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! 🙂

10 thoughts on “Three Important Questions To Ask Yourself When You’re Lost

  1. Karyn, Congratulations on getting close to completing a novel! Thanks for another helpful post. I especially appreciate the better understanding of how enactments help them feel the cycle in the room and the value of them being able to feel, right now how they protect themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to reach out Mara! I’m so glad you found it helpful. Thanks for wanting to know more about the novel… it is of course, about relationships! I will post more about it soon. 🙂


  3. Great way to orient us, Karyn! You are so right – sometimes we just have to hit the “Home” button, and go back to the beginning. We can get busy working the 5 Step Tango and using the words “dance” and “cycle,” as we have them enact primary feelings to each other and then process the enactments. We can forget to zoom out and tie it up in a way that makes sense to us and the couple. Love this reminder of how important it is, both for the couples’ ability to take ownership and control of their negative pattern and for them to be able to shift to the positive dance of intimacy and connection.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Maria!! I so appreciate it, and love your words — helping the couple to “take ownership and control” of the cycle — so hopeful because it means we know and hold onto that they CAN control it. Thank you! 🙂


  5. This was helpful, Karyn! I like the idea of asking the couple to help fill in the blanks with me. We saw together what happened when the cycle was clear to me but the wife didn’t really buy it—and I really struggled for ways to help her see it! I now know to spend more time emphasizing the cycle until it IS clear because everything else depends on it.
    Can’t wait for your book tour—I’m gonna want a signed copy 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much Ora!! I so appreciate you taking the time to write. Yes, it can be so hard for some partners to see and feel the cycle, especially the partners that don’t want to see that they have a role in what is happening!
    Thanks for the excitement about the book too! 🙂


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