Couples And Brainspotting
Imagine communicating with your partner without screaming.
Imagine couples counseling where you were able to solve ongoing problems while feeling close and holding hands.
Imagine changes that take place after one or two sessions.
When a couple goes to counseling they are usually in crisis: They are at the point of breaking up, giving it one last try. One of the partners has cheated on the other. They have found themselves fighting all the time. They deeply love each other but cannot get along. They find they communicate the same way their parents did. They blame each other for all that is not working.
One of the hardest problems that almost all couples have is they are unable to distinguish what is their own issues and what are the issues unique to their relationship. It is like there are three people in the room, instead of two. Partner A, Partner B and the couple. When they communicate and get angry it often is not about the current relationship, it is about triggering issues from the past. We all carry our past in our bodies and when our bodies get activated, we have a sense of losing control. This is when we want to blame someone else. Since our partners are the closest to us, they do a better job of triggering past feelings than anyone else in their lives.
I have studied couples therapy for over 20 years and have used many methods. There are differing opinions of how best to work with couples. John and Julie Gottman believe that the couple cannot make changes if they are working at a high stress level. They have very structured exercises to help couples communicate without fighting. When I used this work, I found it helpful. David Schnarch who is a very prominent sex therapist and neural-psychologist believes the opposite that couples change when their bodies are activated. They change when conflict is high and the therapist makes interventions that actually increase neural activity.
Then there is Brainspotting, which in most cases has become my technique of choice. It is also based on neuropsychology. The brain’s neural pathways need to be activated for lasting change to happen. However, the brain can be activated while the client feel calm and resourced. Communication, even deep communication can take place while the couple feels close to each other. Most of the communication takes place with the couple looking at each other and maybe even holding hands. If one or both of the partners get activated (upset) they have a way of looking away from their partner which calms then down, while they continue to talk and listen. The therapist’s job is to help them notice when they need to calm themselves and when they need to go deeper. The other job of the therapist is to notice when the problems are unique to the person and not the couple. The therapist can then work with the individual on a past issue or trauma while the partner observes. In this way the pressure is taken off the relationship to solve problems and each partner gets to observe the other’s vulnerability. This promotes deep compassion.
This does not mean that couples therapy is not painful, nor difficult, but it usually means that the couple walks away knowing and respecting each other in a new way. It also allows the therapist to relax and know that they can do no harm and that most times the couple does not leave in a state of war.
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