How To Get More Movement To Your Sessions

You guys have often heard me express my admiration for Lorrie Brubacher, who is the trainer here in North Carolina and who trained me. I was lucky enough to have a supervision session with her the other day, and it always humbles me to experience her talent.

When you hear people talk about Lorrie, you often hear them talk about how efficiently she can get to what’s really happening in a cycle with a couple. It truly is remarkable to see how she can quickly cut a path of understanding in a place where I have been poking around aimlessly for months. 

She does something pretty remarkable with the action tendency part of the cycle that I want to attempt to capture.  I feel like I still bumber around with the action tendency – So you get defensive? So you get loud? So you fire up? So you give a little lecture? So you shut down?

Not that those are wrong, but when I see what Lorrie does, it makes sense how she’s constantly trimming away the confusion to get to how the cycle keeps the couple stuck. I think of that infinity loop of the cycle as static on a piece of paper, but it’s almost like Lorrie sees that loop as always in motion, so her words go with the current of the cycle all the time. 

She helped me go from:

“It’s so frustrating when you see her get overwhelmed, you raise your voice, you share that frustration in the moment? Get kind of louder?”

to

“It’s so frustrating when you see her get overwhelmed, and you just want to fix this, so you push and push saying, ‘I just want to fix this and make those feelings go away,’ is that right? Can you share that with her?”

So with the first example, it’s a bit heavy and clunky. It gets to what is happening, but doesn’t have flow to it. The second example brings the cycle alive in just two sentences. It has action, movement to it. 

With the first one, after the enactment, I imagine processing with the listening partner and hearing them say, “well, yeah, I know they get loud, and that’s really hard for me!” and that’s not an incorrect piece to process.

But with the second example, I can imagine they could say, “That’s how it feels! Like he just wants me to never feel upset or overwhelmed! Like I’m supposed to never struggle.” And then you could process with them, What is that like? What do you do then, if the message it sends is he doesn’t want you to struggle at all? And then we’re in it, we’re looking at what really prevents them from moving forward.

Lorrie is so good at seeing where someone may be having a hard time tolerating their partner’s emotional experience. For me, like I’ve said before, I can assume a lot – of course you want your partner to be less irritated! I don’t always see that it’s a moment where someone might be unable to sit with their partner’s emotions. Especially if it’s the Pursuer reacting to their partner’s irritation, since their motivation is moving towards for connection, and yet in that process they ARE sending the message to their partner: I want to connect with you but I don’t want you to have these uncomfortable secondary emotions, can’t you just be happy so we can connect?

It helped me so much to think of looking for moments when the partners can’t sit with the other’s emotions, and that “helping” and “fixing” – while good intentioned – is the opposite of sitting with emotion. Of course, helping/fixing is human nature and not wrong, but depending on how much anxiety we have, we can rush in with that and send the message to our loved ones: I need you to not be feeling this right now.

For more insights from Lorrie, these are two invaluable YouTube interviews she did with the wonderful Anabelle Bugatti: 

 Most recently on Affair Recovery

And on previously on Rebuilding Trust

* Sometimes before a session or day I feel anxious about I watch the Rebuilding Trust video. It just helps me have Lorrie’s voice with me and helps me remember to stay process (and what that looks like) and not get stuck in content.

When I Lose Sight of the Cycle and Start Pathologizing

When I lose sight of the couple’s cycle, or can’t find it to begin with, I notice that’s when I’m much more likely to start pathologizing one or both clients.

For me, understanding a couple’s conflict through their cycle is one of the most helpful aspects of EFT (along with the attachment lens). That’s what unlocks everything to me. We take a situation that feels so stuck, and then once we can see the cycle, it’s like looking at everything from a totally new, much more possible way.

I think we all have the situations, though, where it’s really hard to see the cycle. I notice for myself, when one partner looks like they are more self-focused, and are really aware of getting their needs met but not at all aware of their partner’s needs, that’s when it can be especially hard for me to see the cycle. Once I lose sight of the cycle, I myself become stuck. I’m in the cycle with them, likely aligned with one partner, and I can’t see my way out. Then I start getting hopeless, and thinking one partner just isn’t going to be able to think of anyone but themselves.

This can also happen when one partner’s reaction makes so much sense to me that I don’t bother unpacking it. For example, if someone is really irritable, and their partner gets bothered by that irritability, I don’t always think to stop and say, “hmmm, what’s triggering them right now?” I can go to – “yeah, of course they’re bothered, that irritability looks really rough.” And then my focus shifts to, what is wrong with partner x that they are just so irritable all the time? And not really be unpacking that for either of them.

Do you guys, like I do, have those things that are on the Not Okay List in your brains? For me, I notice the behaviors that I assign as unacceptable are the ones I don’t get curious about and unpack. For me, they are:

  • really snappy irritability

  • annoyance/superiority

  • not seeing someone else’s needs

 (anyone wonder what was in my family of origin????)

