Improve your practice by reviewing your sessions.

You could have a dozen good reasons why you aren’t recording – and reviewing – your sessions: “It takes time.” “I already know what I need to do differently.” “ I’m afraid recording will interfere with the process.” “It’s too complicated.” “I take careful notes, so I know what’s happening.” In this article I make the case for not only why, but also how to watch your sessions and some of the key factors to consider when watching.

In my early days as a musician, I would practice a piece carefully to get the full range of expression: a grand crescendo here, a broader tempo there or crisp, staccato sixteenth notes someplace else. My teacher would listen carefully and say kindly, ‘you need more crescendo here’, or ‘see if you can broaden the tempo more there’, or ‘try playing the sixteenth notes shorter’.  Inside I’d protest, but I’d try it and always find that it sounded better. What I thought I was doing wasn’t coming across. Eventually, I started to record myself and could hear far more clearly whether what was in my head was coming out the end of the trumpet.

What to watch

There’s no need to watch all your sessions. You might choose one in which you’re focusing on a particular skill, such as tracking the cycle in early sessions or setting up enactments in stage 2. Focus your attention on how well you’re implementing these key tasks. Or alternatively, choose a session that left you feeling lost or puzzled: the one when you got completely derailed by content; or it seemed like the right time for an enactment and you thought you set it up well, so why did it seem to fall so flat?

It’s also not necessary to watch the entire session. Concentrate on a small segment– often 10 minutes is plenty, but watch it 4 or 5 times. You will likely notice something more or different each time. It may be non-verbal communication such as facial expressions, gestures, posture, or eye movement. Para-verbal expression, including vocal tone, emphasis, rate of speech, pauses. You’ll also be more likely to catch the interactional sequences as partners respond to each other and to you.

How to watch

First, and most important, be kind to yourself as you watch your sessions. Many of us have a tough internal critic that seems to get especially vocal when we’re slowing down and taking a careful look at our work. But if you can be kind and self-supportive as you watch, you will likely also be more open to the learning it offers. And like the ‘Monday morning quarterback’, it’s generally easier to pick up the things during review that we missed during the session. Finally, remember that by taping and reviewing sessions you are already in a highly selective class of therapists. And of course you’ll likely be much more helpful to your clients.

Try to step back and see the session with fresh eyes, not just recalling the session, but watching it now as an observer, with curiosity, taking in what is happening in front of you. Try to zoom out and see the sequences and patterns in the session: what clients say and how you respond; how they listen, interrupt, etc.

Do your best to adopt an experiential stance as you watch. Note your internal process as you hear, for example, the client begin to escalate, or relate a painful interaction.  Our own empathic stance is an important guide both in the moment with clients and when we review the session later.

What to look for

Notice how well you implement key interventions. For instance:

  • How well are you recapping sequences, adding a bit of primary emotion as you track the cycle?
  • How much do you explicitly validate?
  • Are you using attachment language often and effectively?
  • When you’re attempting to evoke emotion, are you using RIIISC and evocative language to bring the emotion into the moment.

You can also pick up on some of the pitfalls to effective EFT:

  • Do you resort to explaining at the expense of clients experiencing what you’re describing? Do you get distracted by content and lose your focus on the process?
  • Are you accessing emotion, but failing to expand and heighten it, so your clients talk about their feelings rather than from them?
  • Do you start to deviate significantly from the model, for instance making behavioral suggestions and teaching attachment in an attempt to foster closeness.
  • As your couple escalates, do you move in to create structure and holding or do you begin to get quieter?

Try to pay careful attention to the clients’ response to your interventions, such as what happens after you have just reflected and validated a painful experience of one partner in an effort to access primary emotion?

  • Does it take her deeper into that experience?
  • Does she go into an explaining mode and exit – and do you follow her out the exit?
  • Does she return to secondary emotion and escalate?

Or when there is an unexpected escalation and the couple slips into their cycle, carefully track the sequence and ask yourself:

  • When did it appear to start?
  • What happened immediately before (cue)?
  • What was each partner’s apparent reaction (action tendency)?
  • What was the manifest, secondary emotion?
  • Can you feel your way into or guess about the primary emotion and related attachment need?
  • How were you responding? What did you do, or could you have done, to help them de-escalate and process the escalation?

With a partner who has trouble accessing emotion, track his responses carefully to pick up the immediate reaction to your interventions.

  • How does he respond to your explicit efforts to validate and affirm? Can he receive it? Does he minimize it or otherwise exit?
  • As you attempt to access primary emotion by using evocative attachment language, does he dismiss it? Is there a little pause before he does so?
  • Do you note any glimmers of primary emotion, the sometimes tiny reactions – a glance of the eyes, a change in vocal tone, a small sigh –that peak out from under the usual efforts to maintain safety in the face of distress?
  • What might you have said or done differently? It helps to actually stop the tape before your response and reflect on what you wish you’d said. Don’t we all wish we could do that in some sessions?

EFT is a highly process-oriented approach and many of the elements of theory and intervention grew out of the careful review of session video. That same careful review can help you improve your work by noting the small moments that often make the difference between sessions that wander and creep along and those that help partners shift destructive patterns and promote lasting change.

Jeff Hickey LCSW
Certified EFT Trainer
Director, Chicago Center for EFT
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