PROTECTION: THE FIFTH “P”?

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

AHA, HERE IT IS!! CATCH THE CYCLE IN THE ROOM AND MAKE IT EXPLICIT

Last month I wrote about trying to increase the number of times we inject the word “cycle” into our sessions, as in “Oh, so when you guys are caught in the cycle together and you explode in anger, there’s a big part of you that is longing to connect with your partner?” Instead of ““Oh, so when you explode in anger, there’s a big part of you that is longing to connect with your partner?” A tiny intervention that packs a big punch.

This month, I thought it would be helpful to talk about catching, labeling, and working with the cycle when it comes alive in the room. This experiential piece—bringing the cognitive blueprint of the cycle into the here and now, into the body, into felt awareness—is an essential and powerful part of the EFT model.

Catching the cycle in the room can be hard to do. When the cycle erupts, whether it is loud and boiling or more subtle and frosty, we can get lost in it too, become overwhelmed, confused, anxious. But if we can remind ourselves that the cycle is in the room when we get that feeling of “OMG what is going on?” then we can see the moment as an opportunity. We can say to ourselves, “Good, here we go, here it is, I’m diving in… ” and then we can say that to our clients (okay, maybe don’t say “Good”…) but perhaps something like, “Oh, I’m wondering if this is the cycle flaring up; is this is where you both often get stuck and the cycle takes over? This is so important, can we use this moment to slow down and take a look at it together?”

I know that when the cycle shows up in my sessions, I might move in to help the couple unpack what is going on without labeling out loud what is happening as “the cycle.” Maybe I forget, maybe I am focused on just leaning in there and helping them, maybe that more meta-focus isn’t where I am in the moment, but just think—if I can’t remember to highlight it as the cycle in the moment, you can bet that your clients don’t know it is the cycle in the moment. So making it explicit, “here is the cycle!” is essential so that they can start to experientially link what they are feeling to being caught in the cycle.

And then help them unpack it. There’s a lot to look at and explore together from just this one moment, and unpacking it could take the whole session. You can use the EFT 4 P’s as a guide (Present Moment, Primary Emotion, Process, Pattern). (Johnson, Susan. 2011).

Present Moment: what is happening to each of them, what are they each experiencing right now in the cycle? What else are they experiencing (Emotions rarely come one at a time, what are the pieces of what they are feeling?). Which may lead you to…

Primary Emotion: what is underneath the reaction right now in the cycle?

Process: what was the trigger—was it a look, something the partner said, the tone? How did they understand the trigger? What does that then tell them about their partner, the relationship, themselves? What is that like for them to think that, to feel that right now in the cycle? And how did they protect themselves, right here, right now, from the partner and/or from their own feelings?

Pattern: And when they put up their protection, what does the partner see/feel/experience/think right here in the cycle?

A few notes:

I often think of Protection as a fifth “P”. And in our desire to unpack the primary emotion, we often neglect to really help the client become aware of their own protection. Maybe I’ll talk about this in my next post, but for now, don’t forget to sit with the client in this very personal way of how they protect their heart.

Be explicit that you are looking at the cycle as it just came up in the room. When you wrap up, you might summarize the cycle for them. You could say “I think it was so important that we had a chance to really experience the cycle together in the room, to experience how powerful it is and how much happens to each of you and between you both in a second or a minute’s time.”

So this month, see if you can catch the cycle in the room and be explicit about it with your clients. I hope this helps! 🙂 

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 and the negative cycle, read any of Dr. Sue Johnson’s books, including but not limited to:

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (Johnson, Susan, M. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Print.)

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

CYCLE, CYCLE, CYCLE

Wow, say that three times as fast as you can. 🙂 And just like that and just as fast, the cycle can erupt in the room and tangle us all up like the very best of the tongue twisters.

