“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.

CELEBRATE WHAT YOU ARE DOING RIGHT!

My amazing supervisor, Debi Scimeca-Diaz, (EFT New Jersey Trainer, www.njceft.com, couplestherapynj.com) has occasionally reminded me, “Don’t just focus on what you did wrong in a session, notice and highlight what you did right!”

This is so important. It’s easy to see the moments we want to redo, times where we didn’t jump in, catch a bullet, deepen the emotion enough… I could go on and on, right? Even the best EFT therapists can watch their tapes and find moments they might have choreographed differently. We need to be aware of these moments, we need to notice and learn about new choices we could make, different interventions to try, a slower pace or a more”attachified” reframe—this is essential to gaining confidence and traction with EFT. But only noticing our missteps and missed opportunities at the expense of highlighting all that we are doing right is going to hurt our confidence, slow our traction with the model, and possibly vault us into the “I can’t do this” or “I’m a terrible therapist” spiral. Early on in my EFT career, this used to happen to me in session. When the session was getting away from me or I was stuck and at a loss for what to do, I would beat myself up—“I suck” —was pretty much the drumbeat in my head. What’s worse is that while I was beating myself up, I was no longer attuned to my clients. I was more focused on myself and my feelings of inadequacy. You can imagine how that impacted my work in the moment.

As Debi Scimeca-Diaz has also said to me, a little EFT is better than no EFT. Of course we are all in this to get better. EFT is inspiring (Thanks Sue Johnson!) and we all strive to be great EFT therapists for our clients, for ourselves. So yes, notice the places where you want to do something differently, where you want to ask for help from a supervisor. But also praise yourself on all that you are doing well. Watch your tapes and congratulate yourself for each intervention you offer that helps your client—each reflection, each reframe, the way you are attuned with your clients, or the way they are attached to you and feel safe with you. Just like when our clients do something new, different, and brave in the room and we stay with it, highlight it, heighten it, because we know that swimming in that new, positive moment will start to rewire the brain and shift the negative cycle, we want, we need, to do that for ourselves.

So this week, focus on all that you are doing right!

Please feel free to comment!

ENACTMENTS: FIGHT THE “CAN’T YOU SEE YOUR PARTNER’S PAIN?” IMPULSE!

We’ve all been there… we’ve eased one partner down into some sadness or hurt and they bravely take the risk and share it with their partner, and… the partner can’t take it in. As EFT Therapists, we know to expect this—it is Stage 1 after all—we know we need to expect blocks to our enactments, to expect the negative cycle to kick up, to expect the unexpected. We know not to expect healing enactments in Stage 1 (we may facilitate lovely moments, but we know not to EXPECT them).

BUT we also know that if our couple could just take in/understand each other’s pain/hurt/sadness, they would start to shift this negative cycle between them, they would start to heal. And so sometimes we have the impulse to nudge the listening partner, to say something along the lines of “Can’t you see your partner’s pain? Right now, on this couch, he is crying and trying to tell you about his sadness, can’t you feel it?” It’s as if we think Maybe if I just point out the tears streaming down his face (because I guess she must have missed them!) a lightbulb would go off for her and change this moment. It’s as if we hope with our nudge she might say, “Ahh, yes, thank you, NOW I see the tears. Now I feel his pain.” After all, that pain is so clear to us! Why can’t she take it in?

But that’s the point. That’s the cycle. It isn’t clear to the partner. They can’t take it in. And our job in that moment is not to convince them of their partner’s side of the cycle. Our job is to get curious, to now to unpack and make sense of what is happening on this side of the couch. What emotions came alive for her as her partner turned to her? What did she hear/see/feel from her partner just now? What did she tell herself about those things? What (if any) alarms were going off for her? You could break her experience down into parts, i.e. part of you felt this, part of you felt that (more on “parts” in an upcoming post).

So fight that common and well-intentioned impulse to say some version of “Can’t you see your partner’s pain?” Because it will be like pouring lighter fluid on the negative cycle. Instead, lean in, get curious, and ask the partner to help you understand what is happening for them in this moment.

