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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Stage One of EFT Couple Therapy: A Clinical Example

My prior article about EFT couple therapy, What Happens During Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?, described what happens during Stage One of EFT couple counseling.  In the current article, I'm providing a fictional clinical vignette to illustrate how EFT couple therapy works during Stage One.

Stage One of EFT Couple Therapy: A Clinical Example

Also, see my articles:
Fictional Clinical Vignette: Stage One of EFT Couple Therapy
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how an EFT couple therapist works with a couple during Stage One of couple therapy:

Ted and Rita
After being married for five years, Ted and Rita began EFT couple therapy when Rita discovered that Ted was having a six month affair with his ex-girlfriend.  When Rita confronted Ted with the email that she found on his computer, he reluctantly acknowledged the affair and asked Rita to go to couple therapy.

During their first session, Rita told the EFT couple therapist that she was very hurt and, after she discovered the email, she asked Ted to move out of their apartment for a few weeks to give her time to think things over.  Subsequently, she agreed to attend couple therapy on the condition that Ted contact the other woman in front of Rita to tell her that the affair was over, which he did.

When they began couple therapy, Ted had moved back into the apartment that he shared with Rita, but they were sleeping in separate rooms.  Ted was clear that he wanted to salvage their relationship, but Rita said she wasn't sure.  She didn't know if she could ever trust Ted again, but she was willing to attend couple therapy in order to explore her feelings and determine if she wanted to save the marriage (see my article: Infidelity: Should You Stay or Should You Go? and Coping With Betrayal: Learning to Trust Again).

During Stage One of EFT couple therapy, the couple therapist determined that Rita was normally the one in the relationship who, until recently, was the pursuer.  She was the one who usually wanted to talk to Ted when there were problems in the relationship.  Normally, she would explore problems from every angle in order to try to resolve their differences.

Ted, on the other hand, was usually the more avoidant one.  He was the withdrawer in the relationship.  Rather than explore their everyday problems, he usually withdrew into silence.  He especially disliked when Rita wanted to talk to him about problems when he got home from work.  He preferred to withdraw into his home office for a while before confronting any problems.

Ted's withdrawal often left Rita feeling sad and abandoned, and she often pursued Ted even more when he withdrew.  When Ted refused to talk, Rita would become angry and critical of Ted.  She felt that his withdrawal meant that he didn't care about her.

Their EFT couple therapist discovered that the more Rita pursued Ted, the more he withdrew, and they were caught in a negative dynamic of pursuer-withdrawer that continued to perpetuate their problems.

From Rita's perspective, the worst thing that Ted could do was withdraw from her.  Because of her family history, which included emotional abandonment by both of her parents, Rita often felt emotionally abandoned by Ted when he avoided her.

From Ted's usual perspective, Rita made too big an issue of their everyday problems.  He grew up in a home where his mother was frequently critical of his father, and he hated their confrontations when he was growing up, so he hated feeling criticized by Rita.

Their EFT couple therapist recognized that it was important to determine Rita and Ted's usual dynamic before Rita discovered the affair--especially since Ted was now the one who was more motivated to be in couple therapy than Rita.

When they talked about Ted's affair, he told the couple therapist that he felt criticized and unappreciated by Rita when he began the affair.  He said he ran into his ex one lunch hour, and what began as a friendly lunch escalated into a full blown sexual affair within a short period of time (see my article: The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable).

Ted was clear that his affair with his ex wasn't important to him, and he felt deep remorse that it had hurt Rita and affected their marriage.  He said this was the only time that he had an affair in his five years of marriage, and he would do anything if he could go back in time and undo the damage that it had done.

As part of Stage One, the EFT therapist assessed the relationship, determined the negative cycle and attachment issues and helped Rita and Ted to de-escalate their conflict, focus on the negative cycle in their relationship and try to regain trust.

After several sessions, Rita agreed that she wanted to try to save the marriage and she was committed to remaining in couple therapy.  She stopped criticizing Ted, and Ted was able to open up more to her.

Rita was able to tell Ted in their couple therapy that she feared being abandoned by him, and the affair only exacerbated her fears.  For his part, Ted was able to tell Rita that he felt like "a loser" in her eyes and that, prior to the discovery of the affair, he felt Rita no longer cared about him.

By the end of Stage One, Rita and Ted both recognized that they were each committed to the marriage.

Having completed Stage One of EFT couple therapy, Rita and Ted were now ready to enter into Stage 2: Restructuring the Bond of the Relationship.

Conclusion
As illustrated in the fictional clinical vignette above, during Stage One of EFT couple therapy, the following steps, which are part of the initial stage of EFT, were completed:
  • 1. Assessment
  • 2. Identification of the negative cycle/attachment issues
  • 3. Accessing underlying attachment emotions
  • 4. Framing the problem as part of the cycle, attachment needs/fear
In the next article, I'll focus on Stage Two of EFT couple therapy, Restructuring the Bond, using the same fictional couple to illustrate how EFT therapy works.

