No Easy Answers - Part 1

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, because I’ve been in such a crabby mood about couples therapy that I keep waiting for it to pass before I write something really good for you all. Well, it’s not passing, so here we go. 

I’m struggling with the clients I’m not helping. I’m struggling with feeling like I’m not good enough at EFT to make the miraculous difference the trainers are able to make. I’m struggling with the mindset it seems like EFT requires. 

What I really want is there to be a training put on called No Easy Answers. It could conversely be called Very Complicated Clients. I want a trainer to walk through cases where there is an absolute Gordian knot of issues and blocks. And as soon as you work through one block, you hit another. And I want them to end with saying – who knows? The human psyche is complex and we won’t help everyone. 

For about 50% of my clients, the “back to basics” EFT advice works for me. To remember to validate. To remember to really anchor the action tendency. To remember to put it back in the cycle. To remember that enactments are the really the thing that gets the blood moving and evokes the real stuff we need to create change.

Then for medium-challenging clients, the advanced move EFT advice works for me. Matching affect more intensely. Focusing with dogged persistence on what step I’m doing in session. Being relentless about enactments even when clients don’t like it. Preparing for what blocks could happen and having a plan for how to move with those reactions.

But for a portion of my caseload, all that is not enough. Even if I do all of the above, there are clients with rigid ways of processing. Even if I attachment-reflect their words with the skill of a cirque du soleil contortionist, it does not open up a higher or broader level of awareness or self-reflection. There are clients with such concrete thinking that they cannot see the cycle. There are clients in so much pain that they can’t tolerate that they also play a role in this cycle, and change won’t happen just by their partner changing. There are highly ambivalent clients, who would almost assuredly be gone if not for kids, but genuinely want the conflict to lessen and can’t see a link between them leaning out and the conflict.

And yet, I never hear trainers talk about these cases, apart from if someone just isn’t committed. So the message that comes across to me is: EFT solves everything, the EFT therapist is who creates the change, and if that’s not happening, well, we’re too nice to tell you, but it’s probably because you’re a garbage therapist.  

I often think back to how I felt as a solely individual therapist. As an individual therapist, I never felt like I had all the answers. I never felt like I was the sole vessel of healing for someone. I was there to witness, to reflect, to look at the path of healing with someone, and to have total compassion for why taking those healing steps is often frightening or not possible because those steps also mean a loss you didn’t even realize. I had more acceptance for my clients and myself. I accepted that I wasn’t the Messiah of Healing.

What I’ve realized is that it’s not even a choice anymore – I have to change my mindset from the EFT therapist knows all and heals all. It’s just too much. I’m not sure how this will look. This isn’t about leaving EFT, but about getting a healthier mindset as a couples therapist – even one using the world’s best model.  

My renewed mindset is going to be: Maybe Sue Johnson, or Lorrie Brubacher, or George Faller could save this couple. But, as a friend told me once, if a couple needs the best marriage therapist in the world to save a marriage, this is a very challenging case. People are where they are for good reasons. There are a million reasons someone is struggling to accept their partner’s vulnerability, to look at themselves more clearly, or to be willing or even able to plumb their emotional depths to get us to Stage 2. Yes, people are always in process. Yes, change is always possible. But that might not look like someone being able to get to Stage 4 in the Client Experiencing Scale, which Kathryn Rheem has found is necessary for a couple to be able to do Stage 2.  

I feel like in our EFT circle, it is taboo to say we can’t help everyone. As if it throws dirt on this amazing model. But the alternative seems to be this illusion that we can help all couples. And honestly, truly, tell me: who out there is having success with 100% of their couples? 

So I’m going to launch a series of blog posts under the theme of No Easy Answers, where I present hypothetical case amalgams and we walk through them – and in them find micro moves and support, but … no easy answers. 




Being Bolder and Trusting My Instincts

Don’t you just hate it when you start feeling a growth edge for yourself, and then the universe shows up full force and gives you these pushes towards this place?

I’m becoming more and more aware of the need to be bolder in the room. I’ve been absorbing this in different ways from what I learn from Lorrie Brubacher, George Faller, Kelly Bourque’s latest newsletter, and others. This touches on so many different aspects, so I’ll highlight the main areas where I’m seeing this as a growth edge:

1.   Bolder in how I speak

I counted the number if times I said, “if I’m getting this right,” or “if I’m hearing you right, and always correct me if not,” in a session I taped recently, and it was close to 20 times. No joke. Ugh! I sound so removed and cognitive, which is not at all how I want to sound. 

