I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of alliance with our clients this past week. I read something on Rebecca’s Jorgensen’s EFT facebook group where she commented on the importance of alliance and how if it’s not there, the good EFT work really can’t be done until the alliance is established or repaired. She said this isn’t covered often in our training, despite its importance. Reading that gave me a big sigh of relief, and she really validated how I’ve been feeling with a few struggles I’ve been having.
I’ve found that in my exuberance to begin the EFT work, and give my clients a taste of the emotional inner workings of their partner that they haven’t been seeing, I can sometimes brush quickly past the alliance and goal alignment stage. It’s a tough one to always feel out how to handle correctly, since sometimes starting to see their cycle and learning I am empathetic to them does bring relief and de-escalation. But there are some clients where I find that after multiple sessions we’re still stuck spinning our wheels. I can find myself hitting block after block despite one partner really opening up - and it’s either because we never quite got on the same goal and one partner’s ambivalence isn’t changing, or because my alliance never grew with one of the partners.
For getting on the same page with goals, Rebecca gave a really helpful phrase in one of her facebook responses, where she said in her individuals sessions she will ask a client, “If this (name the irritation) wasn’t there, is this still the person you would want to be with?” I found that a really helpful way to assess ambivalence that I hadn’t thought of before.
As for alliance, it’s the step that I feel has the most of my ego tied to it. A big part of why I’m a therapist is that I enjoy connecting with so many different people. I think in general therapists are really good at connecting. We know how to be curious, ask questions, understand human behavior (even if it looks a little quirky at times), not make snap judgments, and be compassionate. The best therapists, in my opinion, also have the gift of being open to talking about their relationship with a client and are receptive to feedback. If I hurt someone or annoy them, I really want to know that and process that. With those two gifts, who wouldn’t be able to connect with us??
If both partners aren’t feeling me, that’s pretty easy, I assume they just won’t come back. I think it gets challenging when you can sense one partner might not be trusting and connecting with you.
So much of the EFT process requires trust from our clients. Even if we do our best at explaining EFT, the couple is still entering into a vague world. Why are we going over these small fights in so much detail? Why won’t you just give us tools to communicate better? Why won’t you tell her she’s wrong? We also need to interrupt clients, and sometimes spend more time on their partner for a session. Trust is so important in helping them stay regulated that we will get to them and their feelings, we don’t think they’re jerks, and we do have a point to what we’re doing.
If I feel like my alliance is not strong with one partner, I try to first approach that in the couples session and check in with both partners about how the therapy is going. I open it up and ask, “Is there anything I do that feels confusing or not helpful?” And try to make it clear I’m really open to hearing their difficulty. If that doesn’t resolve things, then I will ask them to each have an individual session with me. I’m strangely resistant to asking for individual sessions after the first one, I’m not sure if that will change but right now I feel like it’s admitting failure in a way. But there are times when I feel it’s truly needed and then I will ask for that. In the individual session, I try to open it up again and discuss anything that they are struggling about with me. I also have a little more space to unpack and explain what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. This is where I also have a fantasy that they will leave, go see 10 other therapists who tell them exactly what I have only not as gently, and come back and say, "Wesley, you were right all along and so much more compassionate while doing it!" <—— hello, ego :)
To me, EFT is a model of hope. We believe so strongly that there is caring for each other underneath what the cycle tells them. And we work harder as EFT therapists than in any other model I know of to dig deep into our empathy, to speak gently, to really try and understand where people are coming from. So it’s difficult to feel like clients may not like us, or have lost hope in their relationship. My growth for myself is to remember to go really slow and really try to hear my clients – where are they really, and how are they feeling with me really? And build a very strong foundation to the work we will do.