Put it in the Cycle. Okay… How?

You’ve all probably had a couple that has come into your office with a significant issue that for any number of reasons feels outside the realm of EFT. Maybe you’ve asked, or wanted to ask, your supervisor about how to work with this issue, as in: how do I work with a couple where one partner has depression? Or when the couple has a child with a significant illness? Or when one partner has low sexual desire? Or when the couple is divided about finances? And you may have heard the answer: Put it in the cycle. And you think, Oh okay, yes, that makes sense. And then you scratched your head. Hmmmm…. Wait a minute… what does that really mean? And how do you do that? 

You are not alone. Big issues like depression, sexual differences, or couples that present with a lot of tangled content issues can make us nervous, and often in our nervousness, we start to doubt the cycle, thinking the cycle isn’t going to help us with this one. And then, when we doubt the cycle, we lose our footing and our focus and it is a whole lot easier to get lost in content. OR we don’t simply doubt the cycle, we abandon it altogether, thinking this is bigger than our trusty cycle, and we start problem-solving, or we try to get the couple to compromise, or we lose the reigns completely and the couple in front of us gets heated and increasingly stuck in their tattered and destructive back-and-forth. 

But hang on, you’ve got this. You do have an anchor, you have a map, and it is the cycle. These issues are not bigger than the cycle, they are not outside of the realm of the cycle, they are an immediate and hot example of the couple’s negative dance.

So start with what you know to be true–the knowledge that it is normal for partners to have different perspectives and ways of approaching things and that these differences can seem especially elephantine during a challenge or crisis. This isn’t news to you, although it may be for the couple. The problem isn’t that they have differences or challenges, the problem is that they can’t come together around these differences. They can’t negotiate them together–and negotiate is a good word here, meaning they can’t talk to each other, hear each other, understand each other, and also meaning that they can’t get through, traverse this issue together. The issue is that these differences cause distance and tension instead of closeness and understanding. Some couples can manage this same issue when it comes up in their relationship. The couple in front of you is stuck. That’s where you want to plug in. Ask yourself, what gets in the way of this couple negotiating this issue together? 

Then, for added confidence, remind yourself of Sue Johnson’s words: In EFT, “the therapist is a process consultant.” (Johnson, Susan M., 2004.)

Ah, yes. You do have a map. A map that isn’t about who is right or problem-solving or cognitive strategies, but about process and yes, about being stuck in the cycle. It’s about how each partner’s vulnerable, primary emotions about this important issue, their partner, themselves, and/or the relationship aren’t getting shared. It is about what is getting shared instead (protection/reactive behavior) and how that is received and understood on each side. It is about how the two people in front of you try to handle/manage this issue–and all the feelings that come up around this issue– and how that plays out in the relationship.

So back to the original question about how do you put “it” in the cycle? You start with the assumption that this couple isn’t able to come together, heart to heart, vulnerable to vulnerable, around this issue. You start with acknowledging that the content is important, the issue is significant, and also with knowing that your role is not to solve the problem or to achieve a compromise, your role is to help this couple experience sharing from, and hearing with, their open and vulnerable hearts.  

So you could start with, how do they talk about this issue? You could ask them the same question you asked yourself a little while ago, “what makes it hard to come together or hear each other around this issue?” And now you are off and running on unpacking the cycle and where they get stuck. You want to feel into and explore all the pieces of what comes up for each partner around this issue, and if and how they share all of these feelings with their partner. And then, if and how each partner receives all these pieces. 

There are many ways to start to put this issue into the cycle; here are just a few: 

“So I hear you, this is so incredibly hard for both of you. Can you help me with what happens at home when you try to talk about this together

“I feel how stuck you both are right now, and I’m sure you each have a lot of feelings around this. Can we start with what comes up for you as you bring this up right now?”

“I know these conversations are hard for you guys, and when things are hard for us, we tend to protect ourselves. I wonder, how do you protect yourself in these moments?”

“I am starting to understand how big this issue feels for each of you. Can we start with, who usually brings up this issue at home?” 

“When you think about bringing it up at home, how do you feel?” 

“How do you think that feeling comes out when you approach your partner or as you bring the issue up?”

“What is the first thing that happens for you (other partner) as your partner brings this up at home?”

“What other feelings come up for you as the conversation gets going?”

“Do you share all of your feelings about this issue?”

“How do you share these feelings?”

“Are there some feelings you don’t share?”

 “Do you have a sense for what makes it hard to share those feelings?” 

“What comes up for you right now as you think about sharing those other feelings?” 

“How do you make sense of your partner’s reaction in these moments?”

“What is your internal narrative about yourself and/or your partner in these moments?”

“At home, can you stay in conversation around this issue?” 

“What makes it difficult to do that?”

Really, as I am listing these questions, you can see that they are the same questions that you might start with for any beginning EFT session. And I guess that is the point. Even with couples that come in with a seemingly intractable issue, an issue that seems to be larger than the cycle, from an EFT perspective, the most healing will come from helping the couple to see and experience that it is the negative cycle that is keeping them stuck and distant when they want closeness and comfort and understanding. In the end, they may still disagree and the big issue they are struggling with may still loom large for them, but if you can help them be vulnerable and intimate with each other, and hence feel understood and loved, they will be better able to traverse it together.


Hi all! Okay, it has been a long time since I’ve posted… I am definitely embarrassed about that and am saying sternly to myself: I will be better about posting!

BUT, I do have exciting news! My novel, The Truth is a Theory, has just launched and is now available on amazon.com! Yikes! Exciting and scary.

This novel is a labor of love. It took me over 12 years to write, waking up before the sun to grab a little time in the hush of a sleeping house, when the only sound was the tap tap of my keyboard and the sigh of the coffee percolating; before alarms went off and the house shook to life, before 3 kids clamored down the stairs, before breakfast and backpacks and briefcases and clients. For a while, I was embarrassed that it was taking years and years and that my perennial answer was yes, I was “still writing the book”. The word still dripped with chagrin.

