This post is a follow up to a post Dr. Leanne Campbell wrote in June, you can read the first post here.
Now back from Europe and busy seeing clients again, and getting ready for upcoming trauma trainings this fall (in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in November 2017, and in New York City in December 2017), I write again to follow up with some inquiries regarding work with trauma with individuals and couples from an EFT perspective. Referring again to the live session in Slovenia that I wrote about in June, in addition to processing the session with the audience and providing feedback to the courageous client, I spoke about what was distinct in working with this individual client, relative to what I would have done differently with a couple. In particular, although many aspects of the intrapsychic work associated with couple and individual therapy share commonalities, the opportunity to use individuals’ most important social resources, their intimate partners, does vary between individual and couple therapy. Consequently then, in some regards, so does the role of the therapist.
What does not vary, regardless of couple or individual context, is that the therapist listens with an attachment lens. With a focus on emotion, in the individual live session in Slovenia, once I had listened to the client’s account of his history, I then spent considerable time focused on a key scene/event representative of that history, with the aim of both heightening primary emotion and giving him a voice (something he did not have as a young boy, and an aspect of himself that he had not made space for in earlier times). In this context, as would be the case in both couple and individual therapy, as the client is “held” in this position of heightened and authentic/primary emotional experiencing, working models of self and other also are challenged, and the disparity between the current experience and that of earlier times (i.e., in this case, the scene in Italy with his mother) creates dissonance for the client.
In the case of couple therapy, once this primary emotion was discovered and distilled, I would have encouraged disclosure through an enactment, and then processed that enactment with the goal of assisting both partners in understanding and making sense of his current way of relating in the context of his trauma history. Either way, though, whether the scenario is individual or couple therapy, the dissonance/disparity between the experience in the “here and now” and that of earlier times from an attachment and emotional perspective is highlighted, and processed, with the aim of providing clarity, and ultimately increased flexibility in typical means of coping, and slow and gradual revision of working models of self and other.
The Role of the Therapist
Returning to the notion of the role of the therapist then, while in both cases the therapist is a resource for accessing, distilling, and expressing primary emotion, in the context of couple therapy the therapist has the opportunity to assess the individual/personal resources of each partner, as well as the resources of the relationship, and to use the relationship as a resource more directly. In the context of individual therapy, although the overall goal is to similarly move clients forward in a manner that improves their relationships outside the therapeutic context, in couple therapy this goal can be achieved more directly and intentionally. With this in mind, I am reminded of Jim Coan’s statement at the EFT Summit in San Diego in 2010, that went something like this …”I am not sure why anyone would do anything other than couple therapy?” Indeed, though individual psychotherapy certainly has an important role in healing trauma, if we are well versed in both, then we have the opportunity to use our clients’ most valued resource, an intimate partner, whenever possible.
With Warmth and Appreciation,
If you are interested in learning more and improving your couples therapy practice, check out the upcoming Emotionally Focused Therapy Externship in Houston in February 2018. Save $200 by registering before November 30.