Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Emotional Connections of Family Therapy

Yesterday Richard Schwartz presented an incredible model of therapy. His Internal Family Systems utilize the viewpoints of systemic family therapy to address the inner conflicts within our minds. It was interesting to hear his perspective that he has not always felt welcome at AAMFT because of his model’s emphasis on the ‘inner mind’ struggles and because there is intense emotion experienced with this type of therapy. He suggested that the early days anticipation of success has not been met and has caused some newer models to abandon true ‘systemic thinking’ such as narrative therapy and solution focus therapy, where neither one offers transformative change. The inner ‘deep’ work of IFS taps into the deeper emotions of fear and anger and allows one to truly change how they related to others. He further suggested there was much in common with Susan Johnson Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy.

Today Susan Johnson began with “there is an exquisite logic to our deepest emotions” and that family therapy has missed the boat by not addressing issues of love. She immediately challenged MFTs to expand their understanding of therapy to realize reducing conflict and lowering reactive is not ‘good enough’ therapy. Small emotional signals from our partner such as a lift of an eyebrow can turn a marriage into a tornado. Flexible joyful connection can bring deep fulfillment to our families. Are there basic mechanisms of change that cut across models of therapy…couples that move into to deeper emotions in therapy will move into deeper sense of personal fulfillment and more meaningful relationships. We need to know the core issues of love and bonding. As systems theorists we need to know the inner loop of the interplay of emotions and inner cognitions as well as the outer loop of how people related to each other in their interpersonal world. Set our sights higher as therapists…instead of just reducing conflicts and lower reactivity to creating nurturance and love. The founding fathers of our field had no understanding of love and nurturance.

Some take home thoughts: We are attaching peoples and there is much of the tissue in our brains is dedicated to detecting the emotional signals of those we are close to. We need a special connection with others…lovers regulate each other physiology. Connection with an attachment figure anesthetizes the shocks of the world. There is only effective or ineffective dependency. We do not grow out of dependency. If we are securely attached we will be more confident and resilient in the stresses of life.

Love relationships are defined by emotional responsiveness and the question or all questions, “Are you there for me?” If you have this sense of felt security all other problems can be managed safely. How you handle security and disconnection enables us to handle all other issues in life. Sue also challenged the present status of MFT by stating “we don’t need magic questions” (a gentle poke at Solution Focus Therapy?) but we much engage in the understanding of love. She also took Minuchin and Nichol’s to task by challenging their ‘we must understand the limits of relationships’ and stating as therapists we must help couples create ‘safe haven connections’ so they can explore the limitless possibilities of human relationships.

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