When Clients Don't Remember

Every now and then we get clients who have memory loss specifically about their action tendency in the cycle. Their partner describes what they said or did, and they say, “I don’t remember saying/doing that,” with kind of a shrug.

It’s a pretty effective coping, isn’t it? If I don’t remember, I don’t have to keep talking about this. I don’t have to feel bad. I don’t have to hear how much this hurt you. BUT they also don’t get their pain attended to, that caused them to lash out in the first place.

Sometimes I think they are bullshitting me a little here, the other part of me knows that their brain likely is protecting them from feeling shame and also that they were flooded and overwhelmed in these moments. They reasonably could be dissociating, or getting foggy, even if there isn’t a lot of escalated conflict.

The interventions I’ve had some success with are:

1) Validation

“We often don’t remember things when we’re flooded and when we feel kind of bad about how we acted. Our brains have good reason to protect us. Sometimes we are more overwhelmed in those moments than we realize, does that sound right for what was happening for you?”

2) Look for the trigger

“Do you remember what was happening right before you lashed out? What was going on?”

Sometimes bringing in the context of the situation helps them access more memory around what they did or how they felt.

3) Parts Work

I love Internal Family Systems (IFS) for parts work in these moments. I might say, “I totally get that there is a part that’s protecting you from remembering in these moments, and for good reason. I’m worried it’s also blocking us from seeing how you get hurt in these moments, or what is upsetting for you. Do you think this part might move over a little and let you remember more of what happened?”

See if any of this works, or share interventions that have worked for you in the comments!

Don’t forget to sign up at www.GeorgeFaller.com for videos and training news. He’s going to release a free 45 minute video on Enactments this week - don’t miss it!

New Blog New You

Welcome to the blog 2.0! I’ve been writing the blog for over two years now, which I can hardly believe, and I’ve been growing and changing and you have been growing and changing.

I feel like my focus has … focused. And I also feel like we’re so busy that we don’t always have time to read long blog posts regularly. Going forward, here are the changes you can expect:

  • Continued focus on how hard this work is, and how you aren’t a failure for having a hard time

  • Pulling in advice from outside EFT. I’ve gotten clearer that my values in this work are about taking in as much information as I can and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I want to encourage us as critical consumers. Take what resonates, ignore what doesn’t!

  • Mostly shorter posts, with clearer messaging

What I’ve been loving this week:

Anabelle’s talk with Ryan Rana. Ryan Rana! Who is this sleeper hit? I watched this and for the first time in my life had the thought, “I should get a ticket to Arkansas.” Ryan Rana is the wise and gentle big brother I never knew I needed.

The Client Experiencing Cafe starting on Wednesday. I cannot freaking WAIT. I am working with so many clients who are not curious about themselves and resistant to the therapeutic process, I really need this guidance.

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. 




Being Bolder and Trusting My Instincts

Don’t you just hate it when you start feeling a growth edge for yourself, and then the universe shows up full force and gives you these pushes towards this place?

I’m becoming more and more aware of the need to be bolder in the room. I’ve been absorbing this in different ways from what I learn from Lorrie Brubacher, George Faller, Kelly Bourque’s latest newsletter, and others. This touches on so many different aspects, so I’ll highlight the main areas where I’m seeing this as a growth edge:

1.   Bolder in how I speak

I counted the number if times I said, “if I’m getting this right,” or “if I’m hearing you right, and always correct me if not,” in a session I taped recently, and it was close to 20 times. No joke. Ugh! I sound so removed and cognitive, which is not at all how I want to sound. 

I then started watching some of Lorrie Brubacher’s tapes (she just released three excellent training tapes on her website). I’ve heard Lorrie counsel many times, but each time I’m listening for something different. I watch her tapes repeatedly, and this morning I decided to listen for just how she speaks. She is respectful and gentle, but doesn’t use a ton of sentence preambles the way I do. She reflects in a tone that invites disagreement if she’s wrong, but she’s much clearer and more confident in her tone and simplicity in her reflections than I am.  

Action Step: I’ve been consciously trying to cut out how many times I give a preamble, and just go for the reflection, trusting that my emotional energy is respectful and I am always quick to adapt if the reflection doesn’t land.

2.   Bolder in how I interrupt

I hate interrupting, because I want my clients to feel heard. If I don’t interrupt, they can gain momentum into their vent about their partner and dysregulate themselves and shut down/enrage their partner. Lorrie interrupts frequently and with skill. She interrupts most often with a reflection, diverting them from going down content tubes, and also diverting them from going into a view-of-other speech. Watching her videos, I can see how she can do in one session what might take me 3-5 sessions, because she goes straight for the heart of what’s happening and doesn’t look squeamish about interrupting.

Action Step: Continue to gain boldness in interrupting. See if I can test some limits for myself. I’m wondering if I can give myself permission to interrupt much more, and then I can always back off or apologize if it feels like I’m mis-attuning with someone or irritating them. It helps me to watch 15 minutes or so of Lorrie’s videos before my sessions to get me in that flow.


3.   Bolder in how I trust my instincts

It’s rare to have a mixed agenda couple, but when you have one, you know it. You can feel it in your stomach in the room. The problem is, the leaning out partner is rarely ready to be clear on this, because they aren’t ready to lose the relationship (at least I think this is why they aren’t ready to be clear on this). What I often hear in these dynamics is the leaning out partner wants “time.” They are leaning back, seeing if their partner changes or becomes more pleasant, and waiting to see if time makes their feelings come alive again. Here, I typically hop on board the optimism train and plow into cycle work, hoping we find some attachment threads and clarity into the cycle that shifts how the leaning out partner feels. I become the over-working cheerleading convincer, and start doing way more work than they are.

Action Step: My wonderful supervisor, Felicia, gave me some awesome help here. She helped me find the language to really assess what the couple’s goals are for if therapy works. My translation of her guidance to me is asking them: what kind of relationship do you long for with each other? What exactly would that look like? What kind of closeness would you have? Does that match?

 If they say they want time, I can ask more specifically: what is it that you hope time alone would change? Are you saying you’re hoping your partner does work on themselves while you hang back and observe if it’s safe enough for you to engage? That’s a reflection with more challenge to it, but I’ve been learning the hard way that working hard with a mixed-agenda couple without clarity on goals does not move them forward. 


4.   Bolder in how I trust the model

I had a great therapist reflect back to me recently that I seemed to be sucked into the cycle with my client. I tend to do this when there is a ton of emotional reactivity, and so much of the session is spent on regulating. I start to avoid any triggers, and not activate their reactivity, and I become totally lost in what I’m doing. 

This helped me pull out and do a solid Step 3 with a client, while riding some intense roller coasters of reactivity. 

Action Step: Try to notice when I’m in the cycle with the client. Notice when I don’t want to do a Step 3 because I’m afraid of their reactivity. More boldly step into the model and ride the reactivity waves as they come.

This is my boldness resolution list - what ways would you like to try being bolder?