Bold Validation

In my post last week I talked about my frustration at hearing EFT masters talk about validation repeatedly as the sole antidote to escalated clients. I just want to pull my hair out when I see this advice on the listserve. I feel like I can validate until the cows come home, but it rarely de-escalates my most escalated clients. 

In George Faller’s training, when I watched him validate, I thought ohhhhhhh. Ok. I realized I have not actually been validating. 

He said that most therapists don’t validate because they don’t want to sound blaming or shaming to the other partner. He said most therapists are really doing more empathic reflection than they are validation.

This resonated with me. An example of how I validate is:

Client (yelling): He doesn’t ever, ever help with the kids. He’s just playing video games! He’s so lazy, he’s just like his father, I knew it. All his family thinks he’s lazy! He’s just a giant child.

Me (thinking I’m validating but actually just empathically reflecting with the attachment frame): It’s so frustrating to not have him with you! You so need his help, you want him to be by your side, and it’s so hard to not have him close during these times. 

 * then I quickly move away from yelling partner towards listening partner*

 (to listening partner) I don’t think it probably looks like her needing her help in those moments, help me understand, what do those moments look like to you?

 

This isn’t all terrible work. I’m trying to reframe those bullets as need and longing. But now I’m seeing my intervention here differently. Number one, I’m misattuned from the client. She’s angry! And instead I’m reflecting her longing. Number two, why am I transitioning here to the other partner? Mostly because I’m scared the yelling partner is just going to do more damage if I let them keep talking. I’m also desperately wanting to reframe the yelling as need for help, so the listening partner can make some sense of what’s happening in this chaos. 

Watching George validate, I created my own formula in my head for what I saw him doing to help me remember (he may disagree with this, this was just my own integration). I saw it as:

Bold Attunement + Slowness + Attachment frame = Validation

 

Bold Attunement:

To me, this means really getting in there and validating without as much fear that the other partner will think I’m seeing them as the bad guy, and to really validate the client’s secondary emotion and experience. In the example above this part might sound like:

“Mary! Of course! You’re so angry and frustrated! You have no idea how to get this to change, but you are drowning all by yourself in this! No wonder you’re angry at him, you have no idea why he’s not responding to your cries for help, and nothing is connecting. Am I getting that right?”

And I would say this with more affect, making my voice sound more urgent to match hers. 

 

Slowness:

Instead of anxiously transitioning to the other partner, I pause here. Before, I would move away from the escalated partner so quickly. Even if I had reflected her experience relatively well, I was immediately moving away from her. Now I try to stay and pause, and see if I really am de-escalating her with my validation. If I’ve validated really well, I should see a pretty immediate calming down. Then my focus would be on creating a clear enactment so she can actually share her experience with her partner, which she is desperate to do. 

 

Attachment frame:

Even in bold validation, I am still keeping the attachment alive. I just moved it from the attachment of longing for a partner, to the more attuned message of being so desperate and panicked to not be able to get the message of need across to her partner. 

She knows her moves push him away. She knows no matter what she does, she pushes him further away. Her panic and anger is about why on earth he isn’t hearing her, and doesn’t seem to care about her need. Before this training, I would have wanted her to enact something of her longing and need for him and link that to the action tendency. Something like, “I need your help so much, when I feel like you’re not with me, I fire up and get loud,” but that would have been misattuned to how she feels in the moment.  

When you think about it, maybe one level of panic is because she doesn’t feel his help, or him with her. But I think her main panic in this moment is not being able to understand why he isn’t responding to her direct request for help. 

When I’m ready to distill and have her enact to her partner, I think it would be closer to her alive, present-moment experience to have her enact, “I am so angry, so totally confused why I can’t get you to understand my need. I am drowning, and when I see you look oblivious to my needs, I resort to just screaming at you because I have no idea what else to do to get my need across to you.”

Her sharing that is giving her a clearer channel for her anger in the moment. In that enactment, we’re shifting one step to the right from the bullets and criticism, to the clearer message of anger, confusion, and helplessness. 

Then I can tango and explore with the listening partner, (and likely hear that for him, it doesn’t look like her need for help in that moment, it looks like her anger at another of his failures). But with the bold validation above, now I’m not leaving the primary client I was tracking with in her messy anguish. Instead, I’m helping her organize her anger and desperation before figuring out what her partner sees instead of her need.

November, 2018 Highly Escalated Couples Training by George Faller, Nashville, TN

I went to George Faller's Training on Highly Escalated Couples

Hooollllllyyyyy crap.

The George Faller training.

Where do I even begin.

Let me start with the most important message: whatever you need to do, whatever plans or sacrifices you need to make, if you want to start getting clear on what you’re doing as an EFT therapist you must go to a George Faller training (links below).

I hear a lot of therapists say they want to re-do Core Skills, understandably, because going over and over this material is so necessary for absorbing and integrating EFT. Please don’t spend all the time and money to do that. Please go to a George Faller training instead (and any Jennifer Olden and Lillian Buchanan EFT Lab online training which are so good I will promote until the day I die).

