EFT Superpower - a guest post by Kelly Bourque

I received the Nashville EFT newsletter and was so moved by Kelly’s writing I asked her if I could share it with a wider audience. I’m so grateful she said yes! The Nashville EFT Center is also doing some exciting stuff I have listed at the end of the post.

EFT Superpower, by Kelly Bourque

I used to hide the fact that I'm hearing impaired. I wouldn't say I was ashamed of it. I just didn't want it to be a focus. I've always wanted to be "normal." Well. Guess what? I'm not normal - and it's a good thing! (That only came after my own therapy).

My inability to hear (I have hearing aids in both ears and without them I'm considered "severely hearing impaired") has significantly shaped me. I've adapted really well, but we can't have a conversation if my aids aren't in.

So, what does that mean for me in session? 

It means sometimes I have to change my hearing aid battery right in front of my clients because I can't keep going if I can't hear them. Sometimes my clients turn their head too far when doing an enactment and I have to ask them what they shared because I couldn't read their lips (I'm an amazing lip reader). I am starting to master simultaneously writing notes without looking at my notepad so I can keep my eyes on my clients.

The biggest advantage I have is my ability to read non-verbal cues. I've been hearing impaired since birth (and didn't get hearing aids until I was 5), so it was SURVIVAL for me to read non-verbals. Everyone reads non-verbal cues, but I don't know how not to. I can read the micro of micros of facial movement. A tiny little adjustment and I know to move in. I can catch emotion as it's forming.

So, my disability isn't such a disability after all.

I have a friend that has a significant trauma history. I call her when I need to have a felt sense of what a trauma response might be like. She helps me. She gets disorganized attachment. "It's both," she says. "It's needing to pursue AND withdraw and not knowing which strategy your body is going to choose and when."

Maybe being a pursuer is your superpower. You can feel the angst of a pursuer's need to be heard and the desperate cry for connection.

Maybe you're a withdrawer. You totally get what it's like to not know your “inner world” (what the heck is an “inner world”) and then to be expected to not only know it, but share it...quickly!

Are you divorced? You have the superpower of non-judgment. You get what it's like to try everything and have to put your relationship to its final rest. To grieve the loss of what you never had.

This is my challenge for you to USE your Superpower. If you haven't explored the fear that lies within that superpower - do that first.

Once we enter those places ourselves, out come empathy, grace and Therapist Superpower! I had to face my drive to overcompensate in order to be "normal." Once I faced that, I could let myself be impaired and my heart for myself is bigger because of it.

What's your Superpower? Might this be something you talk about in supervision or with your EFT bestie?


The Nashville Center for EFT is doing some very cool stuff, and it’s a fun place to visit, as well as do a training! They also host a HMT exclusively for therapists and their partners - ummm YEAH! Below is shared from Kelly:

Don't miss the EFFT (emotionally focused family therapy) training!! Gail Palmer and Jim Furrow are coming to Nashville - two amazing EFT trainers! 

EFFT 2-day training:  Healing Relationships and Promoting Resilience presented by Gail Palmer, RMFT, MSW and Jim Furrow, PhD, in Nashville, TN.  April 12 - 13, 2019.  Cost is $400 ($300 for Students/Military).  Click here for more information and to register. 

Lindsey Castleman, Mariam Coaster and Aron Strong (all EFT therapists) have launched a website and podcast looking at all things relational. Visit their website to listen to podcasts and read about upcoming events. Their next Created for Connection workshop is in February (but it's SOLD OUT!). If you're interested in helping facilitate - contact Lindsey through their website. If you want to send couples - keep in mind they have one coming up in June.

I've loved working with couples in the intensive format. For more information about that, visit: eftmarriageintensive.com

Tressa Gibbs and I are cooking up another Hold Me Tight for therapists and their spouses! This year, we're going to expand it to those working in ministry. We're working out the details, but thinking early May. Hang tight for final details. If you want to be first in line to sign up or help facilitate, email me and I'll hold a spot for you! bourquelmft@gmail.com

Grieving The Action Tendency

A couple years ago, back when I was only seeing individual clients, I had an amazing individual client supervisor named Kathleen Connolly. She gave me the single most important sentence that has guided who I am as a therapist.