But now I see it differently. I see the still as tenacity, as grit. And now that the book is done, now that it is actually a tangible thing in my hand, on our kitchen counter, I hope that I have taught my kids that dreams can absolutely come true, but not without sweat, patience, and determination.

And going forward, I hope that their own stills will be drenched in pride.

The book is women’s fiction, and it is the story of the assumptions we make about important people in our lives, and how these fatally flawed “truths” play out for four women friends. One of the primary threads in the novel is–can you guess?–that the main character’s marriage is falling apart. In the Acknowledgments at the back of the book, I thank Sue Johnson for creating EFT, as once I started training in EFT, I was able to see and clarify the negative cycle that I was writing about without even knowing it.

I would be honored if you would take a look and perhaps put it on your reading list for the summer. And if you like it, please spread the word and/or post a review on Amazon or goodreads.com!

Click here to go the Amazon page

Thank you.

A Self-Supervision Exercise for the new year

Happy New Year!

I would like to start by taking a moment to honor all of you fellow EFT’ers. You can’t see me, but my hands are together and I am bowing to you all. We all work so hard to be the best we can be at helping distressed couples re-connect and find each other again (or perhaps find each other for the first time in a deep, vulnerable way). I hope that you were all able to take some time off this past year to relax and re-energize. As EFT therapists, we use ourselves in such an intense way in session, so it is important—imperative—that we take time for ourselves to unplug. Unfortunately, the paradox of taking time off from work is that starting back up again can be harder than we anticipate, as Wesley Little so articulately talked about in her blog, “Becoming an EFT Therapist”. (If you don’t know Wesley’s blog, it is a fantastic resource. Check it out here: http://www.becomingatherapist.org)

So, as many of us are getting ready to head back to our offices after the New Year, and as perhaps many of us have made the 2019 resolution of “I’m going to continue to learn, continue to improve”, I thought that I would write on self-supervision, more commonly known as, watching our tapes. But wait! Self-supervision should not be just “watching our tapes”. For one, we all know what that can be like. We sit cringing, shaking our heads, thinking “I should have” and “why didn’t I” and “what the hell was I thinking?” Secondly, just noticing our mistakes does not teach us what to do, it only highlights what we didn’t like or wish we hadn’t done. This does not make for a more confident, more prepared therapist the next time around. A more constructive way to watch our tapes is to do so with a goal in mind, with an agenda, with a skill we want to practice, i.e. today, I’m going to notice how often I validate, or how often I link primary emotion to reactive behavior, or I am going to notice what happens in the room each time I lean in and slow my voice down. If we are curious and watch our tapes with an eye to a specific intervention, how we use it, and what effect it has on us and on our clients, we can sharpen that particular skill and we will be better able to access it when we need it in our offices.

So today, I offer an exercise for self-supervision that has to do with the 4 P’s. You remember the 4 P’s of EFT, right? Primary Emotion, Present Moment, Process, and Pattern (cycle). (Johnson, Susan. 2011). As EFT therapists, we strive to be working in one or more of the 4 P’s at all times. (Check out my blog post on the 4 P’s from 3/2/16). So here’s the exercise: get yourself a cup of coffee, or tea, or a lovely snack (popcorn is my go-to). Take a deep breath. Remind yourself this is about getting better, not about beating yourself up. Pull up a tape, and take a look at 15 – 20 minutes (or more if you like). Each time you say something on tape, notice if what you say, how you intervene, is in the service of the 4 P’s of EFT. For instance, are you trying to elicit some Primary Emotion, perhaps with “I noticed some shift in your voice right there, some emotion, it felt to me like sadness, but I could be wrong. Is there a part of you that feels sad right now?” Are you accessing the Present Moment, perhaps with an evocative question like “what are you feeling right now as you tell me that story?” Are you trying to explore Process, perhaps with a question like “what just happened right then as you looked over at your partner and sighed?” Are you working on the couple’s Pattern, perhaps with an intervention such as “and so what do you do at home when you are feeling so rejected; what would your partner see in that moment?”

Notice how often your interventions are in the 4 P’s, or how much of the time your interventions are more content-focused or problem-solving or advice-giving or something else. Just notice without judgment. Even if you realize you were not in “EFT-land” at all in the snippet of tape you watched, do not be hard on yourself. Just watching your tape and noticing is already sharpening your skill. If you like, you can go back through the tape again and re-do your interventions at your kitchen table. Stop the tape and think about what you might want to say differently. What “P” would you choose? Say your new intervention out loud to your dog or your cat or your coffee mug as you stop and start the tape.

If you find that you were in EFT-land for much of your tape, maybe you want to notice if there is one or two of the P’s that you seem more comfortable with and maybe one that you seldom use. Do you have a sense for why that is? If you like, you might want to go back through the tape again and practice intervening with the P that doesn’t come as easily to you. Or tell yourself that in your next session, you will try to intervene with this P a few times and see what happens.

Just this simple exercise of noticing how often your interventions are in service of the 4 P’s will help you be more mindful and deliberate about targeting the 4 P’s in your sessions. Which in turn will make your sessions more focused. And after all, focus is EFT’s middle name!

A note. Self-supervision is a really important way to learn. But supervision with a supervisor who cares about you and your work is, in my opinion, an even more important tool in learning EFT.  Even though I am a supervisor, I continue to get supervision as I know I can always learn more, be enriched, and see things in a new and different way.

Let me know what you think about doing self-supervision with the 4 P’s as your guide. And again, Happy New Year! 🙂

Johnson, Susan. (2011). Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: Key Concepts [Power Point Slides]. Slide 9. Retrieved from https://www.emu.edu/graduate-counseling/sue-johnson-training-follow-up/sue-johnsonpre.pdf.

Sometimes, it’s hard to be an EFT Therapist

It’s hard to be an EFT couples therapist. Powerfully rewarding, absolutely. But hard. And I’m not talking about in the obvious ways. I’m not talking about the times in my office in which the hour is up and I feel completely wrung out as the couple leaves and I reach for my cold coffee. I’m not talking about the ways that sometimes puts me in the crosshairs of intense anger, the kind that requires me to roll my chair in close (when most mortals are backing up) and literally insert myself in between two people baring teeth.

