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! 🙂