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.

A DEEPER LOOK INTO PROCESS

In EFT, “the therapist is a process consultant.” (Johnson, Susan M., 2004.)

Last week, I highlighted the Four P’s of EFT: Primary Emotion, Present Moment, Pattern (cycle), and Process. The more I think about the Four P’s the more I realize it is hard to pull them apart. They are intertwined, they all lean into each other, they work together to help you make sense of what is happening in the room. In EFT, going deeper into one “P” will always link you to another “P”. But this week, I thought it might be helpful to try to pull out Process and take a deeper look into it. 

Process is the “how” of the moment—how each person thinks, understands, and integrates an experience, and then how that shows up in the moment. It is the slowing down of each moment and tracking “how the couple communicates and moves in relation to each other” (Johnson, Susan M. 2002). For instance, lets say one of your clients gets angry in session. If you were thinking about Process, you would want to explore what did they just hear, see, or sense in that moment and how did they understand it? And just before they flared up in anger, did they first touch on pain or sadness, then frustration, then anger (all in a nanosecond)? Or was there another important emotional sequence that ended in anger? You can often begin to unfold Process with a “what happened” question, i.e. “what happened to you just now” or “what happened between you two right now?” (Notice the “right now” question—you are accessing Present Moment here too!)

I think Process is an excellent “P” to have in your back pocket to pull out and use any time you might feel stuck. For instance:

If you are stuck in content, process the client’s move, not the content. “In talking about this right now, you just moved a little farther away from your partner. Can you help me with that? What just happened?” Note that I just highlighted a physical move, but we also highlight and process emotional moves, i.e “In talking about this right now, it seemed like you got defensive, which I believe is usually a way to protect yourself. Am I right, did you just feel the need to protect yourself? Can you help me with that?”

If you get down to primary emotion and don’t know what to do, you can wonder with them what they typically do with this feeling. (Notice here you are working in another “P” as well, Pattern).

If you get a surprising reaction from a partner, unfold the Process behind it. “What just happened for you? As your partner said that she’s scared she will disappoint you, you got angry, yes? That’s important. Can you help me with that?”

If you get no response from someone, you can conjecture Process with them. “I know you always want so much to help your wife, are you trying to come up with a solution right now?” Or try putting language to the non-verbals you see. “I see your brows knitted together, are you trying to make sense of what your partner just said?” 

If your clients are escalating in the room, use Process to try to keep everyone (including yourself) grounded. “Can we pause…. something important is happening here, help me understand.” You can stay with the couple and process the cycle that just came up in the room (Pattern), or zoom into one partner and unfold their individual Process.

If one partner fires a bullet, use Process to “catch it” (“catching the bullet”, Johnson, Susan M. 2004) and help everyone make sense of what just happened. “Alex, you just fired a bullet, and Chris, you looked like you were reaching for your own rifle. Something powerful just happened that I’m guessing happens all the time between you. Can we slow down here and try to understand it together? Alex, what happened right before you picked up your gun, what was your cue to pull the trigger?” 

So this week, pay attention to Process in the room. Try to pull it out and look at it with your clients. 🙂

Johnson, Susan M. The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection. New York: Bruner/Routledge, 2004. 42, 152. Print.

Johnson, Susan M. Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors. New York: The Guilford Press, 2002. 95. Print.

BACK TO BASICS: THE FOUR P’s

I just returned from a fabulous weekend in Denver, Colorado attending Jim Thomas’ 2-day Master Class on Effective Beginnings in EFT. Wow. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating—if you ever get the chance to attend one of Jim’s workshops, do yourself a favor and GO. And then be prepared to be immersed not only in EFT learning, but in an EFT experience. (Jim Thomas is an EFT Trainer and Supervisor, and the Director of the Colorado Center for EFT. Find him here: www.coloradoeft.com and here: http://www.engagingtherapy.com)

There are so many tips that I picked up that I’m excited to share with you, but let me start with a basic but essential one, the importance of The Four P’s: Primary Emotion, Present Moment, Process, and Pattern (cycle) (Johnson, Susan. 2011). We all learned these at the EFT Externship, and as EFT therapists we know this is where we want to be working, but I think when we are first learning EFT, the Steps and Stages loom so large and the Four P’s—as an explicit list—can get buried under just trying to grasp the model. But as Jim Thomas reminded us, we should know these Four P’s in our bones. Carry them into every moment of the session with you. They are the focus of our EFT work.

