by Nikki Lively, LCSW – www.nikkilively.com
I’ve been interested in doing couples therapy since early 2006 when I realized that in order to be a truly effective perinatal mental health specialist, I needed to be able to help relationships heal from the stress and trauma of serious postpartum depression, anxiety, and psychosis. At the time I was working in a department of psychiatry as a therapist in a women’s mental health program where no other staff therapists were offering couples therapy as it was a very medical model and individual lens that was used in the department. So, I began to seek outside training and supervision in different models of couples therapy, each one had something to offer in terms of interventions to try, but none offered a coherent set of ideas, or research to explain why and how couples who once loved and liked each other, end up distant, distressed, and hostile with one another. I had no guiding theory about romantic relationships that would help me make decisions about how best to help couples in the moment when they were in pain and mourning the love and connection they once had.
About 2 years into my journey to learn how to be a couples therapist, one of my couples told me about a self-help relationship book they were reading that they really liked. “It’s called Hold Me Tight”, the wife said, “we really love it! Have you read it?” I hadn’t even heard of it! As it often happens in clinical practice, my couples were teaching me more about how to be a good therapist than any training I had attended! My couples up until this point were teaching me that they needed things from each other that they didn’t even know how to express, (thus the communication interventions I was using at the time were falling so flat!) and this couple pointed me to the book that would finally bring it all together for me!
I read Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight and knew immediately that this was the missing piece I had needed not only to help me conceptualize what was happening in the relationships of the couples I was seeing, but also to help me understand myself and my own relationship! Adult attachment theory is the radical idea (at least in American culture) that we need our partner to be emotionally available and responsive to us to feel emotionally well and that if we don’t feel that or have that, we have predictable ways to try and cope with this painful reality. Everything I saw my couples do and say in sessions suddenly made sense, and I was filled with understanding and compassion and a renewed sense of how I could actually help them find their connection again.
I pursued training in EFT and am proud to say I am now a Certified EFT therapist! It has made all the difference in my practice and changed the way I relate to everyone in my life as well! I recently had the pleasure of seeing Sue Johnson do a keynote speech on EFT at a family therapy conference. One of the things she said during that talk is what I would say to any therapist who is on the fence about investing in EFT training. She said