Getting Help in EFT Couple Therapy
EFT couple therapy has been researched and found to be one of the most effective forms of couple therapy.

If you and your spouse or partner are struggling in your relationship, you owe it to your relationship to get help from an experienced couple therapist.

Rather than continuing to perpetuate a negative cycle, which is damaging your relationship, you will learn in EFT couple therapy how to identify and change this negative cycle so you can have a happier relationship (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and EFT couple therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.















Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What Happens During Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?

In previous articles that I've written about Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), I provided an overview of EFT.  See my articles:



What Happens in Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?
In this article, I'm focusing specifically on what happens in Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy.

A Closer Look at Stage One (De-escalation) of EFT Couple Therapy:

     The Therapeutic Alliance
During Stage One of EFT Couple Therapy, the EFT counselor works to form a therapeutic alliance with each partner in the relationship.  This is an essential part of any therapy because if clients don't feel comfortable with the therapist, they're not going to open up and problems won't be resolved.

It's not unusual for each member of a couple to come to couple therapy with various feelings of fear, ambivalence, hopelessness, defiance, hope, dread and many other feelings.

Sometimes, one person is more motivated to engage in couple therapy than the other.  Since it's important for both people to be engaged in the therapy before the work begins, a skilled EFT couple therapist can help each person to feel safe and more open about the process.

It's important for both people to be able to speak about their concerns about starting couple therapy, especially if they attempted it in the past or had negative experiences with a psychotherapist (see my article: What is the Negative Transference in Psychotherapy?).

     The EFT Counselor Assesses the Negative Cycle in the Relationship
Each couple, who have ongoing problems, usually has a negative cycle that they get stuck in.

During Phase One of EFT, the EFT couple therapist assesses the couple's negative cycle by listening for certain dynamics in the relationship as each person talks about his or her perspective of the problems.

The negative cycle keeps the couple looping around in a dynamic where they can't find a way out.  Instead of resolving their problems, the couple remains in this same dynamic and their problems continue to escalate.

Many relationships, which could have been salvaged if the couple understood their negative dynamic and how to change it, end because one or both people feel defeated by their inability to make changes in the relationship.

Once the EFT couple therapist recognizes the negative dynamic and presents it to the couple in an empathic way, the couple have an opportunity to explore whether the couple therapist's assessment resonates with them or if the assessment needs more fine tuning.

Being able to look at the negative dynamic in their relationship is often an eye-opening experience for both people in the relationship.  They have an opportunity to look at their own contribution to the dynamic, their partner's contribution, and how it all comes together to keep them stuck.

Rather than blaming each other for their problems, the couple can focus on making changes with the help of the couple therapist.

In most relationships, there is one person who is considered the "pursuer" and another person who is considered the "withdrawer."  Generally speaking, in a heterosexual relationship, the woman is usually the "pursuer" and the man is usually the "withdrawer."

That being said, there can also be two "pursuers" and two "withdrawers"--whether it's a heterosexual, gay or transgender couple.

     What is a "Pursuer" in a Relationship?
"Pursuers"usually try to manage the relationship through approach and repetition.  They're usually the ones who point out that there are problems in the relationship and they prefer to address the problems rather than avoid them.  They often try repeatedly to express their perspective of the problem from different angles to try to engage their partners in a conversation.  They're the ones who usually ask repeatedly for clarifications and justifications.  If they're unable to get what they consider a satisfactory response from the partner, they become frustrated and often criticize and blame the partner.

     What is a "Withdrawer" in a Relationship?
"Withdrawers" often get defensive with the "pursuers'" repeated demands and criticism.  This usually leads "withdrawers" to withdraw emotionally and often physically.  As the "pursuer" becomes more and more frustrated and angry, the disagreements escalate, and as this occurs "withdrawers" often withdraw even more.  Then, this becomes part of their negative cycle.
       
     The "Pursuer" in the Relationship Begins to Experience Underlying Emotions
It's essential for the couple to complete Stage One of EFT before going onto Stages Two and Three.  As previously mentioned, Stage One presents the first opportunity for change to occur.

One of the things that usually happens in Stage One that can lead to change is that the person who is the "pursuer" experiences his or her deep, underlying emotions, which often include fear of abandonment (see my article:   How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Overcome Fear of Abandonment).

In other words, rather than just focusing on his or her anger, with the help of the EFT therapist, the "pursuer" recognizes that underneath the anger, s/he is fearful that the other partner will leave.

The "pursuer" recognizes that, in the past, prior to EFT Couple Therapy, unaware of and/or unable to express this fear of abandonment, the "pursuer" continued the approach and repetition, the same dynamics that cause the "withdrawer" to feel defensive and to withdraw.

