EFT for Couple’s Therapy (Article)

By Dr.

There are some EFT and therapy sessions that leave me feeling, "This is how it should be.  It’s why I’m in this work."  A recent EFT session with a couple had this effect on me.

"Rich" had been seeing me on and off for individual psychotherapy for over two years.  I had also seen saw him and his wife "Leila" for couples’ sessions on a number of occasions — these were highly productive meetings where we made extensive use of EFT.  This couple also learned to use EFT at home, guiding each other and their children through sessions with considerable success when anyone in the family faced an emotional or physical challenge.

In light of their familiarity with EFT and regular use of it, it is particularly instructive to note what occurred when Leila recently had to be guided through the procedure by another person, in this case myself, in a couples’ counseling session.  As a result, she was able to accomplish something she was not able to achieve by going through the technique alone.  This reminded me of how often we can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to ourselves, no matter how sensitive we may be to others’ issues or able to help them.

Rich and Leila are a devoted couple but they have had some changes in their home life which have made for difficulty.  The most troublesome problem they faced was the one for which Rich originally sought treatment — a radical change in the family’s everyday life that occurred when Rich switched careers two years ago.

Leila had encouraged him to leave his job of many years standing where his time was extremely flexible and his work was "left at the office" at night, and return to graduate school to train for a totally different career.  The first job Rich obtained in his new field, however, was extremely time consuming and he could no longer drop home for lunch, or leave early enough in the day to drive the children to their extra-curricular activities, and so forth.  Also, he was able to spend much less time with Leila, who worked in a home business and was on the premises most of the day, and even when he was at home, she often didn’t have his full attention now because he had brought work home to do.

This triggered in Leila feelings of abandonment stemming from her childhood, and she found herself attacking Rich for "neglecting" her and the family, and repeatedly nagging him to pay more attention to her. Fortunately, Leila sought therapy for this problem (with another therapist, not me), but Rich was left to deal with her distressing reactions, as well as a host of uncertainties about his own professional competency which had been triggered by the new career.  As a result he became anxious, depressed and increasingly withdrawn.  This, in turn, alarmed and annoyed Leila even more, so a vicious circle was set in motion.

When Rich came to me for therapy, he was extremely worried about his relationship with Leila and also afraid that he might not be able to "make it" in his chosen field because his first job experience had turned out to be negative and in a sense he was treated there as an absolute novice.  We started in by working on his ability to tolerate Leila’s anxiety and frequent verbal attacks during this transitional period because that was the most pressing issue.  There were many triggers at work here, and we tackled them systematically for a number of sessions:

"Even though she says ‘You’re not talking to me’…"

"Even though there’s nothing I can do that pleases her …"

"Even though she says the marriage will be over if this keeps up…"

"Even though I’m very scared of losing her…”

And so on, until gradually he was able to handle these occurrences in a balanced manner.  At that point we began to devote more attention to building his self-confidence with respect to his creative abilities and competence at work.  In the process we used EFT to address many early childhood experiences which had caused him to accept a lesser role in life and not develop his considerable innate abilities.  He was also able to do a lot of EFT "homework" as well, which served as an important support to him during this period.

Rich changed greatly over the course of therapy.  His depression lifted and he began to stand up for the goals he had set for himself, with pride and confidence.  During this time we made considerable use of "Choice" cards that contained affirmations relating to the issues he had been working on (See the use of Choices with EFT), and these reinforced the therapy greatly.

As a result of being able to handle job interviews with more confidence, Rich finally obtained a much more satisfactory job in his new field and began to really come into his own.  Eventually Leila regained her security as she saw him beginning to handle his work life and his home life in a very different manner.  And by the time this past summer rolled around, the couple had established a new rhythm in their home life and felt happily close to one another again.  They were so optimistic about their state, in fact, that Rich now came in only for an occasional therapy session with me, when a new work challenge arose.

Therefore, I was surprised when he told me recently that he and Leila were again facing difficulties in their relationship, although certainly not as severe ones as originally.  Although she knew that he was doing extremely well on his new job and obtaining recognition there for his work, Leila was once again anxious and upset with him, and he found himself increasingly withdrawn from her.

It seemed clear that we needed to schedule a couples’ session to address this.  Rich was unable to explain why the trouble had arisen between them and I needed Leila’s input.  I also felt that a couple’s session could prevent a more serious situation from developing between them.

When they came in for their appointment, I noticed that Leila’s usually animated and sensitive face looked as though cast in stone.  While she was willing to be there, she seemed nothing short of grim.  Rich had a subdued, almost sullen look on his face.  Since I had not seen Leila for a long while, and Rich had given me no clues as to the origin of this new problem between them, I asked Leila what she thought was going on.

"I know exactly what it is," she said.  "I call it ‘the elephant.’"  It’s a problem that sits right between us, as though it were in our living room."

Did she know what the "elephant" was?  She nodded emphatically, and told me that Rich had been assigned to write up an extensive report on his work which he had to turn in before his semi-annual work evaluation could be completed.  He had been given two months to do this and that time was now drawing to a close. In fact, there was only one week left, and he had only completed a relatively small portion of his report.  Leila, who is an experienced writer, was standing by to edit it for him, but he was not handing her any copy to work on.  His procrastinating on this had been going on for two months.  It was now obvious to both of them that this was what was causing the rift.

