Skills

Wedging Through The Shame

One of the most valuable pieces I’m taking away from the Kathryn Rheem and Jennifer Olden Video Café is how to work with shame, and the negative view-of-self.

We all know how slippery these moments are to work with in session. Once a client touches into their shame, or how bad they see themselves, it’s like they fall through a trap door into quick sand. Their affect changes, their presence in the room changes, their ability to continue with the session often changes. In EFT, we heighten emotion, but we don’t heighten shame. Even knowing that, it can be hard to know how to track or even reflect that shame without heightening it. 

Kathryn talked about how the therapist becomes a wedge between the shame and the client. We are working to create some air and some space between the client and what they think they are, since they are so fused together in shame. There are two key ways she talked about doing this, that I have found SO helpful in my sessions since then.

1)  Instead of reflecting what that person believes about themselves, you reflect that this is their WORST FEAR about themselves.

2)  The therapist works to externalizethe shame by using visuals and parts language.

This is how I conceptualize how I could sound different in session using these tools:

Not so helpful: Reflecting the belief and inadvertently heightening shame

Client: I’m damaged, I’m corrupt in some way, I’m sorry.
Therapist: When you see her get upset, you see yourself as damaged, as not worthy of this person who loves you so much?
Client: Right, why would she want me? I’m going to mess this up somehow.
Therapist: Even though she is trying to tell you otherwise, it’s so hard to see yourself as worthy.
Client: Yep. Might as well give up.
Therapist internally: AHHHH nooooo!!! I’m losing you, we’re sinking down further and further!

More helpful: Reflecting the fear and externalizing the shame

Client: I’m damaged, I’m corrupt in some way, I’m sorry.
Therapist: This is your worst fear, this fear of I am damaged or corrupt in some way?
Client: Yeah, that I’m hopeless, bad for her.
Therapist: Ahhh, that fear sounds so powerful when it grips you like that. When you see her get upset, that fear comes alive inside of you, maybe I am damaged in some way? What does that fear feel like when it comes in?
Client: Like a ton of bricks on my chest, like I can’t move out from under it.
Therapist: So one part of you gets pinned down, under this ton of self-worth bricks, fearing you aren’t worthy, and is there another part in there, a part that somehow is able to stay in this relationship despite all these self-worth bricks?

No matter what tool we use, shame is tricky. I don’t think there’s a magic phrase that suddenly solves this issue for a client, and sometimes I do lose the client to the shame quick sand and we lose traction in the session. But working with the idea of naming it as the clients worst fear, and externalizing visually, help me feel like I have some things to hold on to when these tough moments come up in session.

K. Rheem and J. Olden (2018) EFT Video Café, Stage 2. http://washingtonbaltimorecenterforeft.com/jointheeftvideocafe.html

Kathryn Rheem and Jennifer Olden Are Giving Me Hope in Stage 2

I just started the Stage 2 Video Café with Jennifer Olden and Kathryn Rheem. This training is where we watch tapes of Kathryn working with a Stage 2 couple, and she explains her thinking, what we need to see and get to with each step, and how to conceptualize each partner in this stage. And Jennifer guides the process, asks great questions, and slows Kathryn down at key points so we’re able to soak up as much as we can. 

This training is insanely cheap, it’s only $50 for the actual video café. You do need to purchase her tapes of the couple, which (with the discount) comes to $240. But for Jennifer and Kathryn to only charge us $50 for their work over 8 weeks is crazy discounted. This means that after production costs, they’re basically making enough to buy themselves a bagel and spending 8 weeks of their own time helping us learn this stuff. 

Let me tell you, if Kathryn Rheem said she was going to just record herself thinking out loud about random EFT things for an hour, I would pay $500 to get that. Hearing her speak is like being showered with SOLID GOLD RAINDROPS OF GENIUS. God, I wish she’d write a book. Or just live stream her thoughts to us all the time.