Many of might be wide-eyed right now…. what?? The Steps and Stages, the EFT Tango, the Four P’s… how do they fit together? I think of it like driving. The Steps and Stages of EFT are our itinerary, they are where we want to go, the pins on our map. It is good to consult this map before and after sessions, to check in with where you are, where you want to go next, but if you are thinking about the map while behind the wheel of the session you’re going to be distracted and not in the moment with your clients. Then we have the EFT Tango, which are the 5 basic moves that we do over and over again in session. (See my 9/29/15 post on Sue Johnson’s EFT Tango with a link to Rebecca Jorgensen’s visual.) In my mind, this is route we take, the roads we drive on, i.e. we’re on Enactment Lane and we know that next we want to make a left on Process the Enactment. The Four P’s are what we are attending to in the moment while driving, it is where we are choosing to focus, i.e. that pothole in the road, the traffic coming directly at us, the speedometer, and maybe that deer in the headlights. 

Ok, so how to make the Four P’s into a tip to take into session with you? Think of them as home base, a place to continually check in with and to help you keep and hone your focus. You want to be working in one (or more) of the Four P’s at all times. So at any time in your session, ask yourself, which one am I working on right now? If the answer is none, (for instance if you are lost in content or if you are problem-solving), you’ve veered off the road. So just re-focus and bring the work back to Primary Emotion, Present Moment, Process, or the Pattern. Or a combination, i.e. the primary emotion in the present moment.

Here’s an easy intervention to get off the rumble strip and immediately focus your work on two or three of the Four P’s: “What’s happening for you right now as you talk about this?” With this one question, you are zooming in on Present Moment, Process, and depending on your client’s answer, perhaps Primary Emotion. (See my 11/15/15 post about the use of the words “Right Now”.)

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.

 

DO YOU HAVE YOUR ATTACHMENT LENS ON?

I’m guessing we’ve all had the experience of sitting with a couple where it’s easy to empathize with one of the partners, and much more difficult to empathize with the other. It may be that we are puzzled by their behavior, pushed away by their anger, or that we just can’t find a way underneath their steel armor. All of this can lead to being frustrated with the client (and maybe also frustrated with ourselves). In these moments, it can be helpful to check in with yourself and ask, is my attachment lens still on? Can I re-adjust it and try to understand and plug into—or at least imagine—the pain, the panic, the desperation, and/or the shame that is driving this behavior? Or am I just feeling and reacting to this person’s well-honed protection? (Remember, most of the time, the stronger the protection, the more pain there is to protect.)

I just finished up helping at another Core Skills Series led by Debi Scimeca-Diaz, a vivacious and passionate EFT Trainer in New Jersey (find her here: http://www.njceft.com) and she gave a great “self-supervision” suggestion for these moments when we’ve lost our attachment lens. Debi showed a clip of a little boy of about 3 years old who has lost his mother in a crowd. He is standing frozen, all alone, with tears rolling down his chubby cheeks, as busy people rush by him. He is invisible to everyone around him but his panic, his fear, his desperation is larger than life. It’s not as powerful in description as it is onscreen, but with this image in mind, watch a few minutes of a tape with your challenging client (or if you don’t have them on tape, close your eyes and replay your last session). Then turn off the tape and imagine this part of your client, the part that is lost, afraid, desperate, and alone in their relationship. Even if you haven’t met that part of them yet, it is there. Plug into that. Then, while holding and feeling this part of your client in your heart, practice how you might intervene with them in a new way. 

I hope this helps with those frustrating moments!

“ATTACHIFY”

There is an essential intervention in EFT that isn’t even a real word. You won’t find it in the dictionary or read it in the formal literature, but it has become common lingo in EFT and you will often hear EFT Trainers throw the word around with a smile and perhaps a set of air quotes.

Attachify.

First, an attempt at a definition: Attachify. v. To add attachment meaning and heighten primary emotion by adding a descriptive word or phrase about the partner’s significance into an intervention. 