I was lamenting to her one day in my earlier years (I’ve always been a dramatic supervisee) about how hard it is to stop myself from trying to fix or help clients. “I can’t just sit with their emotions when they are suffering! I need to fix this for them! The only times I’m able to just sit with clients is when they’re grieving, since there’s no fixing that.”

And she said unto me,

“Wesley, all therapy is grieving.”

This was a profound moment, that reverberates through all my work. I think of this sentence at least once a day.

Eating disorder? Anxiety? Depression? PTSD? These are all ways our bodies are trying to cope with grieving. My body gets anxious and frantic and solution-oriented (others may withdraw, distract, or shut down) instead of sitting in the empty space of loss.

With couples work, this piece of wisdom has been coming up for me around the Action Tendency. A lot of times I’m trying to figure out ways to bring the action tendency to light without shaming, and it’s amazing how much resistance there is for many looking at their action tendency.

Something George Faller said in his last training really, really resonated with me. He said, speaking for the clients, “Do you think I don’t know that me bringing up my frustration pushes my partner away? Do you think I don’t know that?” Or for the withdrawer, “Do you think I don’t know that it makes my partner crazy when I shut down and go away?” But that in the cycle, we don’t have that many choices.

This opened a way for me to link this back to my favorite sentence - all therapy is grieving. Instead of trying to get people to see what they do drives their partner away, I want to see what happens when I instead take the angle of grieving. To help a client grieve that their action tendency isn’t working. Because that will require them to sit with the vulnerability of Step 3. “I am so scared you don’t actually care, I don’t know another way to try and change this other than to try to get you to see how wrong you were about something. And it’s not working. And that makes me even More frantic and scared.”

That grief brings in the vulnerability, the sadness and longing underneath the cycle. But remember, we wouldn’t go here until we’ve done a really solid Step 2 and honored the heck out of that secondary emotion. We are not on an express lane to primary emotion! Secondary emotion is a place we must visit and linger and see the function and beauty of.

Linking the action tendency this way helps me realize I’m not there to get clients to see how unhelpful their action tendency is, I’m there to help them grieve that no matter how hard they try from a place of good intention, their action tendency is not working.

Where does this bring them (and us) then, when we are able to see, nothing I do works to bring you closer or make you less angry? To a scary, open, unknown place. When we finally accept that what we do doesn’t work, we find ourselves on a barren mountain top. What do I do, then? What is there? To me, this is where there is an almost spiritual aspect to our work. To me, this is the in-between place. The place of acceptance in the grieving cycle. After we’ve banged our heads against the wall in Stage 1, and right before we build in the security of Stage 2. It may only be a brief moment, but it’s often a place of such unknown for the clients that it’s really scary to imagine stopping that action tendency. Luckily Stage 2 rushes in with that security - “I want to be close to you, I need you to be more gentle with me because your disappointment impacts me so much. Here I am. I want to stop hiding. But I need you to be safe with this vulnerability. Will you help me?”

Link to share: https://www.becomingatherapist.org/home/2018/12/28/grieving-the-action-tendency

Bold Validation

In my post last week I talked about my frustration at hearing EFT masters talk about validation repeatedly as the sole antidote to escalated clients. I just want to pull my hair out when I see this advice on the listserve. I feel like I can validate until the cows come home, but it rarely de-escalates my most escalated clients. 

In George Faller’s training, when I watched him validate, I thought ohhhhhhh. Ok. I realized I have not actually been validating. 

He said that most therapists don’t validate because they don’t want to sound blaming or shaming to the other partner. He said most therapists are really doing more empathic reflection than they are validation.

This resonated with me. An example of how I validate is:

Client (yelling): He doesn’t ever, ever help with the kids. He’s just playing video games! He’s so lazy, he’s just like his father, I knew it. All his family thinks he’s lazy! He’s just a giant child.