As EFT therapists we need to keep a handle on that destructive cycle at all times, so that it doesn’t blindside us, blindside our couple. I think that sometimes in our work (especially, but not limited to, when we are beginning to learn EFT) we can focus so much on getting to that golden primary emotion that we relax our grip on the cycle in session. I’m not saying that we completely let go of it, but if we are many sessions in and as we are working in the cycle, we might ease away from being explicit about it. Or because the cycle is so clear to us, and perhaps to our clients (we think), we might feel repetitve using the word “cycle” over and over, so we, well, don’t. Or to be honest, we might have checked off the “Stage 1, Step 2: Identify the Cycle” box and moved on, thinking that once we’ve identified it and held a mirror up to it one or two times, our clients have a solid, felt understanding of their cycle and we don’t need to keep talking about it anymore.

But just like in everything EFT, one and done just doesn’t do it, especially when it comes to the all-powerful negative cycle. This is the enemy, the villan that keeps your couples from being connected, and the only way to make that crystal clear is to keep that enemy close and in the spotlight. So even after you have identified and worked with the cycle, even after your couples have had that Aha! moment when they see their cycle and it fits for them, even after they have felt it explode in the room, we still need to keep the cycle in the forefront of the work, continuing to name it, (and name it again, and again), hold it up the light, and catch it and label it when it shows up.

Think of it like holding the reins while riding a horse. We have two reins that we hold and control; if we tighten one and ease up on the other, the horse turns. If we continue to do this, the horse keeps turning and we end up going in circles. We need to hold both, have control of both, if we want to direct the course. The same is true in EFT. We want to hold onto and use the cycle while we are working in all the other important steps of EFT.

I will talk more about catching the cycle in the room in my next post, but for now an easy and impactful way to keep the cycle in the room could be just a small change to what you are already doing—simply insert the words “in your cycle” (or pattern or dance or tornado) into the intervention you were already going to use. So instead of: “Oh, so when you walk away, underneath you are feeling defeated?” You might say, “Oh, so in your cycle, when you walk away, underneath you are feeling defeated?”

Or instead of “So what is it like for you when your partner looks at you with anger in her eyes?” You might say, “So what is it like for you in your cycle when your partner looks at you with anger in her eyes?”

Or Instead of “Yes, that is such a painful place for you”, you might say, “Yes, in your cycle, that is such a painful place for you.”

By simply adding those words you keep the cycle up and running for all of you, clearly highlighting that that is what you are all working on. It also makes explicit that these are the reactions and feelings that happen when they are in the cycle; this is so important because you are reminding them, over and over, that this isn’t just “how it is”, it is how it is when they are in the cycle. A small distinction that can provide a lot of hope.

Finally, each time you use the words, you are emphasizing that this is a dynamic. This is a crucial reminder and for most couples, needs continual underlining. This cycle is not one person’s fault; the same partner doesn’t always start this dynamic. The word alone simply reinforces that concept. Additionally, by naming it as a dynamic when working with one partner, you subtly and intentionally loop the other partner into the work in the moment. And again, by just highlighting it more often, you provide hope. Because if this is negative dance they both create, it is a dance they can change together.

So this month, notice how often you refer to the cycle in session—how many times do you actually use the word—and perhaps practice using it more.

Let me know how what you think! And Happy, Happy New Year! 🙂  

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

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (Johnson, Susan, M. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Print.)

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

ASSUMPTIONS

Well it’s September. For those of us that enjoy summer in the June-July-August months, September can roll in with a bit of melancholy. (Did you feel mine from the big sigh in the “Well, it’s September” intro?) But the return to routine and schedules can also be invigorating. That “back to school” vibe can bring fresh energy to our work if we let it, even if “back to school” no longer applies to you or your family. For me, this time of year feels more like the beginning of a new year than New Year’s. And so, in that spirit, I am going to make an EFT resolution for myself and my work.

My resolution is about not making assumptions—specifically, not making assumptions about words. As an EFT therapist, I think of myself as pretty much assumption-free, and I used to think that I only walked into my sessions with two assumptions. The first is the assumption of a bond between the partners, even if that bond feels tenuous and thin. Jim Thomas (a wonderful EFT Trainer in CO) has said that he always assumes there is a bond between partners, like an invisible umbilical cord between them. We need to know that umbilical cord is there and hold onto it even when the partners can’t. (Find Jim Thomas here: http://www.engagingtherapy.com).