No. And I’m not talking about the times in my office when one partner is being truly vulnerable, perhaps for the first time in their life, and they turn to their partner with a heartfelt expression of longing or loneliness and the partner sits back with disdain and crossed arms and a cutting comment.  

And I’m not talking about the times when I am sitting with and absorbing incredible sadness—a deep mourning of self or relationship, the hurt of past wounds, the grief of present blocks or of lost opportunities. Or when we feel into the pain of unbearable trauma.

No, I’m not talking about the hard work we do in our offices. I’m talking about how hard it can be to be an EFT couples therapist outside of the office.

I’m talking about the times at a party when people want to talk about the work I do; maybe it comes in an innocuous question or maybe someone has sought me out to ask about it.  And I love my work, I love to talk about it, and so suddenly I am passionately describing negative cycles and using my hands to outline an invisible infinity loop above the guacamole. And then I realize—sheepishly—oh wow, I’ve just gone on and on. And people are interested (I think), but I’ve gone on too long. And, as much as it may have lit me up, now I am in “work mode”. I came here to get away from it all; I put on non-waterproof mascara with the intention of getting away from love and pain and attachment and negative cycles (even as I know we can never get away from love and pain and attachment and negative cycles). But sometimes, after a week of deep-diving into the nooks and crannies of other peoples’ hearts, that’s what I need. Sometimes I need to talk about chocolate cake and vacation and someone else’s job and Game of Thrones.

I’m also talking about the times when a friend is struggling and wants to talk about their relationship. They are coming to me as a friend and not as a couples therapist, but because I am both, it’s a blurry line. Part of me is just a friend and I want to listen and provide a sympathetic shoulder, but even the intense way I listen can be like switching on the therapist in me. Then add in that I often can’t help but hear the negative cycle in play, and perhaps I even hear how my dear friend might be making things hard for herself. Or I can hear my friend’s partner’s position in the cycle and can guess at his underlying pain. Do I share that? It’s a dilemma. The therapist in me is already up and running by the way I am listening with my whole head and heart. But then it often doesn’t feel good to me to have gone into “work mode” with a friend.

And even as I write this, I notice I am putting quotes around “work mode”, trying to separate that part of me out. Because we all need to check our work selves at the door, right? But when our work is bound up with being human, being present, being relational, being emotional, it is pretty hard to separate that out. Even when we sometimes desperately want to, need to.  

Speaking of it not feeling good going into work mode, it can be hard to be an EFT therapist and be in a relationship. I want to be clear that EFT has helped my own 25-year marriage immensely. That being said, I don’t want to be my husband’s therapist. And I can’t be my own therapist. So there’s that. And there are also times when it is hard to be swimming in attachment with my couples all day long, immersing myself in deep emotion for hours on end, and to then come home and have a how-was-your-day fly-by or a real “miss” with my husband. Like everyone, it is hard in the times when we find ourselves stuck in our negative cycle. Or in the times of knowing that something is blocking me from reaching for my partner, and despite that recognition, still finding it difficult to reach. Damn, I can be so good at this in my office and then be so humanly flawed in my own kitchen!

Finally, it can be hard to be an EFT therapist with all that is going on in the world. I am taking a big risk here with what I am about to say, and I am nervous. I actually wrote this a few weeks ago and then sat on it. But here goes… because of our training to be curious, because of our desire to search for and understand the pain that is underneath people’s reactive behavior/what we might see, I often find myself in a room of people who have strong opinions about something and I feel stuck because I can feel into both sides. For instance, in the recent Kavanaugh hearings, I was moved to tears by Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. I absolutely believed her. I believed her for her own story and experience. I also believed her and was moved by her because I know and knew girls with similar stories. And because I was that girl too.   

And yet, I was also open to and trying to understand Brett Kavanaugh’s pain. A different kind of pain for sure, but pain nevertheless. And because I could feel that too, I felt stuck. In a room of people who were outraged, I felt shame for my lack of it. I felt alone. And I was quiet. Why was I not outraged too? I tried to be curious about my reaction. And it took me a few days until I realized… that my training as an EFT therapist, my training to try to be curious, to try to feel the pain underneath behavior—even confusing behavior, even bad behavior—stranded me, alone, in-between two different people’s pain, and in-between two different communities of outrage.

Sometimes, it is hard to be an EFT Therapist.

The Kleenex Question

A talented therapist I know, one who I greatly respect, recently told me that he had gotten rid of all the Kleenex in his office. His thought—accurate and interesting—is that when a client wells up with tears, they might reach for a tissue so quickly that they circumvent or curtail their sadness. On the other side of the couch, if the partner grabs a Kleenex and hands it over to their crying partner, that might circumvent or curtail other ways of offering comfort. As in, “Tears call for tissues. Done.”

Thought-provoking and important. And true. I’m sure we can all think of times when this has been the case. And it goes without saying that as emotionally-focused therapists, we experience a lot of tears in our offices. So I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I did some research on crying (if you are interested, some of the top researchers include Lauren Bylsma, Ad Vingerhoets, Jonathan Rottenberg, and William Frey), and paid attention in a different way to tears and the use of tissues in my office these past few weeks. I’ve noticed that every client eventually wants a tissue, but at different points in their cry. If they don’t see the tissues and I don’t point them out, some hunt for one in their bags, others use their hands and even the hems of their shirts. At times, I noticed that what seemed to show up in the room first was my own impulse to point out the tissues. That was interesting too, as I am comfortable with tears, I invite and evoke them, and then I am comfortable leaning in and lingering. I don’t think that my tissue-impulse is about wanting to shut the tears down, and I can’t help but now wonder that maybe it is. I can now also see how it could land that way to my clients. Perhaps in my pointing out the tissues, some of my clients hear “Pull yourself together; clean yourself up.” So I am glad to pay attention to that impulse in myself and will continue to be curious about it.

