The Relationship Is the Client - rethinking individual sessions

EFT is the only couples model I’ve ever known or used. I have some colleagues who come from Gottman or Bowen and talk about the adjustment it takes to get into this new model and mindset, and express some desire that they too could have come to EFT with a mind uncluttered with other models. I joke with them that it doesn’t make me a better EFT therapist (see below):

 EFt Brain

EFt Brain

Something I do feel gets in my way at times with EFT is having been only an individual therapist prior to this couples work. I love individual therapy.  I love that my clients feel accepted and seen, I love validating them, I love all the time and space we have to unpack something without another person needing attention in the room. So when it comes to the two individual sessions we have in EFT, I feel really comfortable. But I’ve been learning the hard way that the individual sessions in EFT need to be quite different than my individual sessions with solo clients.

My supervisor has this lovely gentle approach, very EFT, and she dropped in a helpful correction last week.  I was sharing this mistake I made with her, and she said, “so maybe it’s hard to remember sometimes that the relationship is the client?” (see how EFT this is?)

I thought about that comment for days, and I’m still thinking about it. It is hard for me to think of the relationship as the client during the individual sessions. So hard for me that in fact I haven’t been doing it at all. Here’s how this has been going for me in my individual sessions:

Current Way:

Partner A: I’m worried about my husband. He has terrible boundaries with his boss. He allows her to yell at him, and be abusive to him. I really think he needs some help because he answers calls from her all the time even though she’s treating him so poorly.

Me, doing it wrong: Wow, I really hear how concerned you are about him. It does sound like he’s tolerating a lot of bad behavior from his boss. That must be so hard to watch. It sounds like he’s struggling with boundaries with her. (see that mistake where I weigh in? What hooked me here was her concern. Her concern felt genuine and helpless and I know that always makes me want to validate content.)

Then I see Partner B a few days later

Me: So tell me about your relationship with your boss, it sounds like something that comes up as an issue between you guys.

Partner B: Oh, I have a great relationship with her. We’re good friends and work well together on this big project coming up. But my wife can’t stand that we’re friends. She goes into jealous rages anytime I need to answer a call from her.

Me: *oh, crap*

 

Now I’ve over-validated and weighed in with Partner A, and realized later that it might not be the total reality of the situation. I’ve made the situation about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior, versus about what happens between the couple. What I’m trying to think of now in my individual sessions is how to validate emotions and hear my clients without validating content.

Future Way:

Partner A: I’m worried about my husband. He has terrible boundaries with his boss. He allows her to yell at him, and be abusive to him. I really think he needs some help because he answers calls from her all the time even though she’s treating him so poorly.

Me, hopefully better: Wow, I really hear how concerned you are about him. When you hear them on the phone and get concerned, how do you communicate your concern to him? How does that conversation typically go with you guys?

My goal going forward is to really focus on the relationship being my client. That means I can’t validate my individual clients the same way I could in individual therapy. I have to stay one step back, and just validate the feelings and explore the cycle that ensues. It feels more removed to me, but I also think it will just take time to get used to.