Me (thinking I’m validating but actually just empathically reflecting with the attachment frame): It’s so frustrating to not have him with you! You so need his help, you want him to be by your side, and it’s so hard to not have him close during these times. 

 * then I quickly move away from yelling partner towards listening partner*

 (to listening partner) I don’t think it probably looks like her needing her help in those moments, help me understand, what do those moments look like to you?

 

This isn’t all terrible work. I’m trying to reframe those bullets as need and longing. But now I’m seeing my intervention here differently. Number one, I’m misattuned from the client. She’s angry! And instead I’m reflecting her longing. Number two, why am I transitioning here to the other partner? Mostly because I’m scared the yelling partner is just going to do more damage if I let them keep talking. I’m also desperately wanting to reframe the yelling as need for help, so the listening partner can make some sense of what’s happening in this chaos. 

Watching George validate, I created my own formula in my head for what I saw him doing to help me remember (he may disagree with this, this was just my own integration). I saw it as:

Bold Attunement + Slowness + Attachment frame = Validation

 

Bold Attunement:

To me, this means really getting in there and validating without as much fear that the other partner will think I’m seeing them as the bad guy, and to really validate the client’s secondary emotion and experience. In the example above this part might sound like:

“Mary! Of course! You’re so angry and frustrated! You have no idea how to get this to change, but you are drowning all by yourself in this! No wonder you’re angry at him, you have no idea why he’s not responding to your cries for help, and nothing is connecting. Am I getting that right?”

And I would say this with more affect, making my voice sound more urgent to match hers. 

 

Slowness:

Instead of anxiously transitioning to the other partner, I pause here. Before, I would move away from the escalated partner so quickly. Even if I had reflected her experience relatively well, I was immediately moving away from her. Now I try to stay and pause, and see if I really am de-escalating her with my validation. If I’ve validated really well, I should see a pretty immediate calming down. Then my focus would be on creating a clear enactment so she can actually share her experience with her partner, which she is desperate to do. 

 

Attachment frame:

Even in bold validation, I am still keeping the attachment alive. I just moved it from the attachment of longing for a partner, to the more attuned message of being so desperate and panicked to not be able to get the message of need across to her partner. 

She knows her moves push him away. She knows no matter what she does, she pushes him further away. Her panic and anger is about why on earth he isn’t hearing her, and doesn’t seem to care about her need. Before this training, I would have wanted her to enact something of her longing and need for him and link that to the action tendency. Something like, “I need your help so much, when I feel like you’re not with me, I fire up and get loud,” but that would have been misattuned to how she feels in the moment.  

When you think about it, maybe one level of panic is because she doesn’t feel his help, or him with her. But I think her main panic in this moment is not being able to understand why he isn’t responding to her direct request for help. 

When I’m ready to distill and have her enact to her partner, I think it would be closer to her alive, present-moment experience to have her enact, “I am so angry, so totally confused why I can’t get you to understand my need. I am drowning, and when I see you look oblivious to my needs, I resort to just screaming at you because I have no idea what else to do to get my need across to you.”

Her sharing that is giving her a clearer channel for her anger in the moment. In that enactment, we’re shifting one step to the right from the bullets and criticism, to the clearer message of anger, confusion, and helplessness. 

Then I can tango and explore with the listening partner, (and likely hear that for him, it doesn’t look like her need for help in that moment, it looks like her anger at another of his failures). But with the bold validation above, now I’m not leaving the primary client I was tracking with in her messy anguish. Instead, I’m helping her organize her anger and desperation before figuring out what her partner sees instead of her need.

November, 2018 Highly Escalated Couples Training by George Faller, Nashville, TN

I went to George Faller's Training on Highly Escalated Couples

Hooollllllyyyyy crap.

The George Faller training.

Where do I even begin.

Let me start with the most important message: whatever you need to do, whatever plans or sacrifices you need to make, if you want to start getting clear on what you’re doing as an EFT therapist you must go to a George Faller training (links below).