In practice, on your couch, attachifying could mean simply adding the powerfully personal words—your wife, your husband, your partner, the mother of your children, the man that you love, this most important person, this man that you’ve been with for all these years, your best friend—to what you are handing back to the client in the moment. Or it could be folding a significant attachment phrase into your intervention, ie. “because you love her”, “because he is so important to you”, “because you mean so much to each other…”

Attachifying your interventions packs a lot of important things in one tiny move. It focuses the moment—and all three of you—on the relationship, and by doing so, it heightens the emotion exponentially. It feels a little like a doctor moving his hands around a sore spot, probing for the injury, aand then pushing on the spot that hurts. Attachifying encircles the couple, pulling the listening partner in and holding them while you are working with the other one. It helps validate and make sense of the deep emotions that are bubbling up (i.e. “Of course you feel sad! This is the woman that you love.”)  And it anchors all three of you in the attachment frame. Wow—this one small intervention focuses, heightens, validates, and makes the attachment frame expicit.

As you read the following three sentences, see if you can feel the difference inside yourself:

“Right now, on this couch, you are saying you feel like a failure in your wife’s eyes,” OR “Right now, on this couch, you feel like a failure with the one person who matters most to you.” VS. : “Right now, on this couch, you feel like a failure.”

Even reading that, can you feel that the first two are so much more alive? You are getting right to the heart of the matter with more focus and more power when you attachify. We all can feel the difference between feeling like a failure, and feeling like a failure in the eyes of the person we love. We need to be explicit in this, remind them of this, focus them on this truth.

One final point. With attachifying, we need to dip our toe in gently, i.e. sometimes couples aren’t ready for “the one who matters most” or will balk at “because you love him…” but there is always a way to attachify in a way that rings true to your couple. Start with a simple truth that still packs a punch, i.e. “your husband,” or “the mother of your children,” or even “this person that you’ve shared your life with.”

This week, play and practice with attachifying and see if you notice a difference.  🙂

PART TWO of EXPERIENCE THE MOMENT (OR DONT GET AHEAD OF YOUR CLIENTS)

So I realize that in my last post, I talked more about what not to do, i.e.  “Don’t get ahead of your clients.” Advising not do something is not much of a tip, and when you are first learning something it can even be detrimental—stranding you with the “Danger Thin Ice” sign but providing no safe detour. So I’m back with some ideas on what to do to stay in attunement, experience the moment with our clients, and not get ahead of them. (Remember, when we are too far out in front of our clients, we will risk them talking about how they feel and not actually feeling it, and we will all miss out on an essential part of the EFT work — the experiential. Read more in my last post.)

For one, take a deep breath. Oftentimes, (as my EFT Certified colleague Maria Lorditch of Summit, NJ commented last post) our getting ahead of our clients is rooted in our own anxiety. So taking a deep breath can ground us in the moment and be a physical reminder to slow down, to remember that in EFT, slower is faster.

Use the RISSSC of EFT* (Repeat, Images, Simple, Slow, Soft, Client’s words), this helps both the client AND you to stay in the moment. 

Lean forward. Lean into the client (especially if your anxiety is telling you to back up!). When you are leaning in towards your client, you will be more likely to stay in the emotion and less likely to “zoom out” and go cognitive.

Feel what is happening in the room. Open up and allow yourself to feel the emotion in the room, to let the emotions of the couple into your heart. Take in all the non-verbals your client is giving you, body language, facial expression, tone of voice, eye contact. Sometimes going into the emotion with our clients and staying there can be challenging–and–it is where we need to go. Be brave with them. If you feel it too, they won’t be alone. This is where the healing is.

Hold back on “Meaning-making”. Kathryn Rheem, is a wise, warm, and talented EFT Trainer in Baltimore and I attended her EFT and Trauma workshop in October 2015. (If you ever get the chance to go to one of her trainings, I highly recommend it. Find her here: Washington Baltimore Center for EFT) She talked about holding back from “meaning making” for a little longer than your instincts might tell you to.  She said as humans (and as therapists) we are “meaning-making machines” but that oftentimes that instinct to label, to categorize, to know, gets in our way of being in the moment with our clients. So put meaning-making aside for a beat or two longer than you might ordinarily and just be with your client (with your attachment lens on).

I hope this helps! Add to the conversation–what are ways that you’ve found that help you stay in the experience with your clients?

*Read more about RISSSC in: Johnson, Susan M., Brent A. Bradley, James L. Furrow, Alison Lee, Gail Palmer, Doug Tilley, and Scott Woolley. Becoming an Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist: The Workbook. New York: Routledge, 2005. 53-54. Print.

