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.)