 When I see those I think, NOT OKAY! And just try to then get them to see that’s wrong. And I lose sight of the cycle. And then, stuck there long enough, I think, “Gosh, maybe this person is just really emotionally under developed and we will never get anywhere.”

I think supervision is really the only way I know how to get out of this, and I think it’s our responsibility as therapists to get good supervision for our couples. Once I see my supervisor and she asks good questions, and tells me her reflections, I realize … oh … there’s way more fluidity in this than I’ve been seeing. But I couldn’t see my way outside of it, I was too stuck. I’m also really grateful to my supervisor for holding the possibility that I’m seeing it wrong. I’m really convincing! I’m also a pretty good therapist, so it could be tempting to just trust my instincts. I’m so grateful she can hold the thought I could be not seeing this fully, in a very empathic way, and ask questions about their cycle that help me realize that 4 months in, I really still don’t know exactly what triggers this guy about his wife looking irritable.

So, my new reminder for myself is: if I’m starting to pathologize or lose hope with a client, there is a good chance I have lost their cycle. It’s time to go back and really make sure I know what’s happening in each step of the cycle for them.

Preparing for the EFT Certification Application

Ok, guys, the time has come for me to start preparing for sending in my EFT Certification Application … which has some Implications … and Complications … and Obligations … (you’re welcome). I’m not sending it in yet, I’m just compiling everything. I figure it will be another few weeks before I am able to mail it off.

I waited until I felt I had my two tapes before even looking at the list of requirements. Mistake. As I’m doing this, I wish I had researched the application requirements before I felt ready to submit, because there are some items that take a little time and others that help clarify what pieces of tape they are looking for.

1) Finding what to submit and how isn’t intuitive from the ICEEFT website. I ended up calling the office there to get help (and they were very nice). Here is a link to the Application Checklist. Some of the materials you need are on the non-member ICEEFT website, and some are only in the member area.

As you can see, you need copies of your diploma, transcripts, and proof of membership in an organization other than EFT. Some of those things need to be ordered or signed up for and aren’t just automatically on hand.

Some other items, like the summary of previous clinical experience, can be written up before having the tapes.

2) I didn’t realize you need a total of four, FOUR, letters of reference. One from your supervisor, and three from colleagues. This might be something to think about in advance, so you’re being intentional about who you’re asking and can ask for them ahead of time since it takes time for people to write them.

3) I wish I had ordered an encrypted hard drive earlier. Because I still haven’t. Because I’m procrastinating. You need to send your tapes on an encrypted hard drive. I’m just going to include a note with my phone and email and ask the reviewer to contact me when they’re ready for the password. You won’t get it back, so kiss that fancy hard drive goodbye.

4) I wish I understood better what they are looking for in the tapes. I felt like I was running around asking everyone what the tapes should look like. With Stage 2, it sounds like they are looking for a couple to be de-escalated, and to be able to take in at least some of their partner’s vulnerability. I wish Stage 2 tapes weren’t so hard to get, but to me that seemed like the silver unicorn, always out of reach. I almost cried at my desk last week feeling like I was never going to get a good Stage 2 tape, and went down a hole of feeling like a crap EFT therapist. It’s not easy.

5) You need your couple(s) to sign a specific ICEEFT permission form for their tape to be submitted in this application. I wish I had my couples sign that up front, since now I may have tape they’ve given me permission for taping for supervision, but I can’t know if they’ll give me permission for having ICEEFT review it - thus, anxiety. And scrambling. I wish I had just had all my couples sign this alongside the other permission sheet I have them sign for recording. Then it’s all done and I can send in a tape whenever I have it.

You might wonder why I’m telling you all about this now, before I know if my application was good enough. Well, if it’s not, then I think that would be good information to share. This is all a learning process, if I live or die by this thing I won’t be able to handle it. So I’d rather go about this the way I usually do, transparently, so we can all learn something together.

(but please say a good thought/prayer for me)

Processing The Block

 As a therapist using EFT, a lot of what’s going through my mind in any given session is what do I catch and stay with, and what do I let pass by me? A lot of content is easy to let pass by, but sometimes I find myself brushing past places I need to slow down and really unpack.

Sometimes when I’ve been with clients for a long time, I can get muddled about this, because I’ve heard so many things repeatedly. Sometimes a bullet and View of Other and the Action Tendency are all mushed together in a comment, and I can brush by when I’ve heard that bullet 100 times. Also, I can get caught in assumption land, where I’m thinking to myself, “of course they can’t believe their partner, it’s still too early in the work …” and I don’t stay and understand what is actually blocking the important message from their partner that deep down they longing to hear. 