EXPERIENCE THE MOMENT (or DONT GET AHEAD OF YOUR CLIENTS)

Let me set the scene… Yesterday was a beautiful winter day, the sky was cloudless, a vivid blue, and the sun was golden and warm, a glorious contrast to the cold air. I was walking my dog down our wooded street, no traffic, just the sound of a few leaves rustling gently in the breeze. Sounds like a nice day for a walk, right? Here is what was actually going on. I was late, I was rushed, I had my eyes cast down and was power walking to get the outing off my to-do list. I wasn’t noticing the woods around me, I wasn’t tilting my head back to let the sun shine on my face. My dog was two steps behind me and his head was down too as he was trying to keep up with me. The leash attaching the two of us was stretched out, a nylon red line parallel to the road. The only sound we were tuned to was the sound of his panting.

Hmmmm…. neither one of us was experiencing this 30 minutes.. I was pulling my dog along on my agenda, and he was trying to keep up. We both missed an opportunity.

This can happen in the therapy room, right? Sometimes we can get too far out in front of our clients. Maybe we know their cycle, we know where we want to go with them, we know the EFT map and think that if we can only articulate our point, or explain the cycle, or help them crystallize what it is (we assume) they are trying to say that they will heal. But if we are dragging our couple along, we will not only jeopardize attunement, but in an effort to keep up with us they will stay cognitive, and we will all miss out on an essential part of the EFT work — the experiential. 

And we know that for our couples to truly re-build their bond, they need to experience the cycle, feel their vulnerability, in the room, in the moment. (And then of course, share it.)

It is a tricky balance right? Certainly we want to conjecture, (and in EFT conjecture is an important intervention) and we want to be at the leading edge of our clients’ experience and then help them go a half-a-step deeper. Half-a-step. Because it’s important to be right alongside our clients, with them in their experience, helping them to feel it, and feeling it ourselves. If we are too far out in front of them, we will risk them talking about how they feel and not actually feeling it. And although knowing the cycle is important, feeling it—with you, with their partner—is essential. This is the piece that will help them reconnect, help them heal. 

So this week, if you find yourself too far out in front, slow down, ground yourself. Take a deep breath and know that the most important agenda item is happening right now, right in front of you. 

INTERVENTION: “INSIDE/OUTSIDE”

Hi all! I hope you are all having a happy December! AND, I hope that you take a moment to reflect on what you have given to your clients this year… how you, in your most authentic and genuine way, have showed up for your clients and given them your best. What an amazing gift.

Ok, so back to our passionate endeavor… growing in EFT. 🙂 And I have a great tip for you this week. A simple way to explore, reflect, and/or encapsulate one partner’s side of the cycle is to use a brilliant and simple intervention—“Inside/Outside”—that I learned from EFT Trainer Jim Thomas (find him at the Colorado Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy; and at his private practice www.engagingtherapy.com). (I’m not sure if this intervention actually has a title, but if it doesn’t, this one certainly cuts to the chase!) “Inside/Outside” is a non-judgmental way to highlight that when our clients are in a negative cycle, what they are feeling on the inside (primary) is not what shows up on the outside (secondary), i.e. “On the inside you are feeling this; and on the outside it looks like this”. Using this intervention, you can explicitly—and so simply—describe one partner’s side of the negative cycle. Jim Thomas talks about how with each pass of this intervention, you often see/hear more ownership of their “outside” action and more depth and more willingness to share about the “inside”, primary feelings. You can use this in many ways:

To begin to explore the primary emotion underneath the action tendency/secondary emotion: “So Megan help me, when you shut down and walk away from Amy in these difficult moments, help me to understand what is happening on the inside. On the outside, it looks to Amy like you’ve ‘turned to stone’, but I’m guessing there is a lot happening on the inside.”

Or to explore the action tendency/secondary emotion: After bringing a partner down the elevator into primary emotion and staying with them there, you could ask them, “So Sara, when you are feeling so sad on the inside, so sad because of this disconnection with John… do you have a sense for what you do with that sadness? What do you show on the outside when you are feeling so sad on this inside?”

To explicitly link the primary emotion (inside) to the action tendency/secondary emotion (outside) on one partner’s side of the cycle:  Right Sara, so when you are feeling lonely and sad on the inside, and you worry that John will not want to hear about it, this is when you flare up to anger on the outside, yes?”

To set up an enactment about the link between the inside (primary) and the outside (secondary): “Megan can you turn to Amy and tell her that when on the inside you feel like you can’t get it right with her, and you get that sinking feeling that is so unbearable, on the outside — what Amy sees — is that you shut down, ‘turn to stone’?” 

