Monday, May 7, 2012

Great reflection from Glen Barnes

Inspiration in application
Based on the Focused Psychological Strategies Workshop.
Rosalie Pattenden and Ray Hawkes
April 24, 2012.

So much of the workshop was practical and immediately applicable.  The following week, I had many opportunities to utilise the strategies from the workshop with my clients.  Therefore, rather than choose one strategy to apply, I have documented a number of snapshots.

Annie and John

A couple in their mid- 30s.  The couple have a young toddler. John was previously married and has a teenage son.  This was a first session.

Annie and John have been together for 3 years, and are not married.  John arrived agitated and unsure that counselling can help (he has already tried individual counselling), and while he finds it difficult to express what the problem is, he fears a repeat of his last separation, which was “a very messy divorce”.   Annie cries softly for most of the first 30 minutes, and describes that she had several long term relationships before she partnered John; and the last one she stayed in way too long.  She has no other children, and seems devoted to her young daughter – her life as a mother is a stark contrast to her previous life, where she travelled and had a high profile job.  She seems contented with this new life, and her distress to be more about how her husband feels than her own disappointment in the partnership.

Strategies which were useful:
i.              The Tunnel of Love - Leunig’s cartoon.  My quick sketch (acknowledging Leunig, of course) prompted the question of what was going on - now that the tunnel had burrowed underground. It provided an opportunity to normalise the journey for most couples, and this reframe did not require many words (a picture is worth a thousand words!)  They quickly volunteered that they had many lengthy discussions about the partnership, but no productive outcomes. By inference they were telling me that they required input from me to break this impasse – ie seeking expertise/ wisdom from their counsellor.

ii.           Different Definitions of Love.  It was a surprise to this couple, who I suspect had been seeking a mutually agreed definition of love, that most couples do not understand love in the same way. John, who holds a senior position in a financial institution and in his work life had little time for the relevance or impact of emotions.  However, when I asked them for examples of an ‘ideal’ intimate partnership, John opted for Romeo and Juliet!  In sharp contrast to his successful work life, he had a very idealised idea of “romance “ (his word).  Annie contrasted her two other serious (‘too-long’) relationships as being passionate , but lacking a shared rationality. A revelation emerged, which had not been previously discussed: Annie had told John that she felt she had chosen him for more than just passion – she felt the shared intelligence and world view were equally important. Apparently, she had mentioned this to John quite some time ago- and he had been quietly festering on it; he understood it to mean, “I don’t actually love you.’  

iii.          Gottman’s Relationship House offered a measured reassurance, and linked to John’s work world.  We focused on the importance of friendship; they both feel that they are strong in friendship. Annie had not recognised that this wasn’t enough for John, and he hadn’t spoken of this blow to his hopes.  This lead us to the concept of Shared Dreams.  The arrival of their baby, who they both adore, had heightened their tension, as they were unable to agree on their hopes for the future of their child. Gottman’s research – showing that 70% of satisfaction is derived from friendship, for both men and women – would have also been valuable – but we didn’t address this.  I’ll keep it mind for next time if appropriate.
iv.         Jacobson’s  Acceptance Model, with objectives of emotional acceptance, and interventions of explored emotional reactions and mindfulness, were briefly addressed.  Both spontaneously moved to the very different ways affection was displayed in their family-of-origin.

v.           Sense of Hope. The homework activity was embraced enthusiastically by both.  We discussed the very different modality for expressing affection that they had grown up with:  John’s family always greeted each other with a kiss, including all the men (to each other), while Annie’s family kept a distance, almost never touching each other.  Between sessions, they have agreed to practice expressing their affection for each other in the way the best member of the in-law family would do it.  This raised more laughter, with John checking with Annie about which one he should model himself on.  He asked could he actually seek advice from her brother (who Annie suggested was the most successful).  It appeared to me that having something new to do also reinforced the budding sense of hope which was not there at the beginning of the session.

At the end of the session both Annie and John volunteered that they had had a number of significant new insights, and they were keen to come back.

Kellie is a beautifully groomed intelligent woman in her early fifties, now working professionally, as a result of completing university qualifications as a mature age student.  She first presented with concerns about the relationship between her husband and their teenage son.