My supervisor helped me understand the importance of slowing down, and really processing The Block. When someone isn’t able to take in what their partner is saying, what is happening in that block? And here is where going into detail about what words mean for clients, instead of me assuming, is invaluable. I might try to say things like:

Let’s stay here a moment, when he tells you how much he wants to be helping you with this, what happens?

What about this is so hard to take in, or believe?

That makes so much sense, right now it feels impossible to believe those words (validating is key so the client doesn’t feel like you’re questioning them about what’s wrong with them that they don’t just believe their partner)

Reflecting attachment: It’s so hard to believe that they really do want to be in this with you, after all the other messages you’ve received?

Is it hard to trust you are that important to them, that they want to be working on this with you?

 So happens inside when you don’t believe them, what is the feeling right now when you can’t believe what they say?

What does that feeling make you do, then?

And that’s how I’d set up the enactment, linking the action tendency to all of this:

Can you share with them, it is so hard, right now I can’t trust that I’m really that important to you. It’s really hard to believe that, and so I do put my shields up and block you out, because I don’t think you really mean it.

And with this, we’re making it more explicit and more clear – here is the impasse right now. It is too hard to trust right now, and that’s totally ok. We’re just sending a clearer message than what happens in the cycle at home, which is probably more like, “Why won’t you talk to me?” “Because you’re a jackass!”

Can you imagine how impactful it would be in de-escalating the cycle, if in that moment at home someone could say, even from secondary emotion: “I can’t talk to you, I can’t trust that you care about me at all. It’s too hard right now.” Their partner would actually understand what they are feeling so much clearer in that moment.

So much of what I’m learning now involves just making things clearer. That really, we have much more emotional bandwidth to stay in certain tough places with our partners when those places are clear.

The Mystery Hurricane of Stage 2

I write to you this morning sitting at my kitchen island, watching the wind sway the trees in my yard. Since I’m in Charlotte, NC, we’ve been on hurricane watch with Florence since Wednesday. And basically no one knows what to prepare for, how intense it will get, or how long it will last.

This makes me think a lot about Stage 2! I feel like the question I ask my wonderful and very patient supervisor Felicia every other week is, “What is Stage 2? What am I really doing in Stage 2?” And she answers with kindness and understanding, and I listen and nod sagely. Yes, I say, that makes sense. Then I leave and immediately forget everything she said.

I don’t forget because I’m not listening, I forget because it still feels so unfamiliar to me that there isn’t much sticking power up there. I really do feel like I understand the Pursuer softening, the reach out of fear, the leap off the cliff. For some reason, heightening and reaching from their fear makes more sense to me than the Withdrawer Re-Engagement, possibly because I’m a Pursuer. But darn, I cannot get a handle on what the Withdrawer Re-Engagement looks like. How deep into their emotions are we taking them? How do I take them that deep? How does it feel when we’ve hit the right level of emotional resonance? Am I trying to get them to evoke anger? Am I trying to get them to evoke sadness or fear? How should the reach for what they need sound like? What is the concept behind this, what level of emotional showing-up am I looking for?

There are definitely the conceptual pieces I want more clarity on, but really it’s the experiential in-the-room counseling I need more help with. How do I DO this?

In Lorrie Brubacher’s remarkable book, Stepping into Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, she describes Stage 2 so clearly and beautifully (starting on page 135). She helps me understand more of how to conceptualize what’s happening for each partner, and what to look out for. She gives us a helpful road map for possible reactions, fears, and needs to look out for depending on how the client presents.

Even with this, I feel the need to watch Stage 2 to really get a sense of it. I need to see a therapist doing Stage 2, and how they are tracking with the clients to evoke their emotions. That’s why I’m re-taking the Stage 2 training with Jennifer Older and Kathryn Rheem (starting Oct. 3). I already took it! I already saw this! But I need so much more repetition for my brain to absorb what I’m doing with Withdrawer Re-Engagement.

Deep down, I also have the fear that maybe I’m not ready to go into that emotional space with my clients. In grad school, I was taught over and over - you can’t take a client where you won’t go yourself. I admit, I am scared to go into some of these deep pools of emotion that clients may never, ever have touched into for themselves. I get scared of how big the emotion could get, and if I can contain it with them. Will I help them fundamentally restructure their bond? Or just bring way too much scary, messy emotion alive without their partner catching them?

That’s why I seek out training, supervision, and reading over and over and over. I need the masters to help me jump off the cliff, to reach out from my own fear that exists in my therapy, and take the risk that there is growth and love on the other side of that leap. So really, Jennifer Olden, Kathryn Rheem, Lorrie Brubacher, and Felicia Friesen are all helping me track, heighten, and risk over and over until I can take the biggest leap with my clients, and have my own fundamental change event inside myself. Aren’t we lucky to have these masters who wait on the other side of the cliff, arms outstretched, encouraging us, with their loving and knowing empathy?