The second assumption that I enter the room with is that with my attachment lens on, everything—every reaction, every behavior—will make sense, I just need to make sense of it. Sometimes this is harder than others, but to date that assumption has never failed me or my clients. Other than that, I try not to make assumptions about my clients, and try to work together with them to unpack meaning before jumping to make it myself.

But lately I’ve realized that I do make assumptions about certain emotional words that my clients use, simple words like “sad” or “hopeless” or “happy” or “love”. For instance, in the past when a client said they were sad, I would reflect it, stay with it, and unpack it (and perhaps even feel it myself), all of which helped us go deeper, but I think my baseline assumption that I understood “sad” was inhibiting me from being really curious—as-if-it-was-a-word-I’d-never-heard-before-curious—about what sadness was like for this client. We know two important things about “sad”. The first is that sad is universal, everyone feels it, everyone uses the word, everyone knows what sadness is, it is defined quite clearly in the dictionary. All true, and yet, when even clearly defined words hit the air they become monogramed and subjective. Which brings us to the second important thing about sad. Sad is personal, it has images, flavors, and smells, it has memories and history and attachments, it has physical sensations as well as unique emotions tangled within it (I was going to write “pain within it”, but that might be an assumption). And I think that while I tried to unpack both sides of “sad” with each client, I was unaware that I was more grounded in the first “I know what sad is” side and it was inhibiting me from fully exploring the second, exquisitely personal side.

It’s like when a client comes in with a situation or story that is very similar to something that has happened in your own life, it is almost impossible—as hard as we try—not to let our own experience color how we hear and feel the story. The same is true for the words—like sad—that we hear over and over again. Words that as therapists, we hear more than most. So it is hard to hear “sad” with fresh ears and not have our own personal and professional experiences with sad color how we hear and how we understand each client’s unique sad. Especially when we aren’t even concious we are doing that.

For me, that’s the lightbulb. Being aware of it. It is easier to go slow and unpack when we are confused or when something is vague. Then we don’t have to remind ourselves to slow down and explore because our confusion cues us to do this. But when we think we know, and when all three people in the room think they know, it is harder to remember to pause, slow down, and explore.

But here’s the thing (there’s always a thing). Our own version of sad is essential in the room too. We can and should use it like a vulnerability compass, to cue us, to guide us, to help us plug into and connect with the client. The trick is to balance this with the simultaneous listening and exploring as if we’ve never heard the word before.

You can prompt this exploration by using one of EFT’s key interventions, Reflection. By just reflecting the emotion you invite the client to talk more about it, to fill in the parts and feelings of what that emotion is for them. But you can also more explicitly invite them if the reflection alone doesn’t elicit it. You might gently, warmly, invite them to “Help me with what sadness is like for you, talk to me as if I don’t know what sadness is.”

So there’s my resolution about assumptions. How about you, can you think of any assumptions you make that might be important to notice? Or do you have a different “New Year’s” resolution about your EFT work? Share it in the comments section! 🙂

WARMTH: THE FLAME THAT LIGHTS OUR WORK

Hi all! Here on the East Coast of the US, it is officially summer (hooray!). The sun is ever-present—shimmering and hot—causing people everywhere to strip off layers of winter protection and (at least physically) make themselves vulnerable.   

The heat outside dovetails what I’ve been thinking about inside my office— the power of warmth. This elemental and rich piece of ourselves, this gift of our warmth, is an essential ingredient in Sue Johnson’s EFT, just as essential as The Steps, The Stages, The Tango, and The 4P’s. Our warmth is the kindling to all our interventions; it sets the temperature in the room, providing safety, support, and encouragement for the vulnerable risk-taking of EFT. Just like the sun, the heat of our warmth has the power to help clients strip away layers of protection.

We tend to think of warmth as something that ebbs and flows naturally, without much awareness, like a smile that breaks out without actually thinking “I need to smile now”. But because in EFT warmth is an implicit foundation to all our explicit interventions, it is a good idea to be more aware of, and then more intentional with, our warmth. Consider for a moment EFT without warmth. Really, think about any intervention in the model, from Stage 1/Step 1: Alliance Building all the way to Stage 3/Step 9: Consolidation—think about Validation, Inviting Enactments, Heightening—and try to imagine doing them, and having our clients respond, without an infusion of our warmth. To be fair, because EFT is such a powerful model you may be able to get some cognitive traction without warmth, but it would be impossible to get the depth and richness and vulnerability needed to help couples restructure their bond without using this key component of ourselves. 