Procrastination had always been one of Rich’s problems and we would need to do some more work on this, however I wanted to focus on Leila in this session.  She was obviously annoyed, although trying to control her irritation, and underneath Leila’s anger I had learned that there can be fear akin to panic.

When she agreed to address her concern with EFT, I asked her what was the worst thing that she feared happening in this situation?  She answered without hesitation.  She was afraid that if Rich didn’t get his report in on time that he would lose his job.  Then she was afraid that if this happened, he would never succeed in his new career and would have to give it up.  Then she had visions of the family ending up impoverished on the streets.  Leila was obviously caught in catastrophizing, so this is what we needed to work on first.

I chose not to ask her to address her anger despite the stormy look on her face, but to go straight to her fears and work on them.  I also suggested that Rich tap along with us as she progressed through the EFT sequences.  My instructions to him were either to tap on an issue of his own as we went through the sequence, or to do surrogate tapping for Leila.  He chose the former, tapping on his own problems

Leila’s initial SUDS rating (on a 1 to 10 scale of distress) was an 8.

She started with this set up phrase:

"Even though I feel in danger because Rich hasn’t finished his report…"

At the end of the first round she reported that she was still feeling high anxiety and that her SUDS level had not changed.  However, I saw before me what can only be described as a "different person".  Her face now was soft and gently sad; the stony look had completely vanished.  I have frequently seen it happen when working with EFT that clients will change before my eyes and yet subjectively perceive themselves as still being in the same place emotionally.  While sometimes this is the familiar "Apex" (denial) effect that can occur in a person new to EFT, when it occurs in the course of therapy with clients who have in the past responded well to EFT and recognize its value, then it may indicate that their conscious awareness has not yet caught up with progress that is being made on a deeper level.  To me, the softness of the face and the sadness that was now in her eyes, were a better indication than her words of how EFT was succeeding.

Then at this point one of those wonderful moments in therapy occurred.  The client herself led the way toward healing in a manner I could not have anticipated.  Although she could have continued to tap on the negative issues to bring her SUDS level down, Leila opted for something quite different.  She shook her head in response to my suggestion that she do another round on the negative.

"No" she said, "I want to call on my deep inner resources to help me…."

I could see from the quietly firm expression on her face that Leila knew exactly why she was doing this, and that switching from an effort to get rid of the negative, to reach instead for her own positive inner resources was just the right move for her at this point.  This can be an extremely beneficial thing to do, by the way, if the client is ready for it.  If not, and there is still a need to clear away some of the negatives that can block progress, asking the client to access the positive at this point can be actually counterproductive.  We could technically call the approach that Leila turned to now "installing the positive", but that term doesn’t really do justice to the special quality of this positive exercise which was deeply self-affirming.

Her choice of words for her "positive installation" was:

"I gently, safely, and permanently release this anxiety about the report not being done…"

Here, Leila was using her version of a phrase I had taught her in a previous session.  It is my slightly altered wording of the BSFF ("Be Set Free Fast", an energy technique that is a "cousin" of EFT) set-up phrase: "I am eliminating (etc.)". I have found BSFF to be more reassuring and more easily accepted if a client uses instead the phrase, "I am gently and safely releasing (whatever)", replacing the word "eliminating", which can startle or frighten some clients.  Leila wisely added to my phrase the word "permanently" for her set-up and reminder phrases.  Permanence can be an excellent self-suggestion, serving to lock-in a positive cognition.

She also elected at this point to use the TAB (Touch and Breathe) technique, where one touches each of the EFT acupoints in turn, holding one’s fingers on it while taking an "easy breath".  This approach seemed to fit in with her quiet, contemplative mood.  After one slow and thoughtful round using her positive reminder phrase, Leila’s SUDS level had come down to a 3.

"Sadness is coming up," she said, "it’s turning into sadness now."  She was now recognizing the sadness which I had noticed before in the expression of her face at the end of the last round.  This signaled that we could go directly to the sadness.

"Even though I have this sadness…"

At the end of the next round, Leila sat very still, her hands folded in her lap.  When I asked her where she was with all this, she said "I feel calmer."  And the way she said it told me that she was calm in the deepest sense of the word.  Her SUDS level, she added almost in a whisper, was now zero. There was a silence in the room as we all quietly shared her experience.

I then turned to Rich to find out what he had experienced during the exercise.  He looked over at Leila, "I now ‘heard’ something you said here," he told her.  "It went in this time.  It was about my withdrawing when I’m anxious.  I do.  So while you were doing the EFT, I was doing it for my stuck-ness about the report.  My SUDS was very high to start with.  It went down, but I think there’s still something tied in there that I’ll have to deal with in my therapy with Pat.  I’m not happy with my playing computer games when I should be finishing the report up."

I agreed that there were issues to work on in therapy, and we made plans to do so.  But this was a moving session.  Leila had reached a depth in herself and a self-support which can only be described as spiritual in nature.  She had called upon the highest in herself, and she had received the help she needed.  Before she left she commented on how it felt to leave the struggle to survive and to feel the warmth of inner support flooding her as she went through the sequence calling upon the positive resources within her.

The peace she achieved flowed into me too, as I know it did for Rich.  Sometimes, being a therapist who is able to observe and perhaps facilitate moments of truth in a person’s life, can bring a healing not just to the client but to oneself.

EFT Master, Dr. Patricia Carrington

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