To check in with the partner about a just-unpacked primary emotion that they never see: “Amy, we’ve talked about how you see and feel Megan’s shut down on the outside, and in those moments it feels like she’s ‘turned to stone’. Did you know that when she looks stony on the outside, often on the inside she has an unbearable sinking feeling that she just disappointed you?” 

So this week, play with some version of “Inside/Outside” and see how it feels to you!

REMIND YOURSELF: IF I’M STUCK, GET CURIOUS

I apologize for not posting for two weeks… yes, the holidays are crazy-busy, but also, I think I was stuck, paralyzed… wanting so much to say something meaningful; having so much to say, and at the same time worrying about not having enough to say; wanting whatever I do say to be a clear, bite-size nugget, something useable, helpful… it was all swirling around in my head and the result was:  my page remained blank. I did nothing.

Then I got to thinking, this happens in session to all of us, right? That stuck feeling… that paralyisis that comes from wanting so much to say or do something meaningful, that paralysis that shackles us when our clients are saying so much (with so much affect!), or that ices us when trying to evoke affect from our quiet or shut-down clients… I don’t know about you, but I know about feeling stuck with my couples.  And I think it is important for us to be aware of what we typically do in those stuck moments with our clients… do we exit to content, do we transition over to the partner, do we turn inward and beat up on ourselves? Because the more aware we are of our action tendency (our reactive behavior) the more we can try to do something different, to make a more intentional choice for our clients.

One of the easiest ways to get un-stuck is to just get curious. Lean in, ask the couple to slow down (if they are going fast) and help you, what is happening right now? You can get curious about what is happening with one partner (intrapsychic) or between the partners (interpsychic). You could try what Rebecca Jorgensen, an amazing EFT Trainer based in San Diego,  often talks about in trainings (check out her website at www.rebeccajorgensen.com), which is to combine curiosity with transparency and go back to the last place you felt grounded. Admit that you are confused, admit that after Susan said “I’m always the one putting effort into this relationship!” things fired up so fast that you couldn’t follow them. Say that what just happened feels really important (validating), an example of the cycle right here and now (bringing the process explicitly into the present), and ask them if we can all go back to that moment and try to unpack it together.

So this week, two things to keep in mind. Try to be aware of yourself in stuck moments… what do you typically do? And then remind yourself: if you feel stuck, lean in and get curious. 

WORD CHOICE: “RIGHT NOW”

Ok, ready for an easy one? This week, try to increase the number of times you say the two simple words “right now”.

Remember that one of the more important things we do in EFT is to bring emotion alive in the present moment so that we can work with it in the here and now. “Present Process” is, after all, the first step of the EFT Tango (see earlier post). We need our couples to experience the cycle, to experience their pain, their longing, their fears, their blocks right now, in session. Just giving lip service to feeling sad, or just talking about what they felt last week isn’t enough—even if they are yelling about how last week they were so ANGRY!! (emotion is clearly in the room—probably more than you’d like—but we aren’t working in the present moment yet. To bring it into the present we could say, “I know, even right now as you tell me about it, the anger is so big!! I can feel it with you right now!”)

Using “right now” will give you powerful, and sometimes surprising, results. First, it brings clients out of a more cognitive place (i.e. reporting on last week or trying to remember how they felt yesterday). Second, It could help someone explore the primary emotion underneath the secondary emotion (i.e. I might say, “I felt a pang of sadness right now as you talked about your anger and frustration…. can you help me, I’m wondering if you might also be feeling a little bit of sadness along with your frustration?”) 

It could also deepen a primary emotion: I remember one particular withdrawer, who was talking about her sadness, and I could feel how much energy she was using to not be sad, not to let it out. I simply asked her, “Can you feel that sadness right now?” It was like a dam broke. Her face crumpled and the sadness welled up and out of her. I will never forget that important, poignant moment. It was the first time she had really let herself feel that sadness. Her partner, as you can imagine, was stunned (in a good way). I think that was the moment I realized the power in those two little words.

Asking about “right now” may also highlight a block, as in “What’s happening for you right now as you struggle to tell your wife how much she means to you?” Finally, it never ceases to amaze me when I ask a composed-looking client “What is happening for you right now (as you look at your wife…)”, and they bravely let me in to their fear, their sadness, the knot in their stomach that lies underneath their buttoned-up exterior.

So this week, play with using the words “right now” as an simple way to bring your session into the present moment.