Because Kleenex use is usually about catching or wiping away tears, I wondered whether there was any research on the physiological effect of leaving tears on our cheeks, i.e. whether the flow of tears down our cheeks–perhaps either the chemicals in the tears or the sensation of wetness on our skin–was healing or otherwise important to our brain. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any research on this. But I will keep an eye out for it because I wouldn’t be surprised. (I’m a runner, and there is interesting research out there about how smiling while you run actually makes you a more efficient runner.)

Regardless, tears are important and as EFT therapists, we not only welcome them but we evoke them, we stay with them, we cradle them. And when they well up, as EFT therapists we attend to and care for not only the personal impact of those tears but also the relational impact. How do tears affect the partner, the relationship? Tears can be a powerful signal to our partners, and can often elicit a desire to help, to soothe, and to caretake. But as we all know from the hours in our therapist’s chair, it often isn’t that simple; history and experience and especially trauma can bubble up and disrupt this instinct to come close to and to comfort someone who is crying.

This is just what the researchers have found, that it is complicated and that not all cries are cathartic. “Despite the popular idea that crying produces physical and mental benefits and the multiple theories developed to account for the cathartic effects of crying, empirical examinations of the effects of crying have actually yielded a mixed (and potentially confusing) set of results.”1 They go on to say that who you are, why you are crying, who sees you do it, and all the permutations of these pieces make a difference as to whether crying helps or hurts your emotional state.2

This makes sense right? We’ve all been with the client who cries and reports not feeling better; we’ve experienced the partner who doesn’t seem emotionally moved by the tears of a loved one, the partner who can’t move physically or emotionally closer and in fact, might move farther away in that moment. We can understand this in terms of the negative cycle, and we work to make sense of it in this way with and for our clients.

So, back to the tissues. Here is where I sit right now with the dilemma. I offer up my thoughts on this not as “right” but just as the way that feels good to me at this moment in time. I am really just thinking out loud here, and I would love to hear other people’s thoughts.

I think it is up to us, with each of our clients, to explore what the meaning of tears and of tissues is. I have pulled back with my offer of a tissue because even though it feels like a caring gesture on my part, I can also see how it could feel as if I was saying, “Wipe away your sadness.” I want my clients to know and to feel that my heart welcomes and honors their tears. And I don’t want to risk even a slight chance that my offering a tissue carries a negative message. So I no longer point out the boxes of tissues that sit patiently on either side of the couple. But I do have them there, and for now, I am going to keep them there. And I now use the reaching for a Kleenex—by either partner—as just another important moment to unpack and understand.

One of the fundamental tenets of EFT is to start where the client is. For me, to just get rid of the tissues altogether feels like I am not meeting the clients where they might be. I think many people want a tissue when they cry, and I don’t want to exacerbate someone’s discomfort or dysregulation by not having them available. If someone uses tissues as a way to protect themselves in some way, I don’t want to take that away from them; instead, I want to understand that protection, and to help them understand it.

And because I believe in being as transparent as possible with my clients, I am starting to wonder out loud with them about tears and tissues, and to share that I am thinking about this issue with all my clients. For instance, I might lean in and wonder, “When you reach for a tissue, are you trying to stop the tears? Help me with that moment for you.” Because there is important stuff—beliefs, values, fears — packed into that tiny moment.

We may have a client who is crying and who looks frantically around for a tissue at the first welling up. I want to be curious about that. I might wonder with them about what happens as they start to well up. In reaching for a tissue are they literally wanting to wipe the sadness away? Or perhaps the tissue helps them to hide in some way. Or maybe they are afraid of what they look like when they cry. Is the physical act of crying uncomfortable or even scary for them? I might ask, “Help me with what crying has been like in this relationship?”

With regard to the partner, I can certainly see that sometimes handing a tissue to their loved one precludes another, perhaps more comforting gesture—a hand on the knee, a hug. And at the same time, handing someone a tissue can be a very caring gesture too, a gesture we can unpack with them and help the partner to be explicit about. I might say, “I notice you just handed your husband a tissue. Can you help me with that moment? What was happening for you? What do you want your partner to know as you are handing him that tissue?” You can distill this down to the caretaking impulse and then create an enactment around that impulse. For instance, “Can you turn to your husband and let him know that you want to take care of him right now? And that when you handed him a tissue, that was what was in that gesture?”

Or, let’s say the client answers your gentle curiosity about what was happening in that tissue-handing moment with something you weren’t expecting (because we always have to be prepared for that!). Perhaps your client says “I handed him a tissue because I can’t stand when he cries.” Now you have something else really important to unpack and help make sense of.

Could you get all this information without tissues in your office? Absolutely. And maybe it is my own caretaking impulse that I am wrestling with. But those self-of-therapist issues are important to notice and wonder about (with yourself or with a supervisor) too.

We all know that there can be enormous value in a good cry. And let’s be honest; many (most?) of us might be at least a little uncomfortable with tears and snot and mascara all over our faces at some point during, or after, that cry. So I am keeping the tissues so that I can mine the value of the tears, while also trying to mitigate and understand any discomfort. And until there is research or at least anecdotal evidence in my own practice that leaving tears on our cheeks is important, I am going to have Kleenex and posit to my clients that there may be something beneficial in letting the tears linger without wiping them away, and would it be okay if we looked at that and noticed what comes up for them around this. Together. And with tissues if they need them.

As always, I would love to hear what you think. 🙂

  1.Bylsma, L. M., Vingerhoets, A. J., & Rottenberg, J. (2008). When is Crying Cathartic? An International Study. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 27(10), 1165-1187. doi:10.1521/jscp.2008.27.10.1165.

2. Collier, L. (2014). Why We Cry, New research is opening eyes to the psychology of tears. American Psychological Association, 45(2), 47.Bylsma, L.M., Croon, M.A., Vingerhoets, A.J., Rottenberg, J. (2011). When and for whom does crying improve mood? A Daily Diary Study of 1004 Crying Episodes. Journal of Research and Personality, 45(4).