I think the main thing most of us took away from the first session is Kathryn’s transparency in the process with her clients. (I know this because at the end, Jennifer asked us all what we are taking away and everyone said, “TRANSPARENCY!!”). She spoke about this in a way that truly changed how I think about helping clients understand what we're doing.

She said, in such a lovely way, she started being more transparent because she simply couldn’t hold everything in her head. So she asks permission, saying, “Is it ok if I’m more transparent about what I’m thinking, and about where we are?” I imagine all her clients become little heart-eye emojis when she says this.

She said that Jim Coan, the great researcher, said we wake up in the morning with two questions:

1)  How am I doing?

2)  What’s next?

So she uses that in every session. Every session she wants her clients to understand how they are doing, where they are right now in the process, and what’s coming up next. 

I loved thinking about this, and helping a client understand that right now, our task is to get a clear picture of the cycle, and in a while, we will be deepening those emotions, understanding some of the more vulnerable feelings. She talked about how before going into Stage 2, she helps prepare them, asking the Withdrawer how it will be for them that she’ll be spending more time focusing on them at first. She asks the Pursuer how it will be for them that she’s spending more time opening up with their partner and less time with them. 

Kathryn only uses a sentence or two, not a giant monologue about what each step and stage is. Just hearing some of these sign posts she gives clients about the process made me relax more. I could imagine how much safer and more secure it would feel for a client, particularly one with trauma, to know more about where we are now and where we're going up ahead. 

There were so many gems from this session I can’t include even 10% of them. It makes me profoundly grateful for what Jennifer and Kathryn, and other EFT Masters, generously give us to help us get better and better for our clients. 

 

Highlighting the Perception Part of the Cycle

I met with my supervisor last week and talked to her about a place in session where I consistently feel like I’m doing the wrong thing, but it’s hard to describe what it is.

I’ll be tracking the cycle with someone, and it’s going well. We’re getting through it fairly cleanly. I’ve got the cue/trigger, the feeling, the perception, and the action tendency. Then I turn to have them enact it, and the client does a great job, but I feel like in that process I end up inadvertently heightening the listening partner’s shame. 

Me tracking their cycle:

“So you’re telling me …  when I see that look on her face, I tell myself, she doesn’t want to talk to me, I should just stop talking. And I feel frustrated, and hopeless. At that point I turn away and get quiet. When you see that look on her face, you feel so hopeless. Can you tell her that right now? I do do that, when I see that look on your face, and I feel so hopeless, I just turn away and get quiet.”

Sounds ok, right? I’ve got the cue, the feeling, owning the action tendency.

But, these enactments don’t go so well. The other partner seems to just be hearing, “When you make that face, I feel hopeless.” Which sounds more like a blame/shame message. Then I find myself trying to convince the listening partner that they’re not hearing it quite right, and repeating what the other partner said (these are not the moments where I watch my tape back and feel like a great therapist).

My supervisor made a change in how she was phrasing the partner’s experience that she would have tracked in that moment. It was subtle, but to me it changed everything about the interaction. She tracked it as:

“So you’re telling me … when I see that look on her face, I tell myself, she doesn’t want to talk to me. She doesn’t want to hear about my pain. I feel like, when I see that look, she wants me to be over this already, that it’s stupid for me to still be upset about this. I don’t know what to do, because I am in pain, I am struggling. So I just get quiet, and shut down, and feel hopeless. Can you tell her that right now? When I see that look, I feel like you don’t want to hear about what I’m struggling with, you want me to be over this already. I don’t know what to do, it feels so hopeless to not be able to reach you in that moment, I just shut down.”

It felt like such a difference to me to be linking the cue and the feeling to the perception. In my version, I turned up the volume too much around the cue and the despair, thus sending the message – “when you do x, I shut down”.

My supervisor turned up the volume with the perception and the feeling – “when I get the message you don’t want to talk to me, I feel so bad, I shut down.”

