No Easy Answers - Part 1

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, because I’ve been in such a crabby mood about couples therapy that I keep waiting for it to pass before I write something really good for you all. Well, it’s not passing, so here we go. 

I’m struggling with the clients I’m not helping. I’m struggling with feeling like I’m not good enough at EFT to make the miraculous difference the trainers are able to make. I’m struggling with the mindset it seems like EFT requires. 

What I really want is there to be a training put on called No Easy Answers. It could conversely be called Very Complicated Clients. I want a trainer to walk through cases where there is an absolute Gordian knot of issues and blocks. And as soon as you work through one block, you hit another. And I want them to end with saying – who knows? The human psyche is complex and we won’t help everyone. 

For about 50% of my clients, the “back to basics” EFT advice works for me. To remember to validate. To remember to really anchor the action tendency. To remember to put it back in the cycle. To remember that enactments are the really the thing that gets the blood moving and evokes the real stuff we need to create change.

Then for medium-challenging clients, the advanced move EFT advice works for me. Matching affect more intensely. Focusing with dogged persistence on what step I’m doing in session. Being relentless about enactments even when clients don’t like it. Preparing for what blocks could happen and having a plan for how to move with those reactions.

But for a portion of my caseload, all that is not enough. Even if I do all of the above, there are clients with rigid ways of processing. Even if I attachment-reflect their words with the skill of a cirque du soleil contortionist, it does not open up a higher or broader level of awareness or self-reflection. There are clients with such concrete thinking that they cannot see the cycle. There are clients in so much pain that they can’t tolerate that they also play a role in this cycle, and change won’t happen just by their partner changing. There are highly ambivalent clients, who would almost assuredly be gone if not for kids, but genuinely want the conflict to lessen and can’t see a link between them leaning out and the conflict.

And yet, I never hear trainers talk about these cases, apart from if someone just isn’t committed. So the message that comes across to me is: EFT solves everything, the EFT therapist is who creates the change, and if that’s not happening, well, we’re too nice to tell you, but it’s probably because you’re a garbage therapist.  

I often think back to how I felt as a solely individual therapist. As an individual therapist, I never felt like I had all the answers. I never felt like I was the sole vessel of healing for someone. I was there to witness, to reflect, to look at the path of healing with someone, and to have total compassion for why taking those healing steps is often frightening or not possible because those steps also mean a loss you didn’t even realize. I had more acceptance for my clients and myself. I accepted that I wasn’t the Messiah of Healing.

What I’ve realized is that it’s not even a choice anymore – I have to change my mindset from the EFT therapist knows all and heals all. It’s just too much. I’m not sure how this will look. This isn’t about leaving EFT, but about getting a healthier mindset as a couples therapist – even one using the world’s best model.  

My renewed mindset is going to be: Maybe Sue Johnson, or Lorrie Brubacher, or George Faller could save this couple. But, as a friend told me once, if a couple needs the best marriage therapist in the world to save a marriage, this is a very challenging case. People are where they are for good reasons. There are a million reasons someone is struggling to accept their partner’s vulnerability, to look at themselves more clearly, or to be willing or even able to plumb their emotional depths to get us to Stage 2. Yes, people are always in process. Yes, change is always possible. But that might not look like someone being able to get to Stage 4 in the Client Experiencing Scale, which Kathryn Rheem has found is necessary for a couple to be able to do Stage 2.  

I feel like in our EFT circle, it is taboo to say we can’t help everyone. As if it throws dirt on this amazing model. But the alternative seems to be this illusion that we can help all couples. And honestly, truly, tell me: who out there is having success with 100% of their couples? 

So I’m going to launch a series of blog posts under the theme of No Easy Answers, where I present hypothetical case amalgams and we walk through them – and in them find micro moves and support, but … no easy answers.