There are many times the flame of our warmth can falter, and by becoming more aware, we can notice and work to light it back up again. Certainly our warmth can waver if we become EFT “technicians” and we are too cognitive, too “in our heads”, or when we are anxious or disregulated as we all get in the face of this very challenging work. Our flame can flicker when we are frustrated or having a hard time understanding a client or their reactive, protective behavior. In a recent ICEEFT EFT Listserv* post, Bret Lyon, who runs wonderful workshops on Shame with his wife Sheila Rubin (I haven’t been to one yet, but hope to attend soon. Find them here: http://www.healingshame.com) reminded us that many of our clients hear judgment and criticism from us even when it isn’t there, and so imagine how loud it sneers at them if there is even a tiny part of us that is judgmental or critical in the moment. These are important moments to tune into, become more aware of, and if possible, to intentionally fire up our warmth.

No doubt, there is a lot to learn in EFT. It is simple and complicated and messy and beautiful, just like life, just like relationships. And when we are first learning the model, it can be overwhelming. There are so many things to keep track of, so many notes in our heads when we are facing a couple, (Ask them what they do with that emotion! Catch that bullet! Do an Enactment!) and it is so easy to get tangled up in our left-brain and not pay as much attention to our right, to that most important warm flame of connection and alliance.

I would argue that when we get stuck, check in first with our warmth and dial it up. (You may find that not only does it feel good to your couple, but it may help your own anxiety in the moment).

Everyone’s “warmth” style is different— we radiate warmth in our tone, in our words, in our facial expressions, in our eye contact, in our body language. It glows in our gentle curiosity, in our validation, in our coo’s and hmmm’s. It comes from the heart, it comes from genuineness, it comes from a real desire to come alongside. This month, think about your style. How do you show warmth? Can you show it in other ways too? i.e. if you know your warmth shines through your eyes, can you try letting it come through body language too, maybe through leaning in? Whatever your way is, tune into it, pay attention to how you use it, when you lose it, how it affects your clients, your work, yourself. Do some internal check-ins this month and ask yourself at different points in your work: Is my warmth coming through right now? Can I turn it up somehow? Maybe play with it outside the office, and practice turning up your warmth on the grumpy cashier or that frazzled parent in the supermarket and see what happens.

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

*To join the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) and the Listserv, go to www.iceeft.com. General membership (including access to the listserv) is open to anyone who has undertaken an approved EFT Externship. For more information on ICEEFT and EFT go to http://www.iceeft.com.

BE TRANSPARENT

This week, I want to talk about transparency. And I want to start with myself, and with this blog. When I started writing the blog last September, I was determined to write a weekly post. But life is crazy-busy (I know you all can relate) and while I accomplished that for a while, the weekly post soon became every other week, and then every three. So with reflection and without beating myself up, I am revising my goal— to a post every 3-4 weeks— and changing the title of the blog from EFT Weekly Tips to simply EFT Tips. And I wanted to be transparent about that.

In EFT, we want to be transparent with our couples too. Transparency is key to building safety in the room and in the process, especially with our clients who’ve experienced trauma, but really with all our clients, no matter what they’ve endured. In EFT, we want to teach our couples to send clear messages to each other, to be transparent in this all-important relationship with their partner, and we need to model that in our way of being with our clients.

Our being transparent with our clients—in key moments— can help move the work along. For instance, if things start heating up in session or if we feel lost in what is happening with one partner or between our couple, it can help to be transparent about that. Rebecca Jorgensen (find her here: http://www.rebeccajorgensen.com) has said in various trainings that when you get confused or when things are going too fast, own it. Say, “Hold on guys, I’m confused,” and go back to the place where things made sense and track what happened from there. With this intervention, you are zooming in on Process (how did we get from A to E?), but you could also zoom in on the Pattern: “Hold on guys, I’m confused. It seems like the cycle just took over, yes?” And then unpack and work with the cycle. Obviously you could zoom in on the other 2 P’s — Present Moment or Primary Emotion. But the key is to own that you are confused or lost, (this will slow things down) and go from there. (See my earlier post about the 4 P’s on March 2, 2016).