Frankly, I came into this training with some skepticism. I was concerned I was going to hear another general version of the same things we hear all the time: validate, put it back in the cycle, REALLY validate, understand trauma, but wait, also, have you validated?

(ok, validation was a part of the training but I realized that I did not actually know what that word meant. Now I know that I actually have not been validating, just sympathetically reflecting. More on this in the next post.)

Also George has a magnetic energy, so I was concerned the training was going to be about watching a super-star who can access places with clients because of his unique being, versus learning transferable skills. 

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A lot of EFT trainers are extremely talented, but struggle to give concrete tools and specific moves for how to help you do what they do, and they do more of a modeling approach. George did a fantastic job of giving us an action plan. I don’t think it’s overstating it when I say Everyone at that training was gasping with relief at being given more tools and more awareness of how to get back on track in session.

There were some neon letter takeways from this training I’ll spend future posts integrating, but today I want to talk about his emphasis on FOCUS. 

He said that most therapists do not have focus in the room. We may have some idea of a plan going in, but as each partner escalates and gets activated, the therapist lets themselves be pulled towards one and then the other until the focus goes totally to mush.

This is totally true for my work. I’ve been feeling like I am just lost in these reactive sessions, and helpless to get us out of the cycle forcefield in the room. As Mr. Kenny Sanderfer, the wisest and kindest and gentlest Southern grandfather you wish you had said, “we are just stuck in the cul-dee-sac going ‘round and ‘round.”

I learned that when I get pulled by the other partner’s interruption, or feel stuck and then I randomly transition and start asking questions to the other partner, I’m not only losing focus, I’m also abandoning the person I was working with. I never realized I was abandoning them, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. George emphasized that whenever we transition to the other, to make sure the person we’ve been talking to is validated and we explain why we’re transitioning, and sometimes even get permission to transition.

He helped us understand that to maintain focus, you need to be able to anticipate what could break that focus, then have a plan for what to do. George broke down the listening-partner interruptions into three categories: (examples are mine)

Green Light – empathetic

Example: “I didn’t know he felt so sad, wow, I don’t want you to feel like a failure”

Yellow Light – empathy combined with mistrust

 Example: “I’m surprised to see you feel sad about letting me down, but then why do you always get on your phone every time I need to talk to you about something serious?”

Red Light – totally mistrusting and hostile

Example: “There’s NO WAY that’s true, you’re just an asshole who would rather be on his phone than have ANY HUMAN CONNECTION EVER!!” 

He emphasized the need for a plan when this happens, and to see these interruptions as likely to happen so you aren’t totally thrown off guard. Even hearing this helped me get my head clearer. Even to see these as interruptions to my focus was a new thought. Even thinking the interruptions are all to do with mistrust was revolutionary. 

As he was talking, I was thinking of a session I had a few weeks ago and cringing in my seat. I have an escalated couple where the Pursuer demands all my focus for most of the session. The few times I’m able to try and explore what’s happening for the Withdrawer always go completely off the rails. In the room, just before I’m about to drop the Withdrawer down more into their internal experience and view of self, the Pursuer jumps in and halts the entire process with their distress. Inside I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me? I give you 60 minutes per session to hear and understand your pain, and the few moments I have to work with your partner, and we’re getting to exactly what you need to feel better, and you’re cutting off the process??”

Just like for our clients, my empathy for the Pursuer was stunted because I didn’t understand what they were doing. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, other than thinking they were dysregulated by hearing really anything from their partner. I feel ashamed writing this, thinking of how I have not been able to make sense of her behavior for myself or for this couple, and instead sending them a veiled message that indeed something is wrong with her. God, this work makes us see our worst parts.

George normalized this Pursuer interruption. He explained that not only is it understandable that they interrupt here, it’s the most common place you’ll get an interruption. He stated, beautifully, “This is the moment where they are seeing the ‘bad guy’ turn into ‘the stranger.’”

He then outlined in detail how you handle each level of interruption in order to validate both and also maintain focus in the session, which I don’t want to go into without more permission from him because he has worked hard to create this material and deserves to be compensated for it.

I hope, though, what I’m sharing so far is valuable. To re-cap:

1)  It is the therapist’s responsibility to have a focus to the session of your intention. And certainly have some flexibility that the plan could change, but know WHY you’re changing that plan. Have intention around changing that plan. Your plan was to try to do a Step 2 with the Pursuer? Why did that change? Did something else seem more important? What was that? Why was it more important? What’s your plan to validate and hold both in that process?

2)  There are fairly predictable ways your focus will be thrown off, whether it’s from the partner, the primary client, or the therapist, and we can anticipate them, empathize with them, and have a plan for them.

3)  Mistrust is what interrupts or blocks your process, and that’s so helpful, because we can validate and make that mistrust explicit.

4)  There are concrete moves to processing those interruptions and returning to focus

5)  Go.To.A.George.Faller.Training.