In my version, the other partner gets overwhelmed. They feel more blamed. So when I ask them how they are experiencing what their partner is saying, it’s like, “uh, well, I feel upset hearing that, I don’t know, I’m not that bad …”

In my supervisor’s version, the other partner has a much clearer door to walk through. I can imagine it being easier to say, “I do want to hear from you, but I get defensive in those moments because x,y,z.” Then it clearly gives me an opening to start tracking their own cycle, and what triggers their defensiveness.

I’m going to continue to try to listen for that perception, and helping the client expand around their own raw spot. My hope is that it helps the client connect more with their internal experience, beliefs, and needs, and the message becomes less about blame. 

Do My Couples Know Their Cycle?

I had the privilege of assisting at a Core Skills this weekend with Lorrie Brubacher, Patron Saint of EFT. I’ll try to get to the point of this post and not spend three paragraphs going on about how miraculous she is, (but her Live Session, you guys, unreal how good she is …) but just know that’s what I really want to be doing. I’m restraining myself!

Something that always stands out to me, whether it’s in Core Skills or in my own supervision, is how easy it is for me to lose sight of helping my clients really understand their cycle. But this weekend brought me back yet again – do my couples really know their cycle?

Since the cycle is so paramount to what we do in EFT, I had to ask myself, how do I lose the thread of the cycle so easily? I notice especially with my long-term clients and my more escalated clients, I don’t think we could tell you clearly what their cycle is.  Even though I’ll use the term “the cycle” in session, I think we’re all just generally assuming internally that I’m referring to “the argument”. I don’t know that I’m truly helping my clients clearly link their trigger, their feelings, and their action tendency.

Ok, so why? Why is it so easy for this to turn to mush when I know how essential it is? Here are my thoughts:

1)   Content. Watching Lorrie highlighted even more for me how she focuses on the process and not the content. In her hands, the content almost seems irrelevant, a ghost of something in the room. But I can really get sucked into that content without realizing I’m doing it. And some content feels so important to unpack – sex, addiction, parenting, huge life decisions.

2)   Getting through the argument (content again). I sometimes have couples come in the middle of an argument, or save an argument for couples therapy because it didn’t feel contained enough at home. Instead of seeing this as, “ok, the cycle is alive here and now, let’s look at that,” it’s easy for me to get sucked into trying to validate and contain the emotions and go for a resolution so I feel like I “helped” them.

3)   Containing/Validating/reflecting emotions. With an escalated couple, so much of what I’m trying to do is validate and de-escalate their huge emotions in the room, and maybe help them understand their trigger. But in a place of huge feelings, I find it really difficult to ask them to step outside of themselves even a little to notice and observe what’s going on. Even in de-escalated couples, I find I’m spending more time trying to understand someone’s experience than I am feeding it all back into the cycle.

There are two tools I notice help me come back to the cycle. One is to make sure I’m book-ending my validation and reflection with repeating the CUE and the ACTION TENDENCY over and over. That link has to be put in neon letters in Step 2. And then in Step 3, when we harness that primal fear underneath, to link again to the Action Tendency. “What you see on the outside is me get loud like a bear, but on the inside I’m so afraid I’m failing you.”

Two is to always, always, always, always, ALWAYS, be threading the attachment message. Watching at this Core Skills helped really highlight the difference between just unpacking someone’s emotions and unpacking them within the attachment frame. There is such a difference between:

 

“You feel so lonely, you feel so alone, you don’t know what to do with that feeling. How terrible. That feeling is so terrible, isn’t it?” and just leaving all that difficult emotion hanging there.

And

“You feel so lonely, longing for Jeff come in and be next to you. You feel so alone, watching him leave the room and longing for this man you love to come comfort you. So in that moment, when the loneliness is too much, you lash out? You send a parting shot, not sure he really even wants to be close to you?”

 

So I’m feeling inspired to get in there with my couples this week and really make sure we’re tracking their cycle, and not solely getting hooked into the content or the emotions.