I hear a lot of therapists say they want to re-do Core Skills, understandably, because going over and over this material is so necessary for absorbing and integrating EFT. Please don’t spend all the time and money to do that. Please go to a George Faller training instead (and any Jennifer Olden and Lillian Buchanan EFT Lab online training which are so good I will promote until the day I die).

Frankly, I came into this training with some skepticism. I was concerned I was going to hear another general version of the same things we hear all the time: validate, put it back in the cycle, REALLY validate, understand trauma, but wait, also, have you validated?

(ok, validation was a part of the training but I realized that I did not actually know what that word meant. Now I know that I actually have not been validating, just sympathetically reflecting. More on this in the next post.)

Also George has a magnetic energy, so I was concerned the training was going to be about watching a super-star who can access places with clients because of his unique being, versus learning transferable skills. 

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A lot of EFT trainers are extremely talented, but struggle to give concrete tools and specific moves for how to help you do what they do, and they do more of a modeling approach. George did a fantastic job of giving us an action plan. I don’t think it’s overstating it when I say Everyone at that training was gasping with relief at being given more tools and more awareness of how to get back on track in session.

There were some neon letter takeways from this training I’ll spend future posts integrating, but today I want to talk about his emphasis on FOCUS. 

He said that most therapists do not have focus in the room. We may have some idea of a plan going in, but as each partner escalates and gets activated, the therapist lets themselves be pulled towards one and then the other until the focus goes totally to mush.

This is totally true for my work. I’ve been feeling like I am just lost in these reactive sessions, and helpless to get us out of the cycle forcefield in the room. As Mr. Kenny Sanderfer, the wisest and kindest and gentlest Southern grandfather you wish you had said, “we are just stuck in the cul-dee-sac going ‘round and ‘round.”

I learned that when I get pulled by the other partner’s interruption, or feel stuck and then I randomly transition and start asking questions to the other partner, I’m not only losing focus, I’m also abandoning the person I was working with. I never realized I was abandoning them, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. George emphasized that whenever we transition to the other, to make sure the person we’ve been talking to is validated and we explain why we’re transitioning, and sometimes even get permission to transition.

He helped us understand that to maintain focus, you need to be able to anticipate what could break that focus, then have a plan for what to do. George broke down the listening-partner interruptions into three categories: (examples are mine)

Green Light – empathetic

Example: “I didn’t know he felt so sad, wow, I don’t want you to feel like a failure”

Yellow Light – empathy combined with mistrust

 Example: “I’m surprised to see you feel sad about letting me down, but then why do you always get on your phone every time I need to talk to you about something serious?”

Red Light – totally mistrusting and hostile

Example: “There’s NO WAY that’s true, you’re just an asshole who would rather be on his phone than have ANY HUMAN CONNECTION EVER!!” 

He emphasized the need for a plan when this happens, and to see these interruptions as likely to happen so you aren’t totally thrown off guard. Even hearing this helped me get my head clearer. Even to see these as interruptions to my focus was a new thought. Even thinking the interruptions are all to do with mistrust was revolutionary. 

As he was talking, I was thinking of a session I had a few weeks ago and cringing in my seat. I have an escalated couple where the Pursuer demands all my focus for most of the session. The few times I’m able to try and explore what’s happening for the Withdrawer always go completely off the rails. In the room, just before I’m about to drop the Withdrawer down more into their internal experience and view of self, the Pursuer jumps in and halts the entire process with their distress. Inside I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me? I give you 60 minutes per session to hear and understand your pain, and the few moments I have to work with your partner, and we’re getting to exactly what you need to feel better, and you’re cutting off the process??”

Just like for our clients, my empathy for the Pursuer was stunted because I didn’t understand what they were doing. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, other than thinking they were dysregulated by hearing really anything from their partner. I feel ashamed writing this, thinking of how I have not been able to make sense of her behavior for myself or for this couple, and instead sending them a veiled message that indeed something is wrong with her. God, this work makes us see our worst parts.