Read more about enactments in EFT in The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection (Johnson, S.M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection. New York: Bruner / Routledge. – Second Edition of 1996 book.)

AND/OR

Becoming an Emotionally Focused Therapist: The Workbook (S.M. Johnson, Brent Bradley, J Furrow, A Lee, G Palmer, D Tilley & S Woolley (2005) Becoming an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist : The Work Book. N.Y. Brunner Routledge.)

BACK TO BASICS: THE POWER OF VALIDATION

Do you have a sense for how often you validate your clients in session?

This one simple intervention (a primary intervention in EFT) is an amazingly powerful tool. If you don’t buy it, just think about the last time someone told you, with sincerity, that you were doing a good job or that they really understood you. For me, when I hear something like that it feels as if my heart actually expands for a moment (I just had an image of the Grinch’s heart breaking the magnifying glass). We all long to be heard, to have someone understand us, and it can be soothing at minimum and transforming at best when it feels like someone does. Especially for the client who has felt so misunderstood, so criticized, so judged—perhaps even called “crazy”—in their marriage or significant relationship.

The trick with validation is, it has to be genuine. We want to use A LOT of validation with our clients, but if you aren’t sure you get what they are saying, don’t validate it yet. It will ring hollow. Use the moment to remind yourself that all behavior makes sense, we just need to take the time and make the space to understand it. (And remember we are looking for it to make sense through our attachment lens). So get curious, continue to explore, perhaps say “I think I’m following you, can you help me with…” or “Can you tell me more about (that), I want so much to understand your experience” or “Can we slow down, this feels so important and I really want to get it”. Remember that you are not only clarifying for yourself, but for the listening partner, and perhaps even for the speaking partner. So take your time.

Then, we you really get it, VALIDATE. Say “Yes, I get that. That makes so much sense!” and maybe “Thank you for helping me understand!” And then you might summarize what it is that makes sense to you.   

Other, more interjectory ways to validate as you are exploring are non-verbal head nods (which silently conveys “I am following you”); or a simple “right”, “yes”, “I’m with you”, “I’m following you”, and  the very intellectual but usually understood “uh-huh”.

This week, make it a goal to increase the number of times you validate your clients. See how it feels for ALL of you!

Read more about validation in EFT in Sue Johnson’s The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection (Johnson, S.M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection. New York: Bruner / Routledge. – Second Edition of 1996 book.)

OR

Becoming an Emotionally Focused Therapist: The Workbook (S.M. Johnson, Brent Bradley, J Furrow, A Lee, G Palmer, D Tilley & S Woolley (2005) Becoming an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist : The Work Book. N.Y. Brunner Routledge.)

Match Client Affect

Matching client affect, an important aspect of attunement, is something that I have been working on (and working on)… I am typically soft-spoken (although if you ask my husband…) hmmm… okay, I’ll amend that. I am typically softer-spoken in session with my clients. Especially after learning about EFT’s RISSSC (Repeat, Images, Soft, Slow, Simple, Client’s Words); I really took the “Soft, Slow” part to heart.

But soft and slow doesn’t work with clients who are escalated in anger or frustration. They feel missed, not heard, not understood. And then they will most likely work even harder (and with more energy) to get you to understand how PISSED OFF! or UPSET! they are. And the soft and slow that is so magical in calmer moments gets mowed right over. 

This week, practice matching your client’s energy level — validate them with matched animation and spirit, and then see if you can ease into the “soft, slow” affect of RISSSC and bring your client with you, one gradual step at a time. If they don’t follow you down that gradual step, reverse and re-join them in their affect again. Validate. Validate again. “YES, OF COURSE YOU GET MAD WHEN YOU LOOK OVER AT YOUR HUSBAND AND HE HAS NOTHING TO SAY!”…  (then try a little slower, a tiny bit softer)… “nothing to say to you…his wife…” And depending on whether your client is with you, you can stay right there and explore. If your client escalates back up, go with her. (And of course I could easily be saying “go with him”.)

I hope this helps!