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Emotion-focused therapy workshop series (sixth post): a method for understanding puzzling reactions

Last Saturday was the fourth day of this seven seminar "Emotion-focused psychotherapy: Level 2 workshop series" that I'm going to at Glasgow's Jordanhill campus.  I took my bike on the train from Edinburgh and then cycled along the canal and in past Gartnavel Hospital.  There was a woodpecker chipping away high up in the trees as I arrived at Jordanhill.  It was a lovely morning ... the weather showing its creativity with rapidly alternating rain, snow and sunshine ... but mainly sunshine.  

I wrote about the third workshop in this series last month in three posts starting with "Emotion-focused therapy workshop series (third post): narrative therapy and trauma processing".  There are twenty three or so of us attending this course.  We're due to meet for seven full day seminars at approximately monthly intervals (sadly I didn't get to the first of the sequence).  Really good, here at this fourth seminar, to feel the connections between us warming up.  Affectionate, fun, interesting.  We're a disparate bunch of fairly battle-hardened psychotherapists.  I'm really enjoying hanging out with these guys!

And today's focus was first "Systematic evocative unfolding for problematic reaction points" in the morning and then (more relevantly for me) "Working with self-criticism/depressive splits" in the afternoon.  The "systematic unfolding" intervention is used to understand puzzling responses better.  The "marker" is that the client describes a situation where their reaction (emotional and/or behavioural) surprised and puzzled them.  This might have been something that they felt or did which seemed in some ways inappropriate or excessive ... or equally it might have been something they didn't feel or do.  There are similarities to work done "retelling trauma" but the energy in "systematic unfolding for problematic reactions" is much more around clarifying puzzlement or "mystery".  It can have clinical relevance apparently with PTSD flashbacks, borderline processes, social anxiety, binge eating, nightmares, and so on.  I find it gently intriguing as an approach, but it doesn't grab me because I suspect I wouldn't often find a client's puzzlement therapeutically important enough to interrupt the many other tasks we're likely to have during a therapy session.  I might well be wrong here, but this work with "problematic reaction points" feels like an intervention "golf club" that will probably mostly stay in my bag.  Nice to know it's there, but it's not likely to get used much.  We'll see.  Now I've been reminded of the method, maybe I'll find I'm using it all the time.  Certainly in the role play we now split up and did in groups of four, I was struck by how the technique opened up a wealth of other potentially relevant material.  And as so often when trying to understand a client's problems when I'm using my normal CBT approach ... there's encouragement to look at a specific relevant instance of the problematic reaction by going through a slow motion, re-run of the "memory video tape".  Encouraging sensory description of the event (sights, sounds, smells) typically elicits associated feelings & thoughts.  As one goes through the experience almost "frame-by-frame", it's very likely one gets a successful detective set of "aha" insights. 

This is bread and butter work for many schools of psychotherapy including CBT, and it's fun to play with and use it in slightly different circumstances.  There's also for me the bonding that comes from doing these self-disclosing, emotionally charged, role plays with other group members.  Such a nice way of meeting fellow participants.  This is our work.  This is what we love doing and have a lot of experience in.  I guess it feels like it has similarities with say an advanced musicians' workshop, where we repeatedly break to "jam together" in small ensembles. 

And another insight/reminder is how important it feels to me to make enough time when I'm teaching to encourage reflection and learning from what participants have been experiencing.  For me, we can sometimes rush this a bit in these EFT seminars.  However, mea culpa, I strongly suspect that I have a tendency to rush it even more when I'm teaching.  It's so good to experience seminars like these from the participant's chair.  It's like going back to school to be reminded what it feels like to sit in class as a pupil.  Now ... the week after this EFT seminar ... I'm teaching a five day workshop myself.  Remember, remember I say to myself, allow time for people to chew over what they're learning.  So this second morning of the course that I'm running, I'll aim to start early by getting them to fill in a reflection sheet before talking in two or threes about the key points they have taken from the first day of the workshop.  Digest, digest, digest ...   

Tomorrow I'll write about the afternoon session on working with our internal critic - an area that seems more directly relevant for my work.

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