Mining for Gold: A Simple Intervention

I’ve been thinking a lot about a very simple, seemingly innocuous question/intervention—a question so simple that it is easy to bypass. I know this firsthand as I’ve bypassed it in the past—to both my and the couple’s detriment. It’s easy to skip over for two reasons. One, because it can seem like a silly or redundant question. And since we don’t often strive to look or sound silly, we might choose to brush it aside in favor of going after something else, maybe something bigger and more obvious. The second reason is that the time for the question often comes at a moment in the process when there almost always is something bigger and more obvious happening, something that is pulling at us to attend to right now—a reactive flare up of some kind or perhaps something new and different to catch and shine a light on. All very important and not to be neglected. And all of which will be right there, waiting for you (even if you wish it wouldn’t) after you ask this important question. A question that almost always gives gold.

The question is: “How did it feel to say that?” Or “How was it for you to say that?” Or “What was happening for you as you said that?”

The obvious time to ask this is right after someone does an enactment. (Partner A turns and says something prompted by you. The beginning of “processing the enactment” should be this question — “How was it for you to say that?” (*This is Step 4 of Sue Johnson’s The 5 Basic Moves of EFT, 2012; also known as the EFT Tango.) However, you can use this “process” intervention at other times throughout the session as well.

This little move can do so many important things at once. The answer alone to your curiosity in this moment can give you so much to explore. I am often surprised at the important information all three of us receive in response to this question (if my outside matched what was happening inside of me at these moments, my mouth would often be hanging open. Or I might be giving myself a fist pump as I think, “Yay! I’m so glad I asked that.”) For instance, from someone who looks calm and collected, you might hear how anxious they are or how scary it was for them to say what they said. From someone who looks anxious, they might say they found it easy or that it felt really sad to say that. For someone who says something angrily, they may say they feel good or guilty or relieved or even ashamed. For someone who looks sad and teary, they may say they feel angry or numb or good because they are finally saying something. All of which is important to process and you could park yourself right here in this moment and explore.   

In addition to the gold of the emotional information alone, there are other benefits to asking this question. Let’s imagine Partner A (Alex) has just said something to Partner B (Bailey).

It can help you slow everyone down. If you are anticipating a flare-up or if Bailey is already starting to leap in with a reaction to either an enactment or something that just happened, this question can help you interrupt and slow down. You can say, “Hang on for a moment Bailey. I just want to check in with Alex to see what was happening for her as she said that…”

You can use it to validate Alex, and if applicable, to validate the risk that she just took. This is obviously dependent on what she says in response to your “How was it to say that?” But if she says it was hard or that she was anxious, or if somehow she did something different here, you can validate that she took a risk for this relationship. This is important to highlight, especially if you can feel that Bailey may not be seeing it that way.

It can help Alex notice and connect her words to her feelings and her body in an important moment (connecting the left and right side of brain). We want our clients to be aware of what they are feeling and to send clear messages to each other from these feelings, right? Part of our clients’ negative cycle is that they are feeling one thing on the inside and showing their partner something else on the outside. We want them to start to notice and to feel this discrepancy, to notice what they are feeling on the inside (sometimes a huge task in itself) and to notice the times that they speak/show from that place and when they speak/show from a more protected place. If you can help them do that, they can start to shift and send clear messages to each other. So by asking them how they feel as they are saying something, you can help them start to notice and connect.

It can help you bring Primary Emotion alive in the moment. If she is feeling something other than what she is showing, now you have a way into that underlying emotion that you might not have known was there. And on Bailey’s side, hearing this could be an essential “lightbulb” experience.

Or it can help Alex notice if she puts her guard up in an important moment. If you think you notice it (or even if you don’t), you could ask her, “Did you feel your protection come up as you said that?” Again, an essential process for clients to be aware of so they can shift it.

It can help you turn to Bailey with additional, important emotional information. “Did you know Alex was scared to say that? What is that like to know? Is there a part of you that can feel her fear? Does that tweak or shift how you might respond?” This is especially helpful if Bailey is fired up and chomping at the bit. Your turning to him with a different question might shift him away from his immediate, reactive response. (Which, as you know, is still coming. But perhaps you’ve let everyone take a breath with your prompt.) 

It can help Bailey understand Alex better. Again, just the information alone is sometimes new and important. Additionally, sometimes Bailey is already reacting or thinking about his own feelings in response to what is happening. Checking in with Alex about how it was to say what she said can be an important pause, and an important, new glimpse for Bailey into Alex. (“Oh, you were scared to say that?”) It can also be an important moment to process how in their cycle, they often aren’t aware of what is happening with each other as they are already one step ahead and planning their response; they had already “left” the present moment/interaction.

It can help YOU to understand the couple, the cycle, the protection, the way they can or can’t be vulnerable, the risks they are willing to take.  All really important pieces to process in the moment. And this information can also help you in future moments as you will now know that Alex may be anxious or sad as she says something important; that even if she doesn’t look it, she may be taking a huge risk.

And, as we know, once we’ve done something with good results—like asking this question and receiving gold—we are more likely to do it again. So in those future moments, when you are assuming Alex may be anxious (because that is what you’ve now learned), you will ask, and you may get a new answer! And this is so important because now you can track that; you can track how her answer changes as therapy progresses. “Oh it is easier today? Wow, what is that like?”

I honestly feel like I could go on and on here, and I hope you can feel my passion for this little intervention! So, I encourage you to play with this question this week and see what happens! 🙂

Exciting News!

Good morning! I hope you don’t mind a little self-promotion. This is a copy of a text I sent my kids on Monday:

Today I’m making the scariest leap of my life. I am pushing “launch” on the campaign to sell my book. After so many years of blood, sweat, and tears, I am about to put my work out there, to put myself out there. And I’m asking for help, which is also really scary. But here’s what I keep coming back to when my heart starts pounding out of my chest and it feels too big, too hard:   I may fall down, I may not reach my goal, but at the end of it all, I will be really proud of myself. Because I will know that I tried. 

