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.)


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!


One (of the many) of the brilliant aspects of EFT are concrete the Stages and Steps that we have to guide us through the model. The EFT Stages 1-3 and Steps 1-9 help us organize what we are doing in our sessions by helping us understand where we’ve been, where we are right now, and where we want to go. It is like the music for the dance of therapy— it’s in the background, it helps us keep time, it keeps us in the mood. But even though we know the music (and love it!) we can still find ourselves stuck, anxiously tapping our toes in our chairs instead of dancing when our clients escalate into anger or touch some pain or sadness. “What do we do NOW?” Just because we know the music (the Stages and Steps) doesn’t mean we always know how to dance—when to lean in, when to have them turn, how to lead our clients gently but purposefully in the way we know they need to move and drop in and reach.

This is where the EFT Tango comes in (The Five Process Moves of EFT, by Sue Johnson. Find a diagram of it on Rebecca Jorgensen’s website at . It is a simple dance step, one that repeats over and over again in session. If you get lost and miss a beat, you can dance right back into it. For an easy way to remember it, I labeled the steps to all start with a “P”:

Present Process

Primary Emotion

Pass It over (Enactment)

Process the Enactment

Put a bow on it

Very simply (and we know that it often doesn’t feel simple!)…. as you are talking about/processing/exploring the cycle, bring it into the PRESENT moment, into Present Process… “Jordan, as you talk about being angry with John last week, what’s happening for you right now, right now on this couch…” OR  “What happened just now, just now as you looked at John, I thought I saw something flash across your face… can you help me with what was happening for you just now?” OR “As you are talking about the sadness you felt, can you feel it now? Yes, it comes up for you right now, as you are talking about how sad you felt, you can feel it even now.”

Then stay with and heighten Primary Emotion, knowing that you are moving towards Pass it Over (Enactment). “Jordan, we’ve talked about how when the cycle kicks in, when you feel sad, and it feels like you can’t share it with John, you get angry. Which makes so much sense. But how about right now… can you turn to John and tell him about this sadness you are feeling right now?”

Process the Enactment: With both partners. “How was it to tell John that?” And then, “John, how was it to have Jordan take that risk and share that with you?”

Put a Bow on it: Organize what just happened for them, help them understand what just happened, put it in the cycle and/or help them understand how it was new and different. Validate! Sometimes referred to as “zooming out”.

Then start the Tango again. 🙂

Bring these 5 Process “P’s” into session with you and Play with it!

Emotional Handles

Stuck in a barrage of content?

This week, in the middle of all that content, listen for the EMOTIONAL HANDLES—any emotional word that is embedded in your client’s story—i.e. frustrated, sad, exhausted, disappointed, dread, hopeless, helpless—that you can use like a handle, a door knob to open up your client’s emotional experience. If you are listening for them, these emotional handles are often peppered into a story, but like pepper flakes, they can float by fast. If you don’t catch them in the moment and at least note them to yourself, they are gone. If you can catch them however, that’s where the spice is.

If you are lucky enough to have a client who gives you several emotional handles, choose the one with the most attachment significance, or (to stay with the pepper metaphor) the spiciest. For instance, disappointed vs. frustrated, sad vs. tired. 

Emotional handle noted; now what?

When you hear an emotional handle, you can either interrupt the client right then, by saying “Can you slow down a moment… you just said you were disappointed, that sounds important, can we stay there for a moment? Can you help me understand that disappointment?” Or you can let them finish what they are saying and say, “Let’s go back or can we go back… you said you were disappointed. Can you tell me more about that/tell me what that’s like for you?”

The Emotional Handle could be something non-verbal… i.e. “I hear you saying fine, but I noticed you just sighed and sank into the chair. That seems important. Can you help me understand what’s happening for you?”

Finally, you could also plug into what you are feeling/sensing inside of yourself and use that as an emotional handle… i.e. “I hear you saying fine, but I’m feeling some sadness around what you are saying, is there a part of you that, along with feeling fine, feels some sadness about this?”

Play with it this week and see how it feels for you!