What Happens in Stage One of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?
The EFT couple therapist helps the "pursuer" to feel safe enough to tap into and express these more vulnerable emotions, and the "withdrawer" can see that, beyond the blaming and criticism, the "pursuer" is fearful.  This provides an opportunity for both people to see the underlying dynamics.

If the "withdrawer" feels safer after hearing that the partner is fearful, this provides a chance for the "withdrawer" to be less withdrawn and open up to his or her emotions rather than defensively withdrawing.  This usually allows for beginning of a de-escalation of the couple's conflicts.

I'll continue to address these issues and Stages Two and Three in EFT Couple Therapy in future articles.

Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
If you and your spouse or partner would like to salvage your relationship, you could both benefit from attending EFT Couples Therapy.

Rather than continuing to struggle with the same negative dynamic, you can both learn to recognize the pattern and change it so you can have a happier relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EFT Couple Therapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with adult individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.












Monday, July 16, 2018

What is Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?

Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, also known as EFT, was primarily developed by Canadian psychologist, Dr. Sue Johnson in the 1980s (see my articles: EFT Couple Therapy - Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You StuckEFT Couple Counseling: New Bonding Can Replace a Negative Cycle in Your Relationship and How EFT Couple Therapy Can Help You to Improve Your Relationship).

Dr. Johnson established The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) in 1998, and the center provides training for psychotherapists in EFT.  There is also an EFT Center in Greater New York (NYCEFT).  EFT is now being used internationally in psychotherapists' offices, hospitals, clinics and in other therapeutic centers around the world.
What is Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?

EFT draws on attachment theory, which focuses on the earliest relationship between caregiver and baby, and also the enduring emotional bond between adults.

EFT is also based on Carl Rogers' person-centered psychotherapy, which takes an empathic stance in therapy.  In addition, EFT the theory of adult bonding to help couples understand their individual dynamics and the dynamics in their relationship, including whatever negative cycle they might have developed that keeps them stuck.

What Are the Stages in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?
There are three stages of EFT Couple Therapy:
  • Stage 1: De-Escalation:  As part of the first stage of EFT Couple Therapy, the EFT couple therapist begins by assessing the couple's interaction style, which cause conflicts.  She also helps the couple to identify the negative cycle/attachment emotions, and frames the problem based on the cycle, attachment needs and fears.
  • Stage 2: Restructuring the Bond and Changing Interaction Patterns:  During the second stage of EFT Couple Therapy, the EFT therapist assists each person in the relationship to voice his or her attachment needs and deep emotions.  The EFT therapist coaches each person on how to express acceptance and compassion for the other partner's attachment needs and deep emotions.  Each member of the couple is also coached in how to express his or her own attachment needs and emotions and how to discuss the issues that are causing conflicts.
  • Stage 3: Consolidation:  The EFT couple therapist coaches the couple on how to use new communication styles to talk about their problems and come up with new solutions.  The couple also learns to use the skills they learned in EFT couple therapy so they create and use new interaction patterns after they leave EFT couple therapy.

Conclusion
EFT Couple Therapy is a well-researched method that helps couples to improve their relationship.  It has been studied extensively and shown to be effective.

What is Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT)?

Generally speaking, EFT is a short-term couple therapy model.

EFT Couple Therapy was developed by Sue Johnson, and it is based on attachment theory, Rogerian therapy, and a theory of adult bonding.

There are three stages in EFT (as presented above).

Although the stages are presented in a linear way in this article, in reality, just like any other form of therapy, the process isn't always linear.

Since the couple is coached to identify and change the negative cycle in their relationship, they learn to stop blaming each other.  Instead, they learn that there are "no bad guys"--just a negative cycle that they can learn to change.

For more information about EFT Couple Therapy, see Sue Johnson's book, Hold Me Tight.

Getting Help For Your Relationship in EFT Couple Therapy
If you and your spouse or partner are stuck in a negative dynamic, you owe it to yourself to get help from an EFT couple therapist.

Your EFT couple therapist can help you to restructure the bond in your relationship so you change the negative cycle, express your emotional needs and gain acceptance compassion for your partner's and your own emotional needs.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, EFT couple therapist, EMDR therapist, hypnotherapist, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.











Saturday, July 7, 2018

EFT Couple Counseling: New Bonding Can Replace a Negative Cycle in a Relationship

I began discussing EFT couple therapy in my previous two articles (see my articles: EFT Couple Therapy: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck and How EFT Couple Therapy Can Help Improve Your Relationship).  In this article, I'm focusing specifically on how EFT couple therapy can help couples to replace negative cycles with new ways of bonding.