George normalized this Pursuer interruption. He explained that not only is it understandable that they interrupt here, it’s the most common place you’ll get an interruption. He stated, beautifully, “This is the moment where they are seeing the ‘bad guy’ turn into ‘the stranger.’”

He then outlined in detail how you handle each level of interruption in order to validate both and also maintain focus in the session, which I don’t want to go into without more permission from him because he has worked hard to create this material and deserves to be compensated for it.

I hope, though, what I’m sharing so far is valuable. To re-cap:

1)  It is the therapist’s responsibility to have a focus to the session of your intention. And certainly have some flexibility that the plan could change, but know WHY you’re changing that plan. Have intention around changing that plan. Your plan was to try to do a Step 2 with the Pursuer? Why did that change? Did something else seem more important? What was that? Why was it more important? What’s your plan to validate and hold both in that process?

2)  There are fairly predictable ways your focus will be thrown off, whether it’s from the partner, the primary client, or the therapist, and we can anticipate them, empathize with them, and have a plan for them.

3)  Mistrust is what interrupts or blocks your process, and that’s so helpful, because we can validate and make that mistrust explicit.

4)  There are concrete moves to processing those interruptions and returning to focus

5)  Go.To.A.George.Faller.Training.

 

I am so grateful for this training, and for Kenny for hosting George so we could have this opportunity, and yet honestly I’m also pretty frustrated. This training had maybe 55 people in it, which was a wonderful size for we participants. But this training should have thousands of people in it. So many people had no clue this training was happening. This training should be done in a mega-arena with every couples therapist in the area lined up to get in. Part of my mission is to spread the word about these trainings because we desperately need them. If you find this post helpful, please forward to therapists you know, because sharing is an act of service. 

I found this training through The National Marriage Seminars.  

George’s NYC EFT website is here

George’s own website is here

When vacation makes you More anxious to see couples

I don’t know about you, but seeing clients again after Thanksgiving has ratcheted up my anxiety to about an 8. I have this fantasy, at the beginning of a break, that after time off of work I’ll come into session so much more rested, and more able to slow down and really tune in to what is happening with each person. What ends up happening is that come Tuesday morning, I can swan dive into all my doubt and dread about if I will be helpful for a couple, and get slowly crushed by the overwhelming idea of changing a marriage instead of focusing on the present moment process of EFT.

Something that is helping me ground today is the idea to watch the pace of the session. When I get anxious, my system goes FAST. When I want to fix and change things, my system goes even faster. Because I’m really verbal in anxiety, I can start to spout a fountain of words in these moments. I will be running the couple through their cycle so quickly that I’m totally losing attunement with them.

Perhaps your system does the opposite. Maybe when anxiety hits you, you freeze up, and worry you won’t be able to find any words at all. You scream at yourself in your brain to say something, anything! while the couple is devolving into their cycle in the room. 

My offering to you and me today is: can we just be curious about what we do and feel in these deeply uncomfortable spaces? What do we believe in these moments? About ourselves and our couples? 

My mantra for today is: I am going to go slow and be curious, and take time to really check in with how each client is doing, even when I get afraid we won’t even get to an enactment: “I’m concerned I’m losing attunement with you, can I slow down here and understand what’s happening with each of you?”

For someone who’s anxiety causes more of a freeze, a mantra could be: I am going to use my freeze to observe what’s happening for my couple, and when my brain regulates a little, I can share that reflection: “Wow, that cycle flare up even put me in a little freeze moment. And as I was observing just now, I noticed something I want to check out with you.”

If you are in the same anxiety boat with me today, I am sending you compassion, and you are not alone. And if you are not in this boat, and you are able to feel grounded and confident going into session, I also send you positive energy, and the aspiration that one day I also will feel that more frequently. 

I’m headed out to Nashville this week for the George Faller training on Highly Escalated Couples. Are any of you also going? Let me know so I can say hi! I’m very excited to share with you what I learn from the training!