 

I am so grateful for this training, and for Kenny for hosting George so we could have this opportunity, and yet honestly I’m also pretty frustrated. This training had maybe 55 people in it, which was a wonderful size for we participants. But this training should have thousands of people in it. So many people had no clue this training was happening. This training should be done in a mega-arena with every couples therapist in the area lined up to get in. Part of my mission is to spread the word about these trainings because we desperately need them. If you find this post helpful, please forward to therapists you know, because sharing is an act of service. 

I found this training through The National Marriage Seminars.  

George’s NYC EFT website is here

George’s own website is here

When vacation makes you More anxious to see couples

I don’t know about you, but seeing clients again after Thanksgiving has ratcheted up my anxiety to about an 8. I have this fantasy, at the beginning of a break, that after time off of work I’ll come into session so much more rested, and more able to slow down and really tune in to what is happening with each person. What ends up happening is that come Tuesday morning, I can swan dive into all my doubt and dread about if I will be helpful for a couple, and get slowly crushed by the overwhelming idea of changing a marriage instead of focusing on the present moment process of EFT.

Something that is helping me ground today is the idea to watch the pace of the session. When I get anxious, my system goes FAST. When I want to fix and change things, my system goes even faster. Because I’m really verbal in anxiety, I can start to spout a fountain of words in these moments. I will be running the couple through their cycle so quickly that I’m totally losing attunement with them.

Perhaps your system does the opposite. Maybe when anxiety hits you, you freeze up, and worry you won’t be able to find any words at all. You scream at yourself in your brain to say something, anything! while the couple is devolving into their cycle in the room. 

My offering to you and me today is: can we just be curious about what we do and feel in these deeply uncomfortable spaces? What do we believe in these moments? About ourselves and our couples? 

My mantra for today is: I am going to go slow and be curious, and take time to really check in with how each client is doing, even when I get afraid we won’t even get to an enactment: “I’m concerned I’m losing attunement with you, can I slow down here and understand what’s happening with each of you?”

For someone who’s anxiety causes more of a freeze, a mantra could be: I am going to use my freeze to observe what’s happening for my couple, and when my brain regulates a little, I can share that reflection: “Wow, that cycle flare up even put me in a little freeze moment. And as I was observing just now, I noticed something I want to check out with you.”

If you are in the same anxiety boat with me today, I am sending you compassion, and you are not alone. And if you are not in this boat, and you are able to feel grounded and confident going into session, I also send you positive energy, and the aspiration that one day I also will feel that more frequently. 

I’m headed out to Nashville this week for the George Faller training on Highly Escalated Couples. Are any of you also going? Let me know so I can say hi! I’m very excited to share with you what I learn from the training! 

Thanks to the Supervisors

I wanted to take a moment to give thanks for the supervisors. I don’t know that supervisors are appreciated enough, and I don’t know what we would do without them. We start out by seeing these incredible trainers at the Externship and Core Skills, and maybe once or twice a year (if we’re lucky) get to see trainers at various trainings or events. I think of this like going to see Beyoncé in concert. It’s mind-blowing, the talent and conceptualization is off the charts, and they show you skill beyond what you even imagined possible.   

But then I wake up the next morning and try to recreate it, and realize that I’m … not like Beyoncé. I’m doing a two-step in sweatpants in front of my French bulldogs and somehow don’t look like a being made of glittery magic and power.  

As a gift to you and the world, I did not pursue a singing or dancing career, but I couldn’t give up on EFT even though excellence felt (and still feels) so far out of reach. But the divide is huge  - how do we go from seeing what trainers can do to realizing where we are? Answer – the supervisors!!

I try to see my supervisor, the amazing Felicia Friesen, every week or every other week. During times it’s been 3-4 weeks since I’ve seen her I am literally crawling into her office, panting with desperation. Is this expensive to do? Yes. Have I been paying for one kind of supervision or another for 5 years including licensure? Yes. Does my husband hope perhaps one day we won’t be paying this much for me to have a career? Possibly. But I see it as an essential investment. 

Felicia sees me in the weeds, she seems me struggle again and again with the same couples. She never gets annoyed with me or tells me I should know by now what to do with someone, even after helping me unpack their cycle for the 4th time. She gives me so much love and compassion, and makes me feel like I have a place here even when I feel so lost and frustrated with myself.

She’s been there on the days I cry in her office because of a mistake I made, saying something that turned out to be hurtful to a client. She tells me about her own repairs, and helps me see that this is a long journey of being human. She never heightens my shame, but also helps me see what we can do from that mistake.

On days I’m resistant, because I’m convinced nothing will work with a client, she’s patient with me, and lets me push back until we find a place that feels like I can believe something might work. She stays in the model, never pops out and says, “well, this person sounds impossible, might as well switch to psychoeducation.” 

I just don’t know how anyone does this work without supervision. Even the act of talking out loud about a couple helps me process differently. But it’s got to be tough, the good supervisors must question and doubt if they are helping us at times, just like we question and doubt if we are helping our clients. So I want to say, for me, YOU DO.  Thank you to all of you who are the lamplighters along the way. But especially to Felicia. Even though I’m certified now, thanks to your help, I’ll never stop seeing you. Sorry!!!

*Next post finishes the story of my certification!

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.