You Have to Believe Everything and Nothing

“You have to believe everything and nothing.”

Someone said this to me the other day about therapists. It’s so true, isn’t it?

In our work, especially when there is a rupture of trust, there is an urgency in the room to get to the truth. Was the affair all he’s saying it was? Did she actually stop using drugs? And the person trying to find out is panicked, because they are needing some sort of stable ground to stand on.

When the topic of clients telling the truth comes up on the listserve, often the advice is to stay in the model and the truth will come out. Which I totally agree with. EFT gives us this incredible way of moving through seemingly stuck places. And, what’s the alternative? I just become a police officer in the room, saying, “Tell me the truth, Tim, I know you’re hiding something!” (please read this to yourself in a Jimmy Stewart voice).

With EFT, we are able to track, “When do you start to doubt she’s telling you the truth? What’s happening in that moment? What do you see and hear that makes your brain say – uh oh, I’m not getting the whole story?”

Then we can track the cycle with them, and also track with their partner, “What is it like for you, when you’re learning on the inside she gets so panicked that she can’t trust you, but on the outside you see her face get that angry mask on she described? What happens for you when you see the person you love look so upset with you?” And you can track how the cycle reinforces itself. The more one feels panicked, and shows anger, the more the other stumbles, sounds less reliable, fueling the panic in the other.

And most of the time this works really well. As the couple notices their cycle more and more, and hear more of their partner’s internal world, they realize their partner wants to be there for them, it’s just the cycle that gets in the way.

And yet, there are rare times, when we’ve been doing great work together, and then I’m totally surprised by something. Someone was carrying on the affair all along. Some one was drinking. Someone did something that was profoundly harmful to their partner.

I think for any therapist, these are such devastating moments. I question myself – was I missing these signs all along? Was I not doing good work with them? Am I totally inept at reading people? Am I a sucker?

I also feel like I let down the trusting partner, who was trusting me that this was a safe environment, and validated their partner’s explanations and feelings of things along the way. 

I don’t think there’s a solution for this. I will always still stay in the model and work through the cycle with the benefit of the doubt for both couples. I’m not interested in becoming a therapist who hammers the truth out of someone. So I don’t write this saying that there’s something we can do, I’m just writing this saying this is hard. And it happens, and it’s a hard part of our work. My hope is that if this has happened to you, you know you’re not alone.