Have you heard of Esther Perel? A few years ago she wrote a book called “Mating in Captivity, Reconciling the Erotic and Domestic”. She’s a well-known couples and sex therapist, and one of the aspects of her I really enjoy is she naturally brings a multi-cultural lens to her work. She grew up in Belgium, studied in Israel, and speaks eight languages. She has recently come out with a podcast called “Where Should We Begin,” where you hear her do part of a real session in each episode.
As I was listening to her, I realized how enjoyable it is to listen to a therapy session from a relaxed stated. Usually if I’m listening to an EFT session I’m in a hyper-absorbing mode, trying to catch every detail of what’s happening. When I watch Gottman sessions (through the training videos), I tend to watch more critically, because I’m both learning it and also resisting it. With Esther’s podcast, I think it might be the first time I was able to just listen from an observing place, and really let what was happening wash over me.
As I write this, I'm conscious that my readers are mostly EFT therapists, as I am. A therapist once described to me how he explains his style to other therapists, and it was so perfect I have always remembered it. He said he sees his work in three categories: “How I conceptualize the client, how I am with the client, and how I intervene with the client.” Esther doesn’t use/intervene with EFT, so that may be tough for some EFT therapists to listen to. I don’t know how she would describe her method, but as an observer I would describe it as balancing a coaching, instructional style with the Dan Wile method of speaking for one client to the other. So fair warning, as an EFT therapist there might be moments where you don’t love how she intervenes with the clients. But I hope that doesn’t prevent you from absorbing how she conceptualizes and is with the clients. Because I think she’s a genius. She is absolutely trauma informed, and I love her belief system about sex and how we are as sexual beings.
In the podcast so far, one of the most fascinating episodes is when she worked with a couple who both have sexual trauma in their pasts, and now are on seemingly different pages with how they approach sex. The male partner, Scott, immediately shuts down when his wife makes sexual requests and wants to have more play sexually, and then she feels shamed and rejected. EFT may have slowed down and spent a lot of time understanding the pursue/withdraw cycle in these moments, and what each are feeling. Esther went more strengths-based, and asked if anything was working for them. They shared that sometimes the male slips into a playful alter-ego, Jean-Claude, and he speaks French in that alter ego. This doesn't seem to be a splitting or dissociation, the client had full access to himself and yet could also embody this role-play. But the client hasn't quite integrated Jean-Claude as a part of himself. Because Esther speaks French, and the client’s wife does not, Esther asked the client to speak to her from Jean-Claude and she translated and spoke to each partner.
Jean-Claude is free from what Scott is not. Jean-Claude comes from a grounded place, a place connected to his own pleasure. Thus when he touches his wife as Jean-Claude, he is not tentative, scared, or only thinking of he’s getting it right or not. Scott’s wife said she loves being touched by Jean-Claude in that way. Scott said that his wife likes “the bad boy,” and Esther explained that women like the "bad boy" because they are responsible for themselves. She doesn’t have to worry about if he’s ok, or if she needs to feel his anxiety or watch out for him. If he’s taking care of his pleasure, it frees her up to be in her pleasure (Episode 3). These informative comments from Esther help educate me in how she conceptualizes desire.
Although Esther’s intervention style isn’t EFT, I just adore her work. It is a gift to me to read and hear her thoughts in how she conceptualizes sex and desire. And to hear a therapist do sessions like this on a podcast (with full permission from the clients) is so totally fascinating. I mean this is really bringing therapy out into the world in a totally new way. I would love for non-therapists, especially men, to hear these episodes because I think they are so normalizing and educational for where so many people struggle.
Perel, E. (2006) Mating In Captivity. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers
Perel, E. (October 8, 2017) Where Should We Begin? Episode 3 [Audio Podcast] Audible. Retrieved from http://itunes.apple.com
Wile, D. (1993) After The Fight. New York, New York: The Guilford Press