Couples therapy usually involves a lot of emotion, but emotion is usually not used to appeal to the clients as the reason to make changes in their relationship. In emotionally focused couples therapy, this is exactly the appeal. The past is looked at, not just during the relationship and what problems developed throughout the partnership, but well before that. Patterns are discovered and addressed that may have developed as children or early in their relationship history, with other partners. There may or may not be “breakthroughs,” but the ultimate goal is for each member of the relationship to be able to understand their partner better, in order to be able to connect with them on an emotional level.
In this particular case, the counselors name is Susan, and the clients are Josh and Patty. Patty has a son, Keith, outside of the marriage. Their issue is a fundamental lack of trust in the partnership, but it does not seem to be caused by either of them. Susan looks to both partners for answers, and once it is understood that the trust issue is stemming more from abandonment and trust issues on Patty’s part, a lot of progress seems to be made. Josh’s mistrust comes directly out of Patty’s mistrust, as he sees her distancing as a way to show him that he is not a necessary part of the relationship. He needs to feel “worthy” of the relationship. Throughout the duration of the session, a few different techniques are employed by Susan, which helps lead the discussion along. These techniques will be looked at here and now.
First, the counselor is seemingly casual in the way she talks and interacts with the couple. Verbally, she seems to be contributing simply as a third party looking for more information on them as a couple, rather than asking distanced or condescending questions. Throughout this exploration portion, her nonverbal communication is just as helpful, and very disarming. This all allows for the beginning of a trusting relationship between the couple and the counselor. By acting this way verbally and non-verbally, she is not seen as a threat.
There were certain questions and comments that the counselor made that were especially helpful in moving from the exploration to the clarification portions of the session. She was very repetitive, which is important when a person is upset or depressed. Often the mind will work in a loop in order to re-analyze the situation over and again. By being repetitive, using keywords like worth, hope, and the dance, she is able to slip herself into that loop to really see what’s eating away at the clients. Eventually, this led to a pretty significant stage, when she could ponce again use tools to clarify.
One of those tools to move her directly into the clarification process was the way she asked questions. One noticeable thing she did, that was highly effective, was to use changes in tense and switching from first person to third person. Closed ended questions were addressed in first person, present tense: “So this must have made me feel like I couldn’t trust, right?” This allows Susan to put herself directly at the same level as Patty, which enables Patty to not have to explain herself, and just nod yes, with a few interjecting words of agreement. This also allowed for Patty to disagree easily , too. By this point, Susan must have concluded that most of the disruptive mentality was coming from Patty, so she was the main focus. Josh was not left out though, and a similar way of asking questions was employed. When the question was open-answer, the tense became past, and it was asked in third person: “did he or she do this to you, could you explain how?”
During the clarification period, no matter what kind of therapy is being employed, it is important for the counselor to make sure they understand the grievances expressed by the couple. A great way to do this is to paraphrase what each of the clients is saying, and to do it at two separate occasions. The first is immediately after something is said. By paraphrasing then and there, the counselor is not just confirming that they heard the client, but also that they are acknowledging what the person said as being relevant and pertinent to the conversation. The second occasion to paraphrase is towards the end of talking to each partner. This is to ensure that both clients agree with your perception of the story, or to disagree with it and make the necessary changes to this sty. In this particular meeting with Josh and Patty, this went better than planned. At the end of the paraphrasing portion of the clarification period is where most disagreements occur, and it can take the length of one or many meetings to reach an agreement. Susan’s ability to keep the entire session under control is rather commendable.
Susan was then able to start making the transition into the action stage of the meeting. She has already done most of the setup for this, as she has already gathered the necessary information during the prior two portions of the meeting (Peng, 2014). During this time, she may ask questions about the finer points of each clients problems, that way she can piece together the information she has been given. This is where she takes the interviews, and discovers that Josh is fearful that he is not needed, not necessary. Patty has been a single parent with Keith for a long time, and did just fine without him beg around. Other than perhaps a little extra money, he is unsure of how worthy he is to be in such a beautiful relationship. He is scared taht he is disposable, that his position may only be temporary, despite the marriage.
Patty, on the other hand, views Josh as the perfect partner, and almost idolizes him. She feels that because of her past relationships, along with the child, she might be the weak link in the chain. She is afraid of letting go and letting herself be vulnerable to Josh, because she doesn’t want to be hurt agaim, Similar to Josh, she doesn’t feel she deserves the realtionship that the two have with each other.
The exploratory, clarification, and action stages were very easy to identify. The exploratory part of the interview established basic greetings, and getting to know the patients a little more. The most important part of actual therapy is trust-building with the counselor (Tartakovsky, 2016). Susan did this very well buy speaking casually with the patients. During clarification, we are moving a bit beyond exploratory questions, and it really appeals to the trust that has been built between the three people right away. The point of this stage is to try make sure all of the issues in the relationship are being identified. Not doing this right could have left Josh feeling useless, or with Patty not knowing where her trust issues come from. Finally, in the action stage, Susan asks the clients to put each other in their own shoes, so to speak. Josh didn’t fully realize where all of Patty’s trust issues came from, and Patty had no idea that Josh was feeling insecure about the relationship at all.
All three parties left with things to reflect upon. Susan, the counselor, will need to come up with various practices that the couple can try in order to build trust between each other, though she did make the quick suggestion that they both make a lot more effort to listen to each other. Patty was finally able to reflect upon everything that had brought her to the point of needing couples therapy. She can think about the different relationships that caused trust issues, and why those issues existed. It seems that Keith’s biological father is not around much, so there may be a lot to explore there. Josh can reflect upon the fact that Patty had no idea that Josh felt unworthy of the relationship. he fact that the both are now truly aware of their desire for each other could lead to new sparks in the relationship.
Susan was absolutely effective in getting the clients to disclose information to her. It was pretty “by the book.” She asked the right questions, and did it the right way, by speaking at their level, making them feel like they were, in fact, speaking with an equal, rather than with someone with an advanced degree in therapy. She related to them in the way she paraphrased, and even the addition of little words like “right” made it feel as though they were talking to a friend. She then rewarded both patients by making their answers to questions and thoughts on the issues they were facing. She did this by validating ach thought, making them feel as they were valuable and worth considering, and by choosing an action plan based on what they disclosed.
Overall, this was a pretty light case for Susan. Nobody cheated on each other. There was no spousal abuse. And both seemed to contribute well to Keith’s livelihood, and considered his feelings when discussing anything about their relationship. At the same time, however, these two patients chose the right time to start coming, and Susan would probably agree with that statement. By coming in while the problems are still relatively small, practices such as emotionally focused couples therapy can still be very effective. This style of therapy probably not work on more complicated issues in a relationship, because the emotions of resentment and anger are probably too strong for any real progress to be made. Susan was able to control the entire time they had together, and was able to do so in a setting that was comfortable for everybody.
Tartakovsky, M. (2016). Emotionally Focused Therapy: Bolstering Couples’ Emotional
Bonds. psychcentral.com Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/emotionally-
Yeng, P. (2014). The Use of Recursive Frame Analysis on an Emotionally Focused
Couples Therapy SessionThe Qualitative Report. Vol 19. Art 63, 1-25.
Retrieved from http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR19/peng63.pdf