On Monday (4/16), I launched a campaign on publishizer.com to pre-sell my new novel, The Truth is a Theory.  

My goal is to pitch publishers, and Publishizer (and YOU) can help me do that. I have 30 days to pre-sell as many books that I can. If I reach 250 pre-sales, Publishizer starts pitching publishers on my behalf. At 250, they pitch Independent Publishers, and at 500 pre-sales, they start pitching the bigger houses. (*UPDATE: as of Weds 4/18, we are at 282 pre-sales!)

So every single book counts! I am writing to ask for your support. Please consider buying one, or more than one! You will get a great read and you will be giving me an incredible boost.

Here is the one-line “elevator pitch” about the book: The Truth is a Theory is the story of the assumptions we make about important people in our lives, and how these fatally flawed “truths” play out for four women friends.

You can go to either my website or my publishizer page to learn more and place an order: 



And, if you can, please share this—or my facebook or my instagram— with your friends and family. 

Thank you so much! 


Three Important Questions To Ask Yourself When You’re Lost

Hi after a long hiatus! I am so glad to be back and connecting with you. AND I’m doing so a little sheepishly because so much time has gone by since my last post. I’ve been busy editing—and editing again—a novel that I’ve written. It’s very exciting—definitely a labor of love—and it has beckoned me in almost every “down” moment I’ve had.

But I am happy to be back to EFT Tips. And as a way to re-ground us all, I am writing today about a question, or actually more of a confused place, that I often hear about from supervisees. It’s a place we’ve all been, a place we all know about. And it sounds something like: I’m lost! I’m not sure where am I in the work/in the model with this couple!

We all get lost in this challenging work. And the best tool we have when we are lost is the EFT Steps and Stages that Dr. Sue Johnson created—our EFT version of google maps. But sometimes, although we know the main road we need to take, we are somewhere in the forest and have no idea where we are even standing—are we looking north, east, west? Sometimes we need to slice it thinner for ourselves. In those times, ground yourself with the cycle. The cycle is your compass.  And ask yourself these three important questions:

The first two:

  1. Do I know the couple’s negative cycle?
  2. Do they know their negative cycle? 

(*I want to credit someone with these two questions, but I can’t remember where I first heard them, so I will credit Sue Johnson, because really, all things EFT lead back to Sue 🙂 )

And then, a third question that I like to add:

  1. Do they feel their negative cycle in session?

So, the first. Do you know their cycle? As you think about your couple, can you sketch out a simple infinity loop of their cycle—each partner’s primary emotion on the bottom; and on the top, what they each do with this primary emotion in their cycle or what their partner would see (their reactive behavior/their protection). You may have a lot of rich and complicated pieces to their cycle, but I would say, simple is better here. The fattened-up version might help you outside of session to really understand them, but when you go into session, have a simple version of their cycle in your head. Are there any holes you need to fill in? If you don’t know their cycle or if you have holes in it, this is where you need to be working. You might want to start your next session by reflecting what you know of the cycle and then inviting them to help you with the missing pieces.

If your answer to the first question is “Yes, I know their cycle”, ask yourself: Do they know their cycle? For instance, if you asked them would they be able to tell you? If you brought in a simple sketch of their cycle and showed it to them, would light bulbs go on in their heads as if this was new information or would they be right there with you? Sometimes if we pause and really think about it, the answer to this question is surprising. We often think that because we know the cycle, and because we’ve been using the word “cycle” with them, or because we’ve reflected it back to them once or twice or even several times, that they know it and understand it. Remember, “one and done” does not work when people are emotional. If you aren’t sure if they know their cycle, this is where you need to be working. You might want to start the session with your thoughts about their cycle and ask if it it resonates with them. Again, simple is better here.

A note: I don’t want to imply that we first work to identify the cycle for ourselves and then as a second, separate step we work to identify it with the couple. In session, we work on identifying and exploring the cycle collaboratively, with the couple (Stage 1, Step 2). But most of the time, we will see and understand the cycle first (because we know what we are looking for) and we don’t want to stop there and assume our couple sees it and understands it too. We need to be sure.

Because after all, if they don’t know the cycle, how can they shift it?

Finally, if you know the cycle, and you are sure your couple knows the cycle, ask yourself the next, very important question: Can they, do they, feel the cycle in session? EFT is experiential. We don’t—and we can’t—stop at the cognitive awareness of the cycle. We want them to feel all the pieces of the cycle in session, we want to slow it down and explore it with them as it is happening. We want to use a lot of “right now” language, i.e. can you feel that right now, in this room, in this moment? This will help them make sense of what happens in the blink-of-an-eye outside of session. And feeling it is an essential step in helping them to shift it. So when they dip into primary emotion (Stage 1, Step 3) can they feel that emotion? Or are they talking about it but protecting themselves? If they are protecting themselves, can they feel that? What happens if they feel vulnerable when they are talking to you and they turn to their partner to share in an enactment prompted by you? Do they armor up, does their voice get edgy, do they turn and criticize, do they go blank? Can they feel that? Can they feel the link between being vulnerable one minute and the way they armor up the next minute? Get curious, explore, help them make sense of it, AND explicitly name it as part of “the cycle”. (See my March 2017 post on working with protection: https://heartbeatsfortherapists.com/2017/03/27/protection-the-fifth-p/)

So this week, try asking yourself before you go into session:

  1. Do I know the cycle?
  2. Do they know the cycle?
  3. Can they, and do they, feel the cycle in session?

See if this helps orient and focus you. Let me know what you think! 🙂

A Plug for the Couch;and Exploring Body Language

It seems there has been a movement in EFT lately, or perhaps it has always been a thing and it’s just news to me, that in order to do the best EFT, you need two swivel chairs instead of a couch. Well, I have a confession to make. I have a couch, and what’s more, I love my couch. I know this may be a dissenting opinion, so let me just say right here, right now that I think two swivel chairs are fine and I can imagine there are pros (and cons) for wanting this configuration. But let me just put a plug in for the couch, and while I’m at it, talk about the importance of catching and exploring body language.