EFT Couple Counseling: New Bonding Can Replace a Negative Cycle in a Relationship

Negative cycles are often difficult for a couple to see on their own. But when an EFT couple therapist assesses a couple, she can eventually identify the negative cycle and help the couple to change it so that they can learn new ways of bonding together.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Developing New Ways of Bonding in EFT Couple Therapy
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how an EFT couple therapist can help a couple to recognize the negative cycle that they're stuck in and help the couple to stop the negative cycle so they can develop a new way of bonding together:

Ann and Tom
After 10 years of marriage, Ann and Tom were locked into an ongoing emotional battle where each of  them felt unloved and unappreciated by the other.

Ann explained to their EFT couple therapist that they had talked about the possibility of divorce, but they wanted to try to see if they could salvage their marriage, especially since they had two young children.

She said that problems began about five years into their marriage when their first son was born.  Tom had just started his own consulting business, and Ann had taken off time from her career to raise their son.

With stressors related to a new business and raising a young child, they began to drift apart.  They were frequently exhausted and their sex life had waned.  Tom said that Ann was a wonderful mother to their son, but she hardly ever wanted to take time for just the two of them.

He said he tried numerous times to persuade Ann to leave their son with her mother so they could go on vacation together and rekindle their relationship, but she refused to do it.  Eventually, he got tired of trying to persuade her, he threw himself into his work, and they continued to drift apart (see my article: Telltale Signs That You and Your Spouse Are Drifting Apart).

A few months prior to coming to couple therapy, Tom told Ann he felt like he was living with a roommate.  He told her that they were still young enough to start their lives over, and he broached the topic of divorce.  Shocked and upset, Ann told Tom that it would be devastating for their children if they got a divorce, and she wanted to see if they could save their marriage, which was what brought them into EFT couple therapy.

As the EFT couple therapist listened to each of them talk about their relationship history, it was clear to her that, in the past, Tom had been the pursuer in the relationship, and Ann had been the withdrawer.  Tom had been the one who was reaching out to Ann earlier in their marriage, and Ann withdrew emotionally from Tom.

By the time they came for couple therapy, they both appeared to be withdrawn and exhausted.  The EFT couple therapist noted that they hardly looked at each other when they spoke and neither of them made an effort to connect with a look or a touch.  And yet here they were seeking help in therapy.

When the EFT couple therapist asked what attracted each of them to the other  when they first met, Tom said how attracted he was to Ann when they first met in a college class.  He was drawn to her passion and enthusiasm in the class, and he eventually asked her out on a date.  Ann said she was drawn to Tom's good looks and how he made her laugh when they went out.

As they spoke about their relationship history, the EFT couple therapist noticed each of them come alive momentarily, and she commented on it.  For the first time in the session, Tom reached over to Ann, but Ann looked away and Tom withdrew his hand.

When the EFT couple therapist pointed out this interaction and asked Ann how she experienced it, Ann said that she felt emotionally numb.  She said it had been so long since they had touched one another in any way that she felt uncomfortable.  She said, even though she wanted her marriage to work out, she felt a sense of helplessness and almost hopelessness about it.

As the EFT couple therapist helped Ann and Tom to identify their negative cycle, which included Tom making gestures for connection and Ann pulling away, they both agreed that this was their negative dynamic, and they didn't know how to change it.

Over time, with the EFT couple therapist's help, Ann began to express her emotional vulnerability with caution, and Tom listened and felt more compassionate towards Ann.  She said that, after their first child was born, she felt Tom was making emotional demands of her that she couldn't fulfill, and she felt like a failure as a wife.

After their second child was born, Ann said, she felt that Tom's suggestion that they take time apart from their children felt impossible for her.  At the time, she didn't want to leave them in the care of her mother to go away with Tom, and this was the source of frequent arguments between them--until Tom buried himself in his work and Ann became more involved in their children's activities.

They were each able to see how they had gotten to this point after Ann withdrew emotionally and Tom became more resentful, distant and stopped trying to get closer to Ann.

With the help of the EFT couple therapist, each of them began to take small steps to allow themselves to be more open and vulnerable with each other and, slowly, things began to change as they developed a new emotional bond.

Conclusion
In most relationships where the couple is having problems, there is often a negative cycle in the relationship where there is a pursuer and a withdrawer.  After being immersed in this negative cycle for a while, the pursuer might also eventually withdraw emotionally until the couple drifts apart.  Without help, a couple who is stuck in a negative cycle often continues to drift apart until the relationship ends.

With help in EFT couple therapy, a couple can begin to identify their negative cycle and make small gestures to change.  It can take a while for each person in the relationship to trust again to be able to be emotionally vulnerable.

The role of the EFT couple therapist is to help the couple see their negative cycle and develop new ways of bonding.

Getting Help With EFT Couple Therapy
Many couples who are stuck in a negative cycle are helped by EFT couple therapy to learn new ways of relating so they can bond emotionally again.

