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! 🙂 

15 thoughts on “A Plug for the Couch;and Exploring Body Language

  1. I love this! I feel the very same way. I’ve often thought about getting swivel chairs but for some reason can’t quite make the change. For all the reasons you have outlined, I agree that a lovely soft couch (not a loveseat but a real couch with lots of room and two pillows at each end at the beginning of a session when the couple come in) works in exactly the way you describe. Thank you for posting this, Karyn!

    Mary Luard MSW RSW RP
    Certified Emotionally Focused Therapist
    Registered Psychotherapist
    Registered Social Worker

    http://www.freshbeginningsforcouples.net
    519-500-4268

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  2. Thank you Thank you Thank you, Karyn. I have struggled with all the feedback (especially from my supervisor whom I love) that my couch was a Big Deal issue. A separate chair sits at 90 degrees & I sit on a moving swivel chair in the middle. I didn’t really relate to that big deal level of importance about the furniture (and could even concede that they were probably right), but it’s just not gonna happen. In the closing years of my career, the couch really works in the space, I’m not going to give it away, and how can I nap on three swivel chairs???? I do appreciate the detailed ways you discuss how the couch can be incorporated into the emotional and tender work we do. Thanks for being there. I always appreciate what you have to say.

    Susan

    Susan Raab-Cohen, PhD 2003 Western Ave., Suite 510 Seattle, WA 98121 (206) 443-9810 susanrc.com holdmetightseminars.com holdmetightseminars for psychologists

    >

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  3. This was lovely to read, Karyn. I can hear your voice so clearly. I was unaware of the current interest in swivel chairs but I, too, have observed the many ways couples position themselves on a couch and it tends to be accessible to them when I point it out. Sometimes it’s even led to a chuckle if I can point out use of a pillow or two to build a wall — or take one down.

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  4. I think this is such an important thing to write, Karyn! I love that an experienced EFT therapist can give others permission to do EFT in a way that works for them. I haven’t taken the plunge to buy a wheelie chair for myself, and some days I feel like I’m just failing at EFT because of it. Your post is helping me lighten up on myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for commenting Wesley! I am always happy to hear from you! And yes, we need to be gentle with ourselves in our work… that is certainly one of the things we want our couples to do for each other, so we need to do the same for ourselves. 🙂 I also haven’t invested (yet) in a wheelie chair… and I do see the benefits of the wheelie chair (for me, not for my clients–I am keeping my couch!). Being able to wheel closer to them to punctuate something important or to settle our escalated clients… but I also think if we don’t have a wheelie chair, we can lean in with our bodies and do the same thing. It just might be easier on our backs if we can wheel in as opposed to leaning in! I do think though, that even with a wheelie chair I would still lean in…

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      1. HI again, just to clarify my earlier comment, even though I don’t have a wheelie chair, my armchair is parked VERY close to my clients– there is maybe a hands width between my knees and theirs. And I am right in between them, so we form a triangle. I spend most of the session leaning in and I am close enough that I can easily touch either partner if I need/want to. So whatever chair you choose to sit in as a therapist, make sure you are close to your clients!

        BUT (and I am adding this part of the comment in later…) I realize I am now very far away from your comment Wesley, about sometimes you feel like you are failing as an EFT therapist… and I just want to say that first of all, I think we all feel that way. And secondly, I can tell from your wonderful blog (www.becomingatherapist.org) that you put your heart and soul into your work and THAT is what makes a wonderful EFT therapist (that and the model, thanks Sue Johnson!). In the end, furniture is just furniture. 🙂

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    2. Hi Wesley,
      I LOVE your blog too! I have wanted to write comments but it will only let me like it. As for the wheelie chair. I waited 2 years before I bought myself one and have never looked back!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s happened to me, too, Wesley! Great blogs here, both of you! Your journeys are shared by so many of us, and what you find helpful is no doubt helpful to many. I appreciate you both and read your writings often!

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  5. Hi Karyn,
    Thanks for the post on the couch verse chair dilemma. I have room in my office for both. so I have two chairs and a couch. I have noticed that the couples that are more escalated tend to sit in the chairs and the less escalated folks sit on the couch. The most disconnected couples sit on a chair and the couch. Sometimes couples choose to snuggle on the couch after they have gotten to stage 2. Great topic to discuss. EFT Hugs,
    Renee

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI Renee!! It’s always so great to hear from you! Thanks so much for your support and your comment! I love that your couples can choose, it must be so interesting to notice where they sit and especially if they move at some point over the course of the work. Hope to see you soon! 🙂

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  6. Love, love, love this…Karyn! I, too, love my couch – despite that I have two chairs tilted toward each other that clients can sit in, 95% of my couples choose the couch and when they don’t….well, that’s informative, too! I agree you need to be more directive when they are escalated, however, to slow them down and talk to you as the therapist, but yes, that might happen with chairs, too. Great points you made about body language in this blog – so much grist for the mill…

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  7. Thank you so much Maria!!! I always so appreciate you taking the time to comment! I am so glad this resonated with you; seems like there are a lot of us “couch lovers” out there! 🙂

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