sorts of information beyond just their words. Of course, we have the convenience of not having to travel. But also, there's a certain boundary that can be drawn. The video portal is like a safe cocoon that we step into and then we step out of. It's a different kind of healing space, but it's a healing space nonetheless.
SD: What's the most challenging part of your work?
HC: Giving up the natural, completely empathic self that I normally am, because if I swim in complete empathy, I'm not going to be a very good coach.
SD: What's the best part?
HC: It is the highest honor to help someone through a very dark time.