In EFT, noticing and highlighting our clients’ body language can be an important part of our work; we can use it to provide us with deeper/richer information about each client’s experience (that we might file away in our back pocket for later) and/or we can use it to actively, in the moment, help us explore that deeper/richer client experience. Part of what we do in EFT is help people to notice their bodies, to notice what happens in their bodies when they feel safe, when they are connected, when their partner looks at them a certain way (good or bad); we help them to notice the ways they protect themselves, what their protection feels like, to notice themselves putting their protection on, taking it off, and to become aware of what messages their bodies are sending and what messages are received by their partners in all these moments. The couch, quite literally, gives the body more space to show itself, to move, hence giving us more information and limitless ways to go deeper with our clients.

Here are some ways to do that:

Noticing changes over time: A couple comes in for their first session and sit as far apart as they possibly can from each other on the couch, they lodge a pillow in between them like a wall or they grip one in their lap, or perhaps both. Before they even open their mouths to start to tell their story you have important information about this couple, about their level of safety with each other, and you can already be guessing that the ways they protect themselves—and the pain underneath—are powerful. Many sessions later (I won’t put a number on it!), this same couple comes in and sits a little more comfortably, they aren’t pressed into opposite corners, the pillows are not bricks between them and they don’t cling to one tightly as they try an enactment. One hand of each partner is resting on the cushion next to their legs, not quite loosely, but not clenched in a fist. They aren’t reaching across the divide for each other, but it feels like a tentative possibility. Then many sessions later, they come in and intentionally sit closer together, there is a narrow strip of space in between their legs on the couch, and they are holding hands. This is all wonderful fuel for our work, and even just noticing—and helping them notice—this movement over time, can be a springboard into deeper work. “Wow, you guys, even the way you are sitting makes me think you are feeling so much more connected, is that right? Do you remember when you first came in here, you were sitting so far apart on the couch, and now look at you, almost touching. Tell me what that feels like for both of you? What does that mean to you? What does it feel like inside of you when your partner is this close?” or “I’m just wondering, as I see you guys sitting so closely on the couch together today, where is your protection right now? What feels different right now that you don’t need it or that it is really small?” 

Noticing ways they protect themselves in session:

“I notice that you are sitting as far apart as you can, which gives me an idea of how much pain you are both in, and I am wondering both about that pain and about the ways you might protect yourself from that pain right now in this room and at home. Can you help me with that?”

If a partner leans away in a moment, I might say, “I notice you leaned back a bit when your partner said ____ , did you notice that? Can you help me with what was happening for you right then?”

If a partner crosses his/her arms across their chest, “It seems like in that moment a part of you wanted a little bit of protection, can you help me with that? And I also wonder, and please let me know if I’m wrong, perhaps you were giving yourself a little bit of comfort, like a hug? Which might mean there is distress inside? Help me with that, with what is happening for you, because my guess is that a lot is happening underneath and all your partner might know/see in this moment—again, my guess—is the arms crossed.” (Unpack each piece of this slowly).

Noticing the tentative reaches, the tentative risks:

Notice, highlight, and unpack the little movements, the little reaches… the fingers that twitch towards the partner or the hand that creeps over when the partner is crying but then stops short of actually touching the partner. Catching that, highlighting both sides of that, wondering with the client about the positive intention, the risk of the reach, and also getting curious about the importance of the pause (fear?). “Help me with that. What was your hand wanting to say? If you could put words to that reach, what would they be? Do you notice that at home, the longing to reach and the worry or fear of doing it? When you are in your negative cycle, what often wins in the moment?” Wonder with the partner, “Did you notice his hand moving towards you?” (Often not). “What does that mean to you right now to hear that?”

In the same way, notice, highlight, and unpack other small movements, like the touch on the knee; the pat on the back; the hand that is draped across the top of the couch, covering the space between them, but perhaps not touching; the pillow that was on the lap but then is put down during session or during an enactment.

Noticing the body during enactments:

Notice, highlight, and unpack body language during enactments, for instance, the half-turn or the head turning but the body facing forward and not moving. “Your head turned but I’m wondering, you help me if this is not right, part of you, your body wasn’t ready, is that right? Can you help me with that? A part of you was trying, yes? But another part of you… hmmmm…. maybe was worried? Can you help me with both parts?” And then you can unpack what the partner felt, did they feel that the partner was trying or did they focus on the body staying forward… “Yes, of course, that makes sense, because we are wired to watch for danger, and so of course his body facing forward was what was bigger for you. I get that. And what happens in your body when you see that? Hmmmm, yes, which I wonder if that then confirms his worry about turning all the way. Yes? A little bit of a non-verbal cycle there, yes? So can we look together at the other part too, the part that was trying? What it is like to hear that part of him was trying in that moment?” (Again, unpack each piece of this slowly.)

And of course, notice, highlight, and unpack the full turn towards the partner (with a positive enactment!—*see note below about angry full turns). “Wow, you turned your whole body to tell him/her that! What was that like?” And (partner) what was that like to have him turn his whole body towards you and say that?”

Notice bonding moments:

This probably goes without saying, but notice, highlight, and unpack those rewarding, touching bonding moments, when a couple leans in together for a full hug, or they actively slide over to each other, or reach hands for each other and grab on… “What is it like to say this while holding your partner’s hand?” And partner, “What is it like to hear that while holding your loved one’s hand?” or “What was happening for you as you slid all the way over to him just now? Something so powerful pulled you right across the couch to him, help me with that.”

The couch gives more space for all these spontaneous and important movements to happen. *NOTE: The downside of having more space is that you might need to be more directive when they are angry and escalated and turn towards each other with venom in their eyes or on their tongue (but I guess couples can do that in swivel chairs too). You will have to be forceful, “Look at me, I want you to look at me, tell me about that, I really want to hear this, turn towards me and talk to me right now…”

So yes, I love my couch. But the wonderful thing about EFT is it lends itself so beautifully to different styles, different ways of being yourself (with your furniture!) with your clients. So whatever furniture or set up you have in your office, try to notice body language this week, and see if you can use it to deepen the moment and heighten the experience by highlighting it. 