If you and your spouse are having problems in your relationship, you owe it to yourself and your relationship to get help.

Rather than continuing to drift apart, getting help in EFT couple therapy could save your relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and EFT couple therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many people to improve their relationships.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.















Monday, July 2, 2018

How EFT Couple Therapy Can Help Improve Your Relationship

In my prior article,  EFT Couples Therapy: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck, I began a discussion about how Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) helps couples to overcome the negative cycle that they're stuck in.  In this article, I'm continuing the discussion about EFT and how it can help to improve your relationship.

How EFT Couples Therapy Can Help Improve Your Relationship

EFT couples therapy recognizes that couples often get caught up in a negative cycle and that they are often unaware of this cycle.  During the initial stage of EFT couples therapy, the EFT therapist is assessing, among other things, the type of negative cycle that the couple is stuck in.

EFT Couples Therapy and the Negative Cycle
The negative cycle usually involves each individual in the relationship aware of their secondary emotions (e.g., anger, frustration), but unaware of their primary emotions (e.g., sadness).  The secondary emotions usually function as defenses against experiencing the emotional vulnerability involved with the primary emotions.

For instance, many people feel more comfortable experiencing the secondary emotion of anger rather than allowing them to experience the primary emotion of sadness, which underlies their anger.

It's not that the secondary emotion isn't real--far from it.  The anger is real, but if each individual in the couple only allows him or herself to experience the anger, s/he will remain stuck in anger rather than recognizing the sadness s/he feels about problems in the relationship.

Getting to the primary emotions in EFT allow the couple to move beyond arguing and blaming so that they can express their unmet emotional needs to each other.

At that point, the couple usually feels more motivated to work on their relationship.  They also have something more substantial to work with to make changes in their relationship rather than just blaming each other or getting stuck in a blaming/withdrawing negative cycle (more about this below).

In order to get to the primary emotions, the EFT couples therapist needs to develop a therapeutic alliance with each person in the couple so each of them feels comfortable enough to open up.  Developing this alliance can take a while, and it will be different for each person in the relationship.

Once the therapist and the clients have a good therapeutic alliance, the couple is usually more willing to look at their negative cycle.

Roles in a Relationship: Pursuer/Blamer and Withdrawer
As I mentioned in my prior article, a common dynamic in relationships is for one person to be the pursuer/blamer and the other person to be the withdrawer.

The pursuer/blamer is usually the one who is most vocal about the problems in the relationship.  After the couple has been in a negative cycle for a while, the pursuer/blamer often comes across as being angry and critical.  The more s/he feels ignored by the spouse, the more the pursuer escalates the pursuing and the blaming in order to get his or her partner's attention.

The pursuer's intention is usually not to blame or cause an argument--although that's what it usually looks like to the other spouse.  His or her intention, as previously mentioned, is to change the dynamic in the relationship, but his or her emotions are being expressed in a way that usually alienates the spouse.  As a result, the other spouse often withdraws emotionally and, at times, physically.

As part of the cycle, when the other spouse withdraws, the pursuer will pursue/blame even more to try to reach the spouse who has withdrawn.  This, of course, usually leads to the person who has withdrawn to withdraw even further, and the cycle continues to perpetuate itself.

Often, from the pursuer's perspective, if s/he hopes that if s/he escalates his or her demands and says it loud enough, the other spouse will hear it and respond. But this usually doesn't work.

From the perspective of the person who withdraws, s/he feels frustrated.  Frustration is his or her secondary emotion, the emotion that is closest to the surface.

Often, the louder and more blaming and persistent his or her spouse becomes, the more helpless and hopeless the withdrawer feels.  After a while, the withdrawer might feel that the spouse thinks s/he can't do anything right--so why even try?

As the withdrawer continues to withdraw even more, usually, from the pursuer's perspective, the withdrawer doesn't care.  S/he interprets the withdrawal to mean that the withdrawer is emotionally indifferent because this is how it appears from the outside.

But the withdrawer's internal emotional experience is usually very different.  Far from being indifferent, s/he might feel afraid and hopeless.

Obviously, not every couple fits neatly into the pursuer/withdrawer roles, but the vast majority of couples do.

This negative cycle is unsustainable long term.  It often leads to divorce--even in couples who, underneath it all, really love each other.  After a while, one or both of them finds the cycle unbearable and, not knowing what else to do, want out of the relationship.

Aside from the damage which this cycle does to each person in the relationship, without help, each individual usually brings his or her part of the dynamic into the next relationship and it starts all over again with the next person after a while.

In my next article, I'll provide a fictional clinical vignette which shows how EFT couples therapy helps couples to recognize their negative cycle and find healthier ways of relating to each other.

Conclusion
Over the last 30 years, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) has been a well-researched form of couples therapy that gets to the underlying issues that are causing problems in a relationship.

