Posted by: ellyn on Nov 22, 2010
So, after several months of us working with a single session with Tom and Vicky, I am now posting the final section of this transcript. Before reading it you might want to review last month’s post and some of the insightful comments by your colleagues.
We begin this section with only about 10 minutes left in the session. Until this point, much of the focus has been on Tom. Now, I want to check in and work with Vicky before the session ends.
I step partially out of the Initiator-Inquirer framework. I don’t know Vicky very well yet and I want to understand her more completely.
• How does she respond to Tom’s attack?
• Is she afraid or angry?
• How rigid are her defenses?
As I learn about her feeling frozen, I work to see if I can decrease her fear and increase her capacity for compassion and empathy.
Ellyn: (to Vicky) I noticed how soft your voice sounded when you were surprised that Tom went to the hospital.
Vicky: Yes. I was surprised. I felt for him.
Ellyn: I also noticed that when Tom said, “I don’t need an intellectualizing lecture from you right now” that you seemed to retreat.
Vicky: I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to give back. I feel frozen.
Ellyn: Is it that you don’t know what to say or how to persist in saying it?
Vicky: It is both. I am not sure what to say. I am scared and he doesn’t accept anything tender.
Ellyn: If you reflect on all Tom said today, what are you feeling right now?
Vicky: I’m still frozen. I want to reach out and I can’t.
Ellyn: Why do you believe you can’t?
Vicky: I am so afraid of his anger. He can be so sarcastic. When I hear that voice, I just freeze in my tracks. I know he won’t accept anything tender.
Ellyn: And when you encounter that part of him, you become very self-protective. The tender part of you goes into hiding and you freeze in your tracks. In that way you won’t get hurt anymore. Does that describe it?
Vicky: That sounds exactly right.
Ellyn: I am wondering if you’d like to bounce back quicker after feeling bitten by Tom? Maybe even sidestep his attack and hold onto your caring.
Vicky: I think so. It does feel very dangerous.
Ellyn: Today’s session has revealed a lot. Any feeling of being controlled triggers Tom easily. He gets angry and attacks you. He does not want to feel the grief and the pain he experienced here today. Over time he will be better able to separate you from his father. And over time you will be better able to show him your tenderness and compassion. Would you like to take a small risk today?
Vicky: Maybe. I am not sure. What is it?
Ellyn: Will you say this to Tom? “There are things in my past that get in the way of me being as tender with you as I’d like to be.”
Vicky: I can do that. “Tom, You know how my dad was. Sometimes I freeze with you like I did with him.”
Ellyn: And if it is true, will you say this to him? “ I’d like to stay with my tender feelings longer, even if you are angry with me.”
Vicky: (Laughs) Wow, that would be amazing, but I’d really like that. I don’t want to be cold with you.
Tom: I see you being tender with others. I know I bite you and push you away.
Ellyn: Let’s take one last risk today. In whatever way feels right to you Vicky, will you let the tender part of you peak out for just a few seconds and show herself to Tom?
Vicky: Gets up from her chair and gives him a hug. (The hug between them is stiff but a warm smile goes back and forth between them as they experience a brief moment of connection.)
When Vicky was paralyzed by fear, she could not risk reaching out and being compassionate. Past experiences with both her father and Tom signaled danger. In this session, she started to risk. As I said to them earlier in the session, “Feelings of being controlled will trigger Tom easily. His first response is to get angry, lash out and attack. He protects himself from feeling the grief and pain he experienced as a child and in the session.” Over time he will be better able to separate Vicky from his father. And over time Vicky will be better able to expose and express her tenderness and compassion. It will take both of them to shift this pattern.
I hope this sequence of transcripts has demonstrated some ways to use the Initiator-Inquirer process in sessions with couples. You can expect each partner to hit their limitations and break down somewhere in their own role. The breakdown provides you with a clear path to intervene. You can then use a variety of therapeutic methods to strengthen the clients’ capacity for differentiation and increased intimacy.
I also hope this series has provided some insight into working with the very familiar dynamic of control struggles.
Again I hope you will write your reactions, learning and responses. Couples therapy is complex. It requires the integration of many skills. Your comments not only help me, but you also give each other valuable ideas!
You are not alone. And by the next time I write to you, I will have reflections and updates for you from three conferences:
- Anatomy of Intimacy in Irvine, CA, Nov 13-14
- NICABM in Hilton Head, SC, December 5-11
- Brief Therapy Conference Orlando, FL, December 8-11