It became clear that Kellie’s major concern was the (somewhat bizarre) behaviour of her husband, which included very unreasonable anger toward the son. She used the sessions to give thoughtful and respectful consideration about what was behind her husband ‘s strange behaviour.  It emerged that his business had gone under, that they had large credit card debt, yet he refused to discuss either their relationship or their financial problems, despite her really respectful and creative approaches to him.  In the session following the workshop, Kellie arrived ready to ‘throw in the towel’ and begin steps to separate. 

Strategies which were useful:
i.               Takes One To Tango.  Kellie felt despondent about her husband’s refusal to respond.  Utilising Michelle Davis’s ‘be willing to tip over the first domino’, Kellie became energised to keep working to connect with him.  Although she had been ready to give up on the 25 year marriage, she still remembered him as lovable and kind – before the recent onset of secrecy and withdrawal.

ii.           Gender Differences.  We spent considerable time empathising with the importance of the business to her husband; and her new insight helped her to understand why he was so hesitant to receive her offers of support; she had taken these as personal rejection.

iii.         Relational Mindfulness.  Kellie developed another approach to talking with her husband, and left the session ready to try again.  

A few days later she emailed that he had responded with a willingness to do things differently and that he ‘loved her heaps’.   We will see what happens next at the next session; hopefully he will also attend.

 Sally and Pete

Sally came to see us because her ‘lovely’ daughter (14) had turned into a ‘monster’; and she was very unhappy about their continual fights. Older sibling (19) is studying, and does not live home..  Sally and Pete have been married 21 years.

In the first session Sally almost neglected to mention her husband at all – she was fired up and furious about her daughter’s behaviour and she felt angry and alone. In the second session, a slightly less frenetic Sally began to vent annoyance at how her husband appeared to support the daughter’s angst towards her.  Sitting with Sally was still not unlike being caught up in a cyclone!  She is a very busy, successful business woman, and she also raged at her husband for making a bad investment several years ago – details not forthcoming. She said she now had no respect for him. To a suggestion that we might invite Pete to future session, Sally responded forcefully, “I’ll make him come next time”.  I tried to have her defer the invitation while we prepared for a couple session; Sally had shown very little interest in ‘standing in his shoes’, and I feared it was premature.

Next session (after the workshop) Sally arrived with a retiring Pete in tow; he announced he didn’t want to say anything!  Sally looked as if she was spoiling for a fight. 

Strategies which were useful:
i.          Negative Interaction Cycle.  It was clear with almost nothing being said, that Sally and Pete were caught in a destructive cycle of hurt and vengeance (like the workshop Mary & John).  I explained that before we tried to explore ways of them managing their differences, we needed to be sure that each did actually know what the other one thought.  I then asked them to give a few minutes thought to what their partner would say about their differences.   I then asked Sally to tell me, as if she was Pete, what their differences were.  She responded energetically.   He smiled, and when asked to give Sally feedback on her accuracy, told her she was ‘right on’.  He then did the same for Sally, and got a similar response.  We were on our way!  We then very carefully looked at how they each saw the daughter’s behaviour; again I asked them to speak as if they were the other.  As Pete described how he thought Sally felt, including that she saw his behaviour as more than favouring the daughter, but actually showing his disinterest in Sally, the furious and stormy Sally dissolved before our eyes, tears poured down her face, and she spoke in a quiet voice I had not heard before.  I congratulated them on how well they understood each other.

Pete spoke up about how he feared that any proposal his daughter tried to negotiate for ‘freedom (eg visiting friends after school) would be blocked by Sally.  Sally talked about how it hurt that Pete could see that she felt neglected and unloved, yet did not reach out to her.  .   They were both saying how they had lost the ability to communicate.

ii.        The Relationship is the Unit.  Gottman’s concept was palpable in the room.  They faced each other quietly and carefully, and we looked into the details of their difference as a challenge for ‘their unit’; which was of paramount importance to both of them.

iii.      Five Languages of Love.   Exploring Chapman’s different styles prompted both Sally and Pete to suggest practical activities to begin to meet the other’s needs before the next session.

No mention had been made of the financial loss which Sally had described with such vigour and resentment the previous session, as the reason for her great loss of respect for Pete.  So I obliquely mentioned it; neither wanted to take it up; smiles continued.   A very much softer Sally, and a more vocal Pete left the session, with an appointment for next time – together.

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