Rather than focusing on skills, like communication skills, EFT couples therapy recognizes that each couple that comes for help has a negative cycle which keeps them stuck, and they're unable to get to their unmet attachment needs satisfied in the relationship.

How EFT Couples Therapy Can Help Improve Your Relationship
Identifying the cycle and helping each individual in the relationship to discover the primary emotions that aren't being expressed is a significant part of the EFT couples therapist's role in couples therapy.

It's important for each individual in the couple to feel safe with the EFT therapist in order to allow him or herself to be emotionally vulnerable enough to move beyond surface emotions.

As part of developing emotional safety, the EFT couples therapist helps each individual in the couple to develop a therapeutic alliance with the therapist.

Another way that the EFT couples therapist helps the couple is by stressing that there are "no bad guys" in their relationship.  So, rather than blaming each other, they focus on the negative cycle and how they can change it with the help of the couples therapist.

EFT couples therapy has various stages that the therapist helps each individual in the couple to get through until they're able to meet each other's emotional needs.

Like most therapy, progress in EFT couples therapy isn't a linear process.  Even after each individual allows him or herself to be vulnerable enough to express his or her unmet emotional needs, one or both individuals often initially go back to old ways of relating that were part of the negative cycle--until the change is consolidated in couples therapy.

Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
There are no "magic bullets" in couples therapy (or in any therapy), but EFT couples therapy has been proven to be an effective form of couples therapy based on 30 years of research and follow up with couples after therapy has ended.

Admitting that there is a problem in your relationship and being willing to get help is the first step in improving your relationship.

Rather than remaining stuck in a negative cycle that's destroying your relationship, you and your spouse owe it to yourselves to improve your relationship with EFT.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individuals and couples, and I am trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.
















Saturday, June 30, 2018

EFT Couple Therapy: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck

So many couples get stuck in a negative dynamic in their relationship that keep them stuck.  A big part of the problem is that many couples blame each other rather than seeing that the problem is the negative dynamic that they get caught up in.

Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck
In Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (also known as EFT) couples learn to stop blaming each other and focus on their negative dynamic so they can change the dynamic.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Overcoming the Negative Dynamic That Keeps Couples Stuck:
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how a couple can learn to stop blaming each other as they begin to see the negative dynamic and learn to change it with the help of an EFT couples therapist:

Alice and Sam
After five years of marriage, Alice and Sam were nearly ready to get a divorce when they started EFT couples therapy.

During the initial therapy consultation, Alice explained to their EFT couples therapist that she was at her wits end because whenever she tried to tell Sam what was bothering her, he withdrew from her emotionally and physically.  She said she felt alone and lonely in their relationship and she didn't know how to get through to him.

Sam sat in the therapist's office looking away from Alice with his arms folded.  When it was his turn to talk about his perspective of the problem, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "No matter what I do, it's never right."

When their EFT therapist prompted Sam to say more, he said that Alice tended to blame him for all the problems in their relationship and he gave up more than a year ago.  He said he didn't like to argue, so he preferred to go to his home office and shut the door when Alice yelled at him.  He said he was tired of being blamed and he dreaded coming home from work.

While Sam was speaking, Alice seemed as if she could barely contain herself, and she turned to the therapist and said, "You see? This is what I have to contend with. He just shuts down like he doesn't care, and I can't get through to him no matter what I do or say."

When the therapist asked Sam for an example of a typical argument, he brought up an argument that they had a few days earlier.  He said Alice got angry with him after he forgot their wedding anniversary.  He told the therapist that he understood that Alice was upset, but he felt that her reaction was "over the top."

From his perspective, Sam realized that he made a mistake, but when Alice kept criticizing him even after he apologized, he didn't see the point in discussing it, so he went to his office and shut the door.  But rather than allowing things to cool down, Sam said, Alice pursued him into his office and continued to berate him, which he couldn't stand, so he left the apartment.

When it was Alice's turn to speak, she said she didn't understand how Sam expected her not to be angry when he forgot their anniversary.  To her, this meant that he didn't care about her or their marriage.

As the couples therapist listened to Alice and Sam describe their arguments, she could see that they were stuck in a negative dynamic and this dynamic tended to get played out repeatedly with Alice being the pursuer and Sam being the withdrawer in their relationship.

Being stuck in a negative dynamic can be difficult for a couple to change on their own--especially if the couple has been in a particular negative cycle for a while.  But, over time, the EFT couples therapist helped Alice and Sam to see that there were "no bad guys" in their relationship--there was only a negative dynamic that they could learn to change.

Gradually, over time, the couples therapist helped Sam to become emotionally reengaged in the  relationship.  Then, she asked him to describe what he felt like when Alice blamed him for their problems.  In response, he thought about it and then said, "I feel like I'm worthless and that our relationship is hopeless, so why should I even try?"

