I just read an article from the ICEEFT newsletter, the institute that trains Emotionally Focused Couple therapists of which I am one.
The article is written by Kathryn Rheem and discusses fear and the role it plays in couples therapy. She talks about fear as an emotion originating from the reptilian brain's startle response. (The reptilian brain or lower back brain is the first to develop in the growing fetus and is all about instinct and survival.) She states that fear is often underlying human emotional expressions.
She refers to a book entitled A General Theory of Love by T. Lewis, F. Amini and R. Lannon which looks at the science of human emotions. It examines love and human connection from science and cultural perspectives. It looks at the expression of love through literature, song, poetry, painting, sculpture, dance and philosophy as well as from a more scientific approach of social science, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Where art meets science. For me the right and left brain approaches to love and also to healing.
Raheem says that unprocessed fear often grips us. Because we are gripped with fear we react with rigid and defensive responses. Unprocessed fear fuels rigid, escalated emotional expression (i.e.: anger, sorrow or fear responses) which drives reactivity and negative coping strategies ( when we get triggered by something someone says or does and we react in attack for example) exacerbating trauma symptoms.(meaning that we make ourselves even more upset in the moment rather than calmed or soothed.) In order to break to grip of this vicious cycle we have to touch and loosen the grip of fear. One of the primary goals of working with trauma survivors and their partners is to loosen this grip of fear.
Eft therapists recognize a felt sense of safety is essential. Felt sense is what we are seeking in the body versus the mind. I may know I'm safe but am feeling threatened in the moment. People need to feel safe in the body in the session. How is this created in the session by the therapist. It is created by the state of the therapists nervous system and tone of voice and demeanour that sets the tone. How she 'holds the space.'
Steven Porges, PhD writes about Prosody. Prosody being the sound pattern and intonation of language.He says it is the the only unambiguous signal of safety from one limbic brain (emotional centre) to another is the quality of the voice. Pores' research teaches us that with prosody, the muscles in our ears and around our eyes relax, our breath deepens, our hearts calm and your sense of threat and fear down regulate. (meaning calms and settles.)
So when talking to our partner if we use a softer voice, slow down and simply reflect their words we often convey a sense of safety. I would also say that voice is only one element creating a sense of safety in the therapy office. There is also visual, energetic, emotional cues that also create a safe, welcoming environment in which a client can heal. The 'presence' this therapist is able to hold, 'being with' the client in the moment of their exploration, with no personal agenda is also important.
Chris Germer, PhD says that 'people are the owners of their own deeds. It's their choice how they make themselves happy and free from suffering.' He further states 'Everyone is on their own journey. I'm not the cause of this person's suffering nor is it entirely in my power to take it away no matter how much I wish I could. Moments like this are difficult to bear yet I may still try to help to the extent that I can.' He is referring to a client who arrived feeling suicidal to his office.
The photo was taken at City Hall, Toronto following Nuit Blanche, 2015.