I then started watching some of Lorrie Brubacher’s tapes (she just released three excellent training tapes on her website). I’ve heard Lorrie counsel many times, but each time I’m listening for something different. I watch her tapes repeatedly, and this morning I decided to listen for just how she speaks. She is respectful and gentle, but doesn’t use a ton of sentence preambles the way I do. She reflects in a tone that invites disagreement if she’s wrong, but she’s much clearer and more confident in her tone and simplicity in her reflections than I am.  

Action Step: I’ve been consciously trying to cut out how many times I give a preamble, and just go for the reflection, trusting that my emotional energy is respectful and I am always quick to adapt if the reflection doesn’t land.

2.   Bolder in how I interrupt

I hate interrupting, because I want my clients to feel heard. If I don’t interrupt, they can gain momentum into their vent about their partner and dysregulate themselves and shut down/enrage their partner. Lorrie interrupts frequently and with skill. She interrupts most often with a reflection, diverting them from going down content tubes, and also diverting them from going into a view-of-other speech. Watching her videos, I can see how she can do in one session what might take me 3-5 sessions, because she goes straight for the heart of what’s happening and doesn’t look squeamish about interrupting.

Action Step: Continue to gain boldness in interrupting. See if I can test some limits for myself. I’m wondering if I can give myself permission to interrupt much more, and then I can always back off or apologize if it feels like I’m mis-attuning with someone or irritating them. It helps me to watch 15 minutes or so of Lorrie’s videos before my sessions to get me in that flow.


3.   Bolder in how I trust my instincts

It’s rare to have a mixed agenda couple, but when you have one, you know it. You can feel it in your stomach in the room. The problem is, the leaning out partner is rarely ready to be clear on this, because they aren’t ready to lose the relationship (at least I think this is why they aren’t ready to be clear on this). What I often hear in these dynamics is the leaning out partner wants “time.” They are leaning back, seeing if their partner changes or becomes more pleasant, and waiting to see if time makes their feelings come alive again. Here, I typically hop on board the optimism train and plow into cycle work, hoping we find some attachment threads and clarity into the cycle that shifts how the leaning out partner feels. I become the over-working cheerleading convincer, and start doing way more work than they are.

Action Step: My wonderful supervisor, Felicia, gave me some awesome help here. She helped me find the language to really assess what the couple’s goals are for if therapy works. My translation of her guidance to me is asking them: what kind of relationship do you long for with each other? What exactly would that look like? What kind of closeness would you have? Does that match?

 If they say they want time, I can ask more specifically: what is it that you hope time alone would change? Are you saying you’re hoping your partner does work on themselves while you hang back and observe if it’s safe enough for you to engage? That’s a reflection with more challenge to it, but I’ve been learning the hard way that working hard with a mixed-agenda couple without clarity on goals does not move them forward. 


4.   Bolder in how I trust the model

I had a great therapist reflect back to me recently that I seemed to be sucked into the cycle with my client. I tend to do this when there is a ton of emotional reactivity, and so much of the session is spent on regulating. I start to avoid any triggers, and not activate their reactivity, and I become totally lost in what I’m doing. 

This helped me pull out and do a solid Step 3 with a client, while riding some intense roller coasters of reactivity. 

Action Step: Try to notice when I’m in the cycle with the client. Notice when I don’t want to do a Step 3 because I’m afraid of their reactivity. More boldly step into the model and ride the reactivity waves as they come.

This is my boldness resolution list - what ways would you like to try being bolder?

Seasonal Depression February!

Are you guys also in Seasonal Depression February? Spring can’t come soon enough! Also I’m a baby, because I’m not dealing with nearly as bad of a winter that my Midwest and northern friends are struggling through.  

I’ve noticed I’ve become ungrounded again in my work (amazing how often this happens). I’m seeing the following in session …

- clients who have enacted with each other for 8 months and are still in Stage 1, and just don’t want to enact anymore and find it pointless. I go into carrying the enactment myself, making everything less impactful, and it leaves me over-working.

- clients who truly struggle to understand what we’re doing and feel so desperate, and continue to ask for something to do or something to take away. I go into explaining, which they don’t get, doesn’t give them anything, and leaves me over-working.  

- clients where there is not enough safety yet to do an enactment without them going straight into blame/attack/defend, no matter how well we distill it beforehand, so I carry over the enactment myself and it leaves me over-working. 

I’m seeing a theme here!!!!! This over-working leads too quickly to burnout. It takes a huge amount of energy, and can also feel a little ridiculous, like I’m tap-dancing my heart out in front of clients while they are exhausted and confused. 

Man, the masters seem to do this so well. They stay in it, they stay close, they seem to ignore the explicit request the clients make of them and go for the implicit need. They trust staying so close to the model. 