As Sam said this, he choked back tears, and Alice, who seemed moved by Sam's sadness, reached over to touch his hand, "I didn't know that this was how you were feeling.  I thought you didn't care about me anymore.  I didn't mean to make you feel worthless."

Sam looked over at Alice, squeezed her hand and said, "Of course, I still care about you. I thought you were completely fed up with me, so I withdrew from you to protect myself emotionally."

The couples therapist asked Alice to talk about the emotions she experienced underneath her anger, and Alice responded, "I'm hurt and afraid that I'm losing Sam.  I don't want to lose him.  I don't mean to yell and blame him.  I just get so desperate that I don't know what to say or do.  I want our marriage to work out."

As Alice and Sam began to identify their underlying emotions, they began to see that they both still cared about each other, but the negative dynamic that they engaged in kept them stuck.

Overcoming the Negative Dynamic in Your Relationship That Keeps You Both Stuck
After Sam became more emotionally engaged in the couples sessions and talked about his emotional vulnerability, Alice's attitude toward Sam softened.  Rather than blaming him and yelling at him, she was able to say what she needed from him emotionally, which allowed Sam to open up to give Alice what she needed and express what he needed from Alice.

By rebuilding trust and being more emotionally vulnerable with each other, over time, Sam and Alice were able to change their dynamic so that they could express their underlying emotions rather than allowing anger and avoidance keep them stuck in a negative cycle.

Conclusion
The fictional clinical vignette is a common negative dynamic in relationships where one person is the avoidant withdrawer and the other person is the blamer/pursuer.

Each person in his or her role of withdrawer and blamer/pursuer makes the dynamic worse and reinforces continues to reinforce it.  The more the pursuer/blamer blames and pursues, the more the withdrawer avoids and withdraws.  Even though the couple might know that what each of them is doing isn't working, they don't know how to change this negative cycle.

In the fictional example above, which is brief and simplistic since this is a blog article, the EFT therapist assesses the couples' negative dynamic and the role that each person plays in it.  Over time, she helps each person to identify the underlying emotions that are often not apparent to the other person in the relationship.

For example, when Sam withdrew from Alice, Alice assumed that this meant he didn't care about her anymore.  All she could see was that Sam was withdrawing emotionally and physically.  Not knowing what else to do, Alice continued to pursue and blame Sam and he withdrew even more.

In EFT couples therapy, the EFT couples therapist creates a safe therapeutic environment which helps the withdrawer to feel safe enough to reengage emotionally so s/he can identify the underlying emotions and tell the other person in the relationship what s/he is experiencing.

When the person, who is in the role of the pursuer, hears that the withdrawer feels sad, helpless and hopeless (or whatever emotions s/he might be experiencing), this often comes as a surprise and a relief that the withdrawer still actually cares.

Once the withdrawer becomes emotionally engaged again and can communicate what s/he actually feels, the pursuer often softens his or her stance so that s/he can communicate what s/he is really feeling underneath all the blaming.

The example above is a simply illustration of how EFT couples therapy works.  Each relationship is, of course, different, and there can be other complications in the relationship, especially if the negative dynamic has been going on for a long time.

Sometimes, the withdrawer needs more time to feel emotionally safe enough to say what s/he feels.  Similarly, the person who is in the role of the pursuer/blamer might not trust that that the withdrawer will remain open enough to hear how hurtful things have been for him or her.  So, it can take time.

One important difference between regular couples therapy and EFT couples therapy is that there are "no bad guys" in the relationship.  The focus is on changing the dynamics that aren't working in the relationship rather than assigning blame.

More Information About EFT Couples Therapy
To find out more about EFT couples therapy, you can read Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson, a clinician and researcher, who developed EFT couples therapy.

See my article: How EFT Couples Therapy Can Help to Improve Your Relationship.

Getting Help in EFT Couples Therapy
When couples are stuck in a negative dynamic, it can be hard to see a way out.

Research has shown that EFT couples therapy is an effective form of couples therapy that gets lasting results.

Rather than feeling helpless and hopeless, you owe it to yourself and your spouse or partner to get help to overcome the negative cycle that keeps you both stuck.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist, who is trained in EFT couples therapy.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me
















Thursday, June 28, 2018

Feeling the Need to "Be Strong" to Avoid Feeling Your Unmet Emotional Needs

People who grew up in families where their emotional needs weren't met often feel they must "be strong" in order to deny their emotional needs to themselves and to others.  This denial of their emotional needs was part of their emotional survival strategy as children and they continue to use this strategy in their adult relationships--even though it's no longer helping them (see my articles: Understanding Your Emotional NeedsWhat is the Connection Between Unmet Childhood Emotional Needs and Problems Later on in Adult Relationships?, What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and Emotional Survival Strategies That No Longer Work: "I Don't Need Anyone").