Focus on the Process and not the Outcome - an interview with Patti Swope

I want you to meet Patti Swope. She’s an EFT certified therapist and supervisor, and I started to become familiar with her from the listserve. I noticed that she didn’t weigh in often, but when she did I always got a lot from her responses. She seemed to repeat a central theme in her responses, which is to focus on the process and not the outcome. When I would read that, I would think, “Yes!” and then, “wait, how??”

So I reached out to her and she was kind enough to give me her time to ask her questions about her mindset and thought process in this work. And I’m going to share that with you below.

Some background first. Patti worked as a nurse for about 14 years before becoming a therapist. She said she was always interested in the relationship aspect of that work, and thus turned to therapy. She started her therapy career working with children placed in foster care due to abuse and neglect, and became a clinical director of that agency. Then when she moved to Boulder, she started her private practice and wanted to get back to marital and family work – her first love. Patti became aware of EFT in 2008, but it wasn’t until she saw Sue Johnson speak in 2009 that she truly felt hooked.

Patti was really trained at the source. She did her Externship with Sue Johnson, and Core Skills with Gail Palmer and Allison Lee, all in Ottawa. And was supervised by Marlene Best, amongst others. She’s been an EFT supervisor since 2011. Patti is one of those EFT masters that makes me realize how much further I have to go in learning this model – in a good way.

 

Talk to me a little about your mindset with the focus on the process instead of the outcome. When a couple is coming in and clearly their goal is to make their marriage better, how do you downshift and focus on the process instead of the outcome?

It’s easy to get caught in that, right? We tend to do that, if we’re insecure and not feeling good enough, or we’re afraid we’re going to lose clients, that often drives the focus on the outcome. And then therapists end up pushing their agenda instead of recognizing that if you focus on the process, whatever outcome happens will need to happen. So I guess for me, I just want to tune in. Because attunement trumps everything in the EFT world.

Even starting with when a couple comes in the room - you know how they come in in different ways? Some are just anxious to spill, some are more guarded, and often I want to name what’s happening in the room right now. Like if I’m feeling anxiety, I’ll say, “Hey guys, I don’t know if I’m picking up your anxiety or just my own, but I’m feeling a little anxiety – is that something you’re feeling?” and already I’m moving it into the here and now process.

Because we’re dealing with people’s insecurity, which is an anxious state, already you’re starting to see what behaviors they do in that state. Is there approach or avoidance or protection? So that can be happening right away, right now in front of you.

 

Something I struggle with is when I feel client’s urgency and confusion. They’re caught in the washing machine, they so desperately want this to get better and stop having these awful fights, and they come in with much more urgency that most individual clients. That energy can make me go into, “we’ve got to fix this, we’ve got to drive towards this outcome.” For you, is this an energy you have to fight against, or is it not there in the same way for you?

That’s the insecurity that comes up. The behavior is wrapped around the urgency. But when you can focus in on the naming it  - “You’re feeling so urgent, “ or “you’re so desperate to stop this fighting and feel better about this relationship,” or “there’s so much urgency to change your husband/wife feels about you.” So (talking to the client) when you feel that, of course you get urgent, and then you do what? It’s happening right now. You’re talking faster, you really want me to hear you and get you.

So it’s already happening in the room, and you want to help people organize around that. Because that’s probably a similar thing of what happens in the cycle at home.

 

So it sounds like you are really able to use that reflection to focus in on the present moment, without getting hooked into the problem-solving or outcome-driven goal.

I wouldn’t say I never get hooked into it! It depends on if I’m fed, and have slept well, and haven’t just had a fight with my husband, but on my best day, that’s true, that’s how I’m focusing.

 

That makes sense as you say that. And for me, I feel my thought process can be, “of course you’re this urgent, this is a disaster, and we need to fix this soon or the marriage will end.”