Being transparent with our own feelings can also be a helpful intervention. Not with all of our own feelings—some of our feelings in session, while really important, are best looked at later, perhaps in supervision. But sometimes we can use ourselves and what we are feeling to help make the implicit explicit, i.e. with a withdrawer who struggles to touch or name his feelings, we can say “I feel sad as you are telling me this, do you notice a little sadness in yourself?” Or when one partner says “I don’t know,” you can offer what you are feeling and ask if they might feel a little of that too. (Notice I often say “a little”… it can help clients plug into/accept a feeling if it is just “some” as opposed to one blanket feeling.) Using yourself can also help in trying to get under a pursuer’s anger. “I see hurt in your eyes as you talk about how angry you are, and I actually can feel some hurt inside me as you talk about this— do you feel some hurt right now too?”

We can use transparency with a reactive couple that is starting to escalate. You might comment “I can feel each of your pain right now as you get caught in this destructive cycle.” This might catch them in a different way, pique their curiosity, slow them down a beat, as they think, “My partner is in pain? All I see is anger.”

Being transparent about how you are moved can also help highlight a powerful bonding moment, help you all stay in it a few beats longer. 

Obviously the key with being transparent about our feelings in any of these ways is that we have to notice and plug into what we are feeling—truly feeling—and then share it. Which is exactly what we are hoping our clients will learn to do! 

We also can be transparent in our humanness, in how we sometimes get it wrong, and apologize. This can take a “miss” and make it a powerful moment. “I’m so sorry that I got that wrong, can you help me with what you mean?” Or “I’m so sorry that what I said landed on you that way. Thank you so much for being brave and letting me know that.” Last month, one of my sessions suddenly became escalated, and I didn’t do a very good job at containing it. I pulled back instead of moving in and let the heat go on for longer than I wish I had. I started the next session with an apology. “I’m so sorry I didn’t work harder to keep you guys safe in here. That is part of my job—to keep you both safe, to help you have different experiences—and I want to let you know that I will be more proactive in interrupting you both if things start to get fired up again.” They were both so amazed, and moved, and there was a major shift for both partners in that session. It reminded me of something Kathryn Rheem said in her Trauma Training (find her here: http://washingtonbaltimorecenterforeft.com)— we need to go out on the limb first if we are going to ask our clients to risk stepping out there. I think my transparency, my heartfelt apology, did that and shifted all of us.

So in these next few weeks, notice places that you can be transparent and see if it helps. 🙂 

IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM WHAT HAPPENS AT HOME?

In the comment section of my last post, Renee Segal, a fabulous EFT Therapist and Supervisor Candidate in MN (find her here: http://www.mplscounseling.com), mentioned that one way she interrupts an arguing couple is by saying gently “You can argue at home. I want to make this a different experience for you.”

The word different is important. We do want to make our couples’ experiences in the room different from the negative cycle that they know so well. And, whenever something different or new happens, we want to grab onto it, pull it out and highlight it. Jim Thomas (an EFT Trainer and Supervisor in CO, find him here: http://www.engagingtherapy.com) likes to ask his clients “Is this different from what happens at home?” which can slow the couple down and focus them on the newness of this present-moment experience.

This grab-able moment could be an individual doing something different (i.e. one partner is listening in a different way, or not shutting down, or not saying something with anger) or it could be the couple doing something different (sharing in a different way, approaching something in a new way, maybe even just making eye contact or turning towards each other in a difficult moment). If this happens, slow down, explicitly label the moment as something different, something new, and stay in it with them. Ask your couple if they noticed it, and check with each partner, “Is this different from what happens at home? What is it like for you when Joe looks at you in this new way, with tears in his eyes and says ‘I hate when we fight?’ Joe, what does it feel like to say that to your wife in this vulnerable, different way?”

Or: “Ann, I notice you were really listening to Ryan just now, you even glanced over to him as he was talking. Wow, that felt really different to me. In other sessions we’ve talked about how when Ryan is talking you are often busy planning how to fight back, and today I really feel you listening in a different way, perhaps without your armor? Am I right? Does it feel different to you?”

