In using Emotionally Focused Therapy, E.F.T., therapists learn to slow couples down in session by using empathy, validation, focusing on attuning to the needs and experiences of both partners. With a collaborative effort to uncover and illuminate the couples particular negative “cycle” or “dance”, the therapist creates a safe haven for emotional exploration. In this environment, each partner will begin to open up, go beneath reactive and secondary emotional expression and begin exploring and sharing underlying vulnerabilities and deeper emotions.
Misti, an EFT Therapist and Supervisor Candidate, talks about “Chasing one rabbit.” There is an old adage from farmers that “If you chase two rabbits, they both get away.” Misti captures the essence of E.F.T. to trust and follow emotions. For therapists, another way to think of this as described by Jim Thomas, Center Director, is “To stay near to tears and fears.” In other words, when a partner begins to express fears (cautions, worries, anxieties) or shares sadness and longing (often with tears), it behooves us to stay close to their experience.
If as therapist, you find yourself accessing underlying fears, sadness and longings (tears), but then you go chasing another rabbit in the form of intellectualize, teaching or distracting yourself, this is a good adage to remember. These emotions, though often difficult to feel or to share in session, have powerful value for each partner. These emotions help them to understand their own experience, organize it, and begin to look below the negative cycle’s surface dynamics to underlying needs and vulnerabilities. Partner’s seeing this new emotional expression outside of the negativity of the cycle get curious about what else is happening for in the other person.
Give this a try for a week or two, write “Stay Near to Tears and Fears,” and see if you can expand your own emotional capacity, your empathetic curiosity, when these feelings come up in one or both couples in Stage One work.
Once near to tears and fears, stay their to explore these emotions with the client through empathic reflections, validation of their emotional experience, conjectures, evocative responses and questions. The use of gentle attachment language framing the emotions as arising from the distance and the negative cycle they are in with their partner gives the sadness and fear context and will soften it for the other partner. This fosters the overall process of Stage One work as Sue says, “looking at what is happening between the partners,” to access what is happening within each partner.
Copyright 2013, Jim Thomas, LMFT