I'm struggling with the balance of the tentative dance of EFT, and wanting clients to see their process clearly. I love that we are not the experts, that we draw the words out of the client, and so on, but what do we do when we clearly see that something is happening that the couple can't name in the room? I don't want to name it for them, but it feels ridiculous to not name it if they can't. What do we do with the unspoken blocks, the information they give us silently, but may not know for themselves?
Sue Johnson, thank God, gives us the tools in "The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, second edition." She gives us what I think of as four levels of intensity of intervention if the client isn't coming to something naturally just using reflecting. She starts by warning us that in using the intervention of Empathic Conjecture/Interpretation, "that these interpretations not in any way be imposed upon the client by the therapist and so impede the client's discovery of his or her own awareness," (p 85). This part makes me get a little clutched up in fear and feel a little paralyzed. This is where I think anything I do is going to be too forceful and I can get stuck in some very play-it-safe reflection loops that go nowhere. But she calms me down by giving us some really excellent EFT tools we can use.
First Level Intensity - Empathic Conjecture or eye dropper it in
If you look at the example given on page 86, you can see how skillfully she drops in the conjectures. It's just a little at a time, like an eye dropper. It's really a way of using reflection but focusing the client's words on the attachment meaning of how she protects herself. I think the biggest leap is when she fills in the words for the client, "better than being humiliated and shamed, is that it?" Always with the tentativeness at the end.
Second Level Intensity - Disquisition or "let me tell you a story"
Disquisition (p 87) is a tool she suggests using sparingly and in the case someone is "particularly resistant to exploring their experience" and the conjecture is proving ineffective. She suggests hesitantly (always!) telling a story you make up about a similar client. "This might not fit for you at all, but I am thinking of another couple I saw where …" and you tell a story to highlight the attachment areas or blocks. She gives great examples on pages 88 and 89.
Third Level Intensity - Enactment with the purpose of making stance explicit
I love this one so much. I think it takes more skill than I have right now to skillfully track to get to this enactment, but it seems like a really effective way to make the implicit explicit. See page 98 for this example. She is able to track the male partner's backing away from the attachment. So a snippet of the dialogue on page 98 is:
José: Perhaps if we have a few months apart, then I will feel the loss.
Therapist: The decision is to hold back, yes (He nods), to stay separate? (He nods) So can you tell her please: I'm not going to let you in, I'll let you come so far, but no farther.
Do you see how brilliantly this is done? My assumption is that José is aware of his desire to back away, but feels ok about it. He's seeing this as a reasonable solution to his discomfort with full on intimacy and commitment, and isn't really thinking of this from his partner's view point. The therapist's conjecture/enactment mini leap is to ask him to own that he's not letting his partner in. It's a small difference but it makes all the difference, doesn't it? The shift from, "I like my independence," to "I'm not going to let you, the woman I love, in. I'm going to tell you directly I'm not letting you in." Now if José were truly disengaged this wouldn't be emotional for him. There are plenty of people I've dated who I would be fine telling directly, "yeah, I am definitely not letting you in, I don't even like you that much." The therapist is trusting José's attachment to his partner, that this is painful for him, too, to disengage like this. And you can see evidence of that as he gets more emotional in the enactment (continued on page 98).
Fourth Level Intensity - Diagnostic Picture or Narrative
My sense is that this would be the most rarely used intervention, after you've stood on your head trying all of the above through multiple sessions. She also says you can have an individual session with each, but I'd like to try and see if we can push through with both people in the room. So with painting the diagnostic picture (p 104), Sue says that this is where the therapist essentially says, "We are stuck here, aren't we?" and paints a picture of where the couple gets stuck in the process. Then the therapist encourages dialogue about the consequences of staying where they are. She writes, "The therapist's task is to present the choices that are available to them," and not judge the choices or impose values and choices on them.