Right, and that can kind of come from your own insecurity, right? Because anxiety is so contagious.

That’s why the present process is so important. Because you want to help them get organized around what they’re doing, what they’re feeling, what they’re saying, and what their thoughts are right now so they can feel themselves experiencing it.

 

So much of EFT is about slowing ourselves down as the therapist. When you were starting out, how did you start to slow yourself down?

Oh my gosh, it took a long time. I was anxious. It took a secure attachment with Marlene Best, helping me realize when my insecurity was coming up, and what I do behaviorly. I start talking fast, maybe throw in some cognitive educational kind of stuff, and really I’m moving away from my own vulnerability and I’m doing the same thing the client is doing.

It helped having supervision, a secure place, and have the experience of something different. Which is what we’re trying to help our couples do. So once I could slow down with myself, and experience that being ok, then I knew it was ok going forward.

I had to learn that, when I’m feeling insecure, it’s ok to not jump in with some psycho-education, talking more, or trying to say their experience before they’ve even arrived at it. When things get too fast now, or I get overwhelmed, I just say it. I’ll say, “hey guys, I’m getting a little overwhelmed, can we just slow down, because you’re saying some important stuff and I really want to hear you.”

It’s a parallel process, and we’re modeling for them. If I can take an emotional risk and say, “hey guys, I need to slow down,” I’m owning my own vulnerability, I’m speaking about myself, I’m not pointing fingers at them and saying, “you guys have to stop, you’ve got to stop doing this,” which is what we want them to do with each other.

It’s not easy to do that when you’re triggered.

 

For me, I can feel like there’s a ticker tape running through my head of what energy I need to bring when a couple gets escalated in a moment – do I need to validate? Do I need to control this more? Do I need to make the room safer? Is it ok for me to drop back here? And in that moment I can just pray I’m picking the right instinct to go with.

Sure, but sometimes, Wesley, that might be a sign of some insecure moment for you. And when you’re already in that, you’re not really attune to the room. If you can relax, even when they’re screaming at each other, and really listen to the attachment messages being said, when you can tune into that and reflect that, people will slow down.

 

As you’ve gotten to know yourself better as an EFT therapist, what do you think your particular strengths are?

Hmm, well, I think I do do pretty good when things get fired up. Maybe it’s my past work as a nurse and working in the ER, and being in life or death situations, but in those moments I can get calmer and focus in on what clients are saying.

 

Is there a particular niche of couples you tend to enjoy?

Not really, it’s rare I don’t enjoy a couple. I usually can find a way to enjoy them. One of the key pieces for me – I read this in a supervision book and can’t remember the author – is to find yourself in your clients. And by that I don’t mean counter-transference, but you have to find yourself in your clients, find yourself in what they say or their experience.

 

How do you take care of yourself in this work? What do you need in particular when the day is done, or on your day off, to rebalance yourself?

I think doing your own therapy is absolutely essential. That’s probably the number one thing. I do things like go to the gym, play music, I cook, I ski, I talk to my husband.

When I’m driving home, and wanting to stop thinking about my work day, I do this conscious thing where I say, “Ok, I’m getting ready to go home, I’m going to go home now.” I can’t always do it if it’s something super triggering, and then I know I need to consult with someone, but usually that does work for me.

There’s one other thing I want to comment on, if that’s ok.

I was seeing something on the listserve from someone struggling with a couple and getting spun out by the question of if the client was telling the truth or not. And I’ve learned that you can really just do your best with that. You can try and suss it out the best you can in the one to one session, but really that’s why process is so important, because that’s the only thing you’ve got that’s really real in the room. Otherwise you just get caught in all this stuff, and you don’t know the answers, and it’s all the therapist’s anxiety. That’s why the process in the room is so important.

 

I am so grateful to Patti for making the time to speak to me, and share her wisdom with us all!

To find out more about working with Patti as a supervisor, you can visit her website at www.pattiswope.com