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