The Mystery Hurricane of Stage 2

I write to you this morning sitting at my kitchen island, watching the wind sway the trees in my yard. Since I’m in Charlotte, NC, we’ve been on hurricane watch with Florence since Wednesday. And basically no one knows what to prepare for, how intense it will get, or how long it will last.

This makes me think a lot about Stage 2! I feel like the question I ask my wonderful and very patient supervisor Felicia every other week is, “What is Stage 2? What am I really doing in Stage 2?” And she answers with kindness and understanding, and I listen and nod sagely. Yes, I say, that makes sense. Then I leave and immediately forget everything she said.

I don’t forget because I’m not listening, I forget because it still feels so unfamiliar to me that there isn’t much sticking power up there. I really do feel like I understand the Pursuer softening, the reach out of fear, the leap off the cliff. For some reason, heightening and reaching from their fear makes more sense to me than the Withdrawer Re-Engagement, possibly because I’m a Pursuer. But darn, I cannot get a handle on what the Withdrawer Re-Engagement looks like. How deep into their emotions are we taking them? How do I take them that deep? How does it feel when we’ve hit the right level of emotional resonance? Am I trying to get them to evoke anger? Am I trying to get them to evoke sadness or fear? How should the reach for what they need sound like? What is the concept behind this, what level of emotional showing-up am I looking for?

There are definitely the conceptual pieces I want more clarity on, but really it’s the experiential in-the-room counseling I need more help with. How do I DO this?

In Lorrie Brubacher’s remarkable book, Stepping into Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, she describes Stage 2 so clearly and beautifully (starting on page 135). She helps me understand more of how to conceptualize what’s happening for each partner, and what to look out for. She gives us a helpful road map for possible reactions, fears, and needs to look out for depending on how the client presents.

Even with this, I feel the need to watch Stage 2 to really get a sense of it. I need to see a therapist doing Stage 2, and how they are tracking with the clients to evoke their emotions. That’s why I’m re-taking the Stage 2 training with Jennifer Older and Kathryn Rheem (starting Oct. 3). I already took it! I already saw this! But I need so much more repetition for my brain to absorb what I’m doing with Withdrawer Re-Engagement.

Deep down, I also have the fear that maybe I’m not ready to go into that emotional space with my clients. In grad school, I was taught over and over - you can’t take a client where you won’t go yourself. I admit, I am scared to go into some of these deep pools of emotion that clients may never, ever have touched into for themselves. I get scared of how big the emotion could get, and if I can contain it with them. Will I help them fundamentally restructure their bond? Or just bring way too much scary, messy emotion alive without their partner catching them?

That’s why I seek out training, supervision, and reading over and over and over. I need the masters to help me jump off the cliff, to reach out from my own fear that exists in my therapy, and take the risk that there is growth and love on the other side of that leap. So really, Jennifer Olden, Kathryn Rheem, Lorrie Brubacher, and Felicia Friesen are all helping me track, heighten, and risk over and over until I can take the biggest leap with my clients, and have my own fundamental change event inside myself. Aren’t we lucky to have these masters who wait on the other side of the cliff, arms outstretched, encouraging us, with their loving and knowing empathy?