There are certainly clinical moves I can do to help circumvent this (I have no idea what they are right now, that’s why I go see Felicia! Thank you, God, for Felicia). 

Instead, I want to give you (and me) permission for what feels grounding:

  • It’s ok to take some time off of consuming everything couples therapy. It’s ok to take a break from podcasts, my blog, trainings, and reading. 

  • It’s ok to have a good night and enjoy yourself even if you had a shitty session that day.

  • It’s ok to take a long walk with no purpose even when the bathroom floor really needs a vacuum and you have 20 notes to write.

  • It’s ok to laugh and feel sexy with your partner even when you hear about sexual trauma and affairs all day long.

 *I’m not saying this is easy, but first I need to just be ok with letting myself let go of all the trauma/affair stories. Then I need time apart from chore/doing mode and a way to connect to my own desire. How the hell is everyone having sex with their partners after all the pain we hear all week? How are you guys with kids having sex at all?? I have actual images of what my clients describe flashing through my head that I have to somehow get out in order to be present with my partner. If you have a gas-pedal sexual start-up (Nagoski) more power to you, but for those of us that don’t, there needs to be some help here.

I love you, Emily Nagoski

I love you, Emily Nagoski

  • It’s ok to be happy even if your last clients of the evening are unhappy and you are heartbroken for them.

You will serve no one well to get sucked under the bog of sadness, confusion, and pain. You can feel deeply for your clients, but you are not doing them a favor to get depressed with them. Your joy, your light, your centeredness is essential in this healing. 

Changing Rigid Beliefs

I think one of the hardest things we work with in the room are people’s firmly held beliefs about their partner, also known as View of Other. This can be particularly difficult with couples who have been together a long time, and the cycle has told them thousands of times “why” their partner acts the way they do. 

It’s remarkable to watch how easily the process can flow with a couple who has relatively flexible beliefs and a higher level of trust. The Withdrawer turns to the Pursuer and says, “It’s really hard for me when you come at me abruptly. I feel like you don’t respect what I’m doing in that moment, and so I get defensive.” And the Pursuer goes, “Really? I never knew that. I didn’t realize I sounded abrupt, I just feel overwhelmed in those moments. I never understood why I saw you get defensive, but now I get it more.” 

Smooth like butter, baby. Everyone feels successful! The couple, the therapist, the model. 

But when I see couples who have had more trauma and more years in the negative cycle, the cycle has caused really strong beliefs to form, so we’re going to hit a lot of different blocks:

 1)  View of other – I believe he/she does this because they are selfish/uncaring/etc.

2)  View of self – I believe he/she does this because I am not valued or loved, or maybe I am not deserving of their love

3)  Emotional burnout – I believe this can’t change, and I’m really tired of trying

I think this is where the therapist needs to get really patient. I can get energized when someone shares clearly and with more vulnerability, but I have to remember it’s sometimes been 10 to 40 years that the partner has seen something opposite to what they’re sharing now. I have to remember it will take many, many times of repetition and emotional deepening that helps introduce this new belief. 

But I have my own blocks in the process, too. 

 1)  Seeing the defeat on the sharing partner’s face, when they’re finally sharing more clearly and vulnerably but their partner doesn’t take it in. This triggers my fear of them giving up.

2)  Seeing the listening partner repeatedly reject the very message they long to hear, because of their understandable protective mechanism.  This triggers my fear that their dynamic won’t change.

3)  Fearing they will see me or the model as ineffective, because these blocks prevent change. Or fearing I actually am ineffective, and someone else could do this so much better.

I was listening to an interview with Oprah the other day, and she said something that resonated with me about this topic. She was talking about how in her career, she’s seen many times where her audience hasn’t been ready to change their beliefs about something. She gave a particular example about a wellness coach she had on in the 1990s. The coach was talking about self-care, and said how important it was to put your self-care first, and the audience actually started boo-ing her. It was such a radical thought at the time, and people were reacting to the fear she was saying to not care about your kids or partner. 

Oprah said, “It’s really hard for someone to change their belief, because it means they are changing how they understand themselves.”

That idea helped me think about just how big of a thing it is for someone to shift their beliefs about what’s been happening in their relationship. As the therapist, we have to balance these two powerful opposing forces. People come in saying, “We need this fixed immediately!!!!!” and yet their systems are sometimes also telling us, “it’s going to take me a long time to shift my beliefs on this one.”