As you pass this new experience by each of them, label it several times as new and different. And stay in the moment with them, highlighting and processing this new move. By labeling it explicitly and staying in it, you are holding it up to the light, having them notice and feel it and “try it on”, and therefore, giving it some power.  It also may give them hope, a moment of: Oh yes, we are making progress! 

Another great place to use this is in processing enactments, especially if the one partner is sharing something new and you can see the listening partner getting ready to react (pounce or shut down) and you want to focus them, focus their response on the newness of the move, or the newness of the emotion, and block possible the typical (and understandable) reactivity.

For instance, Susan shares with Caroline that underneath her anger is fear that Caroline isn’t really interested in her anymore. Susan shares this with hesitation and a trembling voice and without her typical razor-sharp edge. You can see Caroline prickle and you sense that she is getting defensive, perhaps hearing this new emotion and tone and presentation from her partner as judgment or blame. Or she may just be confused because it is so different. You lean in and ask her, “So Caroline, wow. Susan just shared something really new here, and in a really different way. She put away her anger and plugged into what was underneath it and then tried to share that with you. Wow, that felt really new. I wonder if you can tell me, is this different from what usually happens at home?

If you catch her before she has a chance to react in her typical protective way, and focus her with the question “Is this different from what usually happens at home” you can hold both of them in this new moment for a bit longer. You will still have to process Caroline’s reaction, (because you can bet it will show up in a minute!) but it may have a little less sting (or not), and they will both have a moment to hang out in and feel this different, new and more healthy place. Even if it is just for a moment.

So this week, try to notice and grab onto any new moves, however small, and highlight them with the couple. Let us know what you think or if it helps (and feels different to you)!

THE ART OF INTERRUPTING: PART 2

Hi all! So sorry I’ve been a bit off the grid and behind in my postings!

So, in my last post I wrote about interrupting, and hopefully it was helpful to just notice your own style of interrupting… how you do it, when you do it, and perhaps even more importantly, when you hold back and why. Like I said last time, in EFT there are so many times that we need to interrupt our clients so that we can keep the session productive and as emotionally-focused as possible.

I tend to set the stage for interrupting right off the bat with my clients. As you know, as EFT therapists it is important to dive right into the first session and set the stage for how we work by using RISSSC, starting to track the cycle, doing at least one enactment in that first hour. Just so with interrupting. So in the first session I might let clients know, “You might find that I interrupt you sometimes, as things tend to happen fast in couples therapy and I don’t want us to fly by and lose these important moments.” Or I might let them know the first time I interrupt, “Can I interrupt you right there? You are saying something really important and I think we should slow down and explore it. This is something I will probably do throughout our sessions, so that we don’t miss important moments. So is it okay if we slow down right here?”

In my experience, if clients feel that you’ve slowed down/interrupted around something relevant (and you can help them see the relevance) they’re almost always okay with it. The rest of the story or the other part of what they are saying will still be there. If it is important, you can bet that it will come up again. And you can hold the other parts with the client by saying “I know you have more to say or that there is another part to this, and I promise we’ll come back to it, but can we just slow down around this one part right now?”

I hope I am helping to empower you to gently, warmly, move in and interrupt your clients. (And often when I interrupt, I quite literally move in/lean in). At the same time, like all things, even though interrupting is essential, your attunement with your clients will guide you in knowing/learning the balance of “just enough” interrupting with each couple. Obviously, we don’t want to interrupt every story, this wouldn’t feel good and could hurt your alliance. Sometimes we have to let clients tell their story. And we do need to hear and watch and feel them tell stories as we get important information about their processing that we can then reflect and process with them. So it’s okay to take a small detour, and then direct them back to the emotion, to where you feel the power is. Just know that the longer the story or the more points they make before you zoom in, the more pieces you will then have to sift through, and the less focused your session might be.

I’m sure all of you have your own effective ways of slowing your clients down and interrupting, but I thought I’d include some here for variety’s sake:

     May I interrupt you for a moment?

     Can we go back for a minute?

     That sounds important, can we slow down around that?