Feeling the Need to "Be Strong" to Avoid Feeling Your Unmet Emotional Needs
Whether they received an explicit message when they were children to "be strong" or whether it was an unspoken understanding in the family, as adults, these individuals often feel ashamed of their emotional needs--shame that developed when they were children.

Denying their unmet emotional needs as children was a way of compartmentalizing those needs so that they didn't feel overwhelmed that there wasn't someone to comfort them.  In that way, the defense mechanisms of denial and compartmentalization helped them.  But, as an adult in a relationship, denying emotional needs gets in the way of having a healthy relationship.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: "Being Strong" to Avoid Feeling Unmet Emotional Needs
Jan
Growing up in a home where her parents were usually preoccupied with their own relationship and careers, Jan learned at a young age to deny her emotional needs.

Instead of her parents accommodating Jan's emotional needs, Jan learned to accommodate her parents by never asking them to comfort her or listen to her when she was scared or feeling doubtful.  She learned that she had to "be strong" on her own, and she became a pseudo "independent" child who appeared, externally, to be emotionally self reliant.

Her parents expressed their pride in having a child like Jan who never asked for anything from them and who was seemingly able to take care of her own emotional needs.

But behind this exterior of pseudo independence, Jan was a frightened, sad child who felt ashamed of having emotional needs.  At a very young age, whenever she felt the need for love or comfort, she told herself that she was  "being a baby."  In effect, she internalized her parents' attitude towards her and she shamed herself.

Years later, when she entered into her first serious relationship, she continued to deny to herself and to her boyfriend that she had any emotional needs that he needed to attend to, but she was willing to pay attention to his emotional needs.

Her boyfriend, who was an warming, affectionate, caring person, knew that Jan had lived her entire life denying her emotional needs because of her relationship with her parents, and he found it difficult to be the nurturing person that he really was in his relationship with Jan.  So, he talked to her about getting help in therapy.

Initially, Jan was offended by her boyfriend's suggestion that she get help in therapy.  She thought he was implying that she was a "weak" person (see my article: Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're "Weak").

As far as she was concerned, there was nothing wrong with her, and she couldn't understand why he would recommend therapy.  But she wanted to be open minded, so she made an appointment to see a psychotherapist.

During the initial psychotherapy consultation, Jan apologized for taking up the therapist's time when there was really "nothing wrong" with her.  She told the therapist that her boyfriend thought it would be a good idea for her to come to therapy, and she wanted to keep an open mind about it.

As Jan talked about her family history, she was so emotionally detached from the details about her relationship with her parents.  It was as if she was giving a news report.  It was only when the psychotherapist asked Jan to slow down that Jan heard herself and she began to feel sad and anxious about what she was saying.

After a while during the initial psychotherapy consultation, Jan told the therapist that when she slowed down and reflected on her relationship with her parents, she felt uncomfortable.  She thought about the children that she knew now that were the same age as Jan was when she was a child, and she realized that her family life "wasn't normal" (her words) because, of course, it's normal for children have emotional needs.

Over time, Jan's psychotherapist helped Jan to put words to her emotions by using Somatic Experiencing.  When Jan had difficulty identifying her emotions, her therapist asked her to sense what she felt in her body in order to put words to her emotions (see my article: Using Somatic Psychotherapy When the Client Has No Words to Express the Problem).

Initially, this was difficult and frightening for Jan because she spent her life, until now, denying her emotions.  But her therapist titrated the work so that it wasn't overwhelming for Jan.

Once Jan was able to express her emotions and accept that her emotional needs were "normal," she and her therapist used EMDR therapy to help her to resolve the trauma related to her early emotional neglect (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

This work was neither quick nor easy but, over time, Jan grieved for what she needed and didn't get as a child.

As she worked on resolving her childhood trauma, she became more emotionally engaged in her relationship with her boyfriend.  She was able to accept love and nurturance from her boyfriend, who was happy that Jan was growing emotionally and more present in their relationship.

Conclusion
Emotional survival strategies that were helpful during childhood often get in the way of adult relationships.

Someone who spent their childhood denying his or her emotional needs often doesn't recognize, as an adult, that this is what they are doing.  Often, their spouse or romantic partner is the one to point out that there is a problem.

Trauma therapy, like Somatic Experiencing and EMDR therapy, helps to overcome unresolved trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
Trying to overcome these type of traumatic problems on your own is very difficult (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome emotional survival strategies that are no longer working for you so you can replace them with healthy ways of relating and coping (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Admitting to yourself that you have a problem and contacting a trauma therapist is often the hardest part of trying to overcome trauma.

The first step is having a consultation to explore these issues further and to see if you feel comfortable enough with the therapist to continue to work with her.

Once you're free of your traumatic history, you can lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome traumatic experiences.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.