Let me know what you think! Have a wonderful week! 🙂 


Last month, in talking about the cycle and the 4 P’s of Emotionally Focused Therapy (Johnson, Susan, 2011), I wrote that I often think of PROTECTION as a fifth P. You all know the “P’s” of EFT—Primary Emotion, Present Moment, Process, and Pattern—and how we should be working in one or more at all times (or at least working on working in one or more at all times!) 🙂  Well, I would like to raise my hand and nominate “Protection” as a new candidate for the podium of important EFT P’s.

In many other models of therapy and human behavior, the ways our clients protect themselves (also called reactive behaviors in EFT) might be labeled as a Defense or referred to as defensive, which can be pathologizing. (Say to yourself right now… “He is so defensive” and notice how you say it and what you feel inside. Now say to yourself “He is protecting himself.” Do you notice any difference inside yourself?) Reframing and seeing these behaviors as protective helps us feel warmer towards our clients, helps us open to them, which helps us get curious…hmmm….what are they protecting and why? And reframing behavior as protective (part of our Stage 1, Step 4 work) can help both partners see it differently, and possibly, be the beginning of a shift in these reactions. You can often see a client’s face soften—perhaps in relief, perhaps in a lightbulb moment for them, perhaps from being seen in a more empathic way—when you label what they do at the top of the cycle as protective. (When I say at the top of the cycle, I am referring to the EFT infinity loop, first developed by Scott Woolley, an EFT Trainer in San Diego. Find a copy of it at eftcnj.com, under Therapist Resources, Forms).

Our clients often come into the first session in full protection mode, or if they don’t come in this way, they may suit up quickly as the session begins. This protection is what their partner has been bumping into and experiencing over and over again in the negative cycle. Staying curious and trying to understand this important piece of the puzzle is a crucial part of our beginning work in EFT—our clients’ protection is a front door into the cycle, into their process, and into primary emotion. If we don’t hang out and work first in their protection when it shows up in the present moment, we may not be granted access to go further and deeper. So we notice, understand, validate, and make it explicit.

Notice: First, as the therapist, we have to notice when it shows up. Sometimes this can be easy (when one partner suddenly gets angry, or suddenly clams up). Othertimes it is harder to catch; it may be subtle—a shift in tone, a shift in body language, a glance away—or it may be so heated that you get caught up in it too and in the moment it is hard to see as protective—like when there is name calling or escalating anger. Try to keep your radar out for these very personal ways your clients protect their hearts.

Understand it/Make Sense of it: Then we have to really understand this protection and make sense of it, for everyone in the room. Get curious about it. Wonder to yourself and with them how it has helped them over the years. Because while it is not working now to help them get closer to their partner, it has served an important purpose; it was adaptive at some point, and to some extent it is adaptive now. It keeps them safe, either from their own vulnerability or fear, or from their partner’s behavior (which is protective too). It blocks them from the intimacy they long for, but when the negative cycle is up and running and they can’t reach (or reach for) their partner, they reach for their rusty, trusty armor. 

Validate it!: And validate it again. Need I say more?

Make it Explicit: Whenever you notice it, make it explicit. Slow down the moment in session when their protection is up in the room and work with it experientially. And believe me, it is up in the room. It shows up in the way someone jumps in to defend themselves, or points their finger, or when they turn to do an enactment and their whole affect changes from teary (with you) to cold or edgy or mean or tongue-tied or blank with their partner. Warmly wonder with them, what just happened? It seems to me that something important just happened. Did you notice it? Was that your way of protecting yourself? I think I saw your face change right when you looked at your partner, could you feel that? What is that like for you?

This is important because the idea that they protect themselves, and the ways that they do so, may be outside our clients’ awareness.  So the more we can explicitly catch it in the room and join them in experiencing it, the more they will learn about themselves, about their partner, about their negative cycle and their individual role in it. And the more they are aware of the way they armor up in this relationship, the better prepared they are to feel it at home and shift the cycle.

Often when we are first learning EFT and we are able to help our clients into some primary emotion, we then panic, ahhhh…. now what do I do?! Think LINK. Link this primary emotion to their protection, and pass this link over in an enactment. For instance, if you have someone in their primary emotion, ask them what they typically do or what they typically show their partner when they feel this hurt, this fear, this sadness? This is how they protect themselves. You might also explore what they are protecting themselves from—their partner’s protection (reactive behavior) or their own internal feelings. (Maybe both). Then you can create an enactment. Have them tell their partner: when I feel lonely, in our negative cycle I don’t show you that. Instead I get angry and criticize you. But underneath the anger, I am missing you. This linking of primary emotion to protection is a basic and essential enactment in EFT, one that we do over and over again. 

One more thing… when you are working in protection, try not to rush to get underneath it or to get them to drop it…. not only can this be a lot of pressure for you, this can sometimes create a push/pull with your clients that can strengthen the protection, not soften it. Instead, hang out with them in the protection, get to know it, understand it, understand it’s purpose, what it is trying to do. Because although it is wreaking havoc on the relationship, this part of your client is working hard and has a lofty goal: protect at all costs. Until we can come alongside this and make sense of it with the client, that unique shield or that drawn gun isn’t going anywhere.

I hope this is helpful! Let me know what you think! 🙂 

Johnson, Susan. (2011). Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: Key Concepts [Power Point Slides]. Slide 9. Retrieved from https://www.emu.edu/graduate-counseling/sue-johnson-training-follow-up/sue-johnsonpre.pdf.

For more on EFT, read any of Dr. Sue Johnson’s books, including but not limited to:

The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection (Johnson, Susan M. The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection. New York: Bruner/Routledge, 2004. Print.)

OR find Dr. Sue Johnson at: drsuejohnson.com or at The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) www.iceeft.com