     Can I pause you for a moment?

     Can we back up a little bit?

     Can we just stay right here in this moment for now?

Do you have a “go-to” way of interrupting? I’d love to hear it!  🙂  

THE ART OF INTERRUPTING

How comfortable are you with interrupting?

When I was first learning EFT, I can honestly say that my answer to this was not very. (And sometimes my answer is still not very!) Interrupting my clients felt rude and bumped up against my desire to be polite. I thought it was important to let my clients say all that they wanted to say, to finish their (often long) thought before I moved in. I’ll never forget one client who literally had a ten-minute enactment (I thought it was so beautiful! And in a way it was, but as you can imagine the many pieces diluted its power); and another client that could go on and on—like white water rapids, none of us could see the individual colored stones underneath his gush of words. But I let him finish. And then we were all a bit lost. So I have learned the hard way…in EFT we have to interrupt.

Here is what I have come to understand: if you believe in the model, if you believe that what you are doing can heal, then interrupting becomes less of a choice and more of a necessity.

I had been planning to do one post on The Art of Interrupting, but as I began to write, I realized that slower is better here. Because in EFT, there are so many times that we need to feel empowered to interrupt, such as:

  • when clients are escalated
  • to “catch a bullet”
  • to zoom in on an emotional handle
  • to interrupt content
  • to focus the session
  • to stay with emotion
  • to block an exit
  • to choreograph an enactment or the processing of an enactment
  • to keep one partner from prematurely rescuing another
  • to separate out the “but”
  • to heighten and hold in a warm moment
  • to break something into parts….

Wow! The ability to interrupt is key to our work in so many important ways! So in order to stay with my goal of keeping each tip short and sweet, this week, just notice interrupting. How do you do it? When do you do it? Does anything get in the way for you? Are you brave in your interrupting?

I remember something Michael Barnett said at his EFT and Addictions conference in NYC a few years ago (a conference he presented with Jim Thomas): If you can trust that interrupting your client right now, right there will be so much more relevant, so much more powerful for them than leaning back and waiting, you’ll be more confident jumping in. (Michael Barnett is a wonderful EFT Trainer and Director of the Atlanta Center for EFT. Find him here: http://www.eftatlanta.com).

So this week, pay attention to your own art of interrupting. And perhaps be bolder in it. It will be one of the best things you can do for your clients.

RISSSC HELPS US TOO!

Hi all! I am on vacation this week, enjoying the sunshine in Florida and the sounds of my kids laughing and splashing in the water. I am of course, also thinking about EFT, and so wanted to write a quick thought.  🙂

I am realizing more and more that our use of RISSSC (Repeat, Images, Slow, Soft, Simple, and Client’s Words) is not just to help our clients stay in the moment and plug into emotion, it also helps ground us. I had this lightbulb again this week as I watched a session back and realized that if I had only slowed the session down right there, if I had only interuppted my client sooner and focused on that one piece, then I would not have been faced with a decision about where to go, which part to back up to. If I had slowed down and grabbed onto the first “juicy”, emotional moment that bubbled up, the session would have been more focused. Instead, I waited until the client was finished with her point, her paragraph, and was then, for a moment, up in my head, cognitively trying to choose which piece to bring her back to. I now had several threads in play and while it was all good emotional information, I was, for a moment, weighing agendas… do I go here or there? The longer my client talked, the more I had to sort through, and the less focused my session was. 

So “Slow” is for us as well.

The same goes for Repeat (or reflect), and client’s words. Sue Johnson says “a good reflection is a revelation,” (Johnson, Susan M., 2004) and this is true for both the client and for us as well. Repeating our client’s words gives them power, emphasis, and deeper meaning for everyone in the room. A good reflection reverberates inside us as well and helps us to climb deeper into the emotional experience of our client.

The other parts of RISSSC are for us too. Images are as powerful and vivid for us as they are for our clients, and of course being Soft and Simple plugs us into the emotion (and helps keep us out of our heads) just as it does for our clients. 

So this week, when using RISSSC, use it for yourself as well as for your clients. Notice what happens for you as you use it. Notice how it impacts you, focuses you, and then notice how that shift inside of you shapes your session. 

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