Oprah’s phrase helped me understand better what a big, imbedded belief that the clients have to shift to see the dynamic as cyclical instead of one being to blame. For maybe 40 years someone has thought of their partner as selfish, rigid, and unfeeling. Part of them doesn’t want that to be true, but to change that belief, they have to challenge how they’ve understood this dymanic, and themselves. They also have to sit with the idea they’ve misunderstood this dynamic for this long. As the therapist, I can’t just think of their partner looking better as a good thing, because it’s also scary to think they can’t trust their own interpretation of what’s been happening. 

Look, there might be many therapists out there shifting these dynamics in 12-20 sessions, but I am not. And the more pressure I put on myself to shift these dynamics quickly, the worse I am. I think we are asking massive, massive changes from our clients who have held more rigid beliefs. And I think that takes a slow, gentle approach with ourselves, and our clients. 

2018, March 8, Goop Podcast, Episode 1 with Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah Winfrey: Power, Perception and Soul Purpose

EFT Superpower - a guest post by Kelly Bourque

I received the Nashville EFT newsletter and was so moved by Kelly’s writing I asked her if I could share it with a wider audience. I’m so grateful she said yes! The Nashville EFT Center is also doing some exciting stuff I have listed at the end of the post.

EFT Superpower, by Kelly Bourque

I used to hide the fact that I'm hearing impaired. I wouldn't say I was ashamed of it. I just didn't want it to be a focus. I've always wanted to be "normal." Well. Guess what? I'm not normal - and it's a good thing! (That only came after my own therapy).

My inability to hear (I have hearing aids in both ears and without them I'm considered "severely hearing impaired") has significantly shaped me. I've adapted really well, but we can't have a conversation if my aids aren't in.

So, what does that mean for me in session? 

It means sometimes I have to change my hearing aid battery right in front of my clients because I can't keep going if I can't hear them. Sometimes my clients turn their head too far when doing an enactment and I have to ask them what they shared because I couldn't read their lips (I'm an amazing lip reader). I am starting to master simultaneously writing notes without looking at my notepad so I can keep my eyes on my clients.

The biggest advantage I have is my ability to read non-verbal cues. I've been hearing impaired since birth (and didn't get hearing aids until I was 5), so it was SURVIVAL for me to read non-verbals. Everyone reads non-verbal cues, but I don't know how not to. I can read the micro of micros of facial movement. A tiny little adjustment and I know to move in. I can catch emotion as it's forming.

So, my disability isn't such a disability after all.

I have a friend that has a significant trauma history. I call her when I need to have a felt sense of what a trauma response might be like. She helps me. She gets disorganized attachment. "It's both," she says. "It's needing to pursue AND withdraw and not knowing which strategy your body is going to choose and when."

Maybe being a pursuer is your superpower. You can feel the angst of a pursuer's need to be heard and the desperate cry for connection.

Maybe you're a withdrawer. You totally get what it's like to not know your “inner world” (what the heck is an “inner world”) and then to be expected to not only know it, but share it...quickly!

Are you divorced? You have the superpower of non-judgment. You get what it's like to try everything and have to put your relationship to its final rest. To grieve the loss of what you never had.

This is my challenge for you to USE your Superpower. If you haven't explored the fear that lies within that superpower - do that first.

Once we enter those places ourselves, out come empathy, grace and Therapist Superpower! I had to face my drive to overcompensate in order to be "normal." Once I faced that, I could let myself be impaired and my heart for myself is bigger because of it.

What's your Superpower? Might this be something you talk about in supervision or with your EFT bestie?

The Nashville Center for EFT is doing some very cool stuff, and it’s a fun place to visit, as well as do a training! They also host a HMT exclusively for therapists and their partners - ummm YEAH! Below is shared from Kelly:

Don't miss the EFFT (emotionally focused family therapy) training!! Gail Palmer and Jim Furrow are coming to Nashville - two amazing EFT trainers! 

EFFT 2-day training:  Healing Relationships and Promoting Resilience presented by Gail Palmer, RMFT, MSW and Jim Furrow, PhD, in Nashville, TN.  April 12 - 13, 2019.  Cost is $400 ($300 for Students/Military).  Click here for more information and to register. 

Lindsey Castleman, Mariam Coaster and Aron Strong (all EFT therapists) have launched a website and podcast looking at all things relational. Visit their website to listen to podcasts and read about upcoming events. Their next Created for Connection workshop is in February (but it's SOLD OUT!). If you're interested in helping facilitate - contact Lindsey through their website. If you want to send couples - keep in mind they have one coming up in June.

I've loved working with couples in the intensive format. For more information about that, visit:

Tressa Gibbs and I are cooking up another Hold Me Tight for therapists and their spouses! This year, we're going to expand it to those working in ministry. We're working out the details, but thinking early May. Hang tight for final details. If you want to be first in line to sign up or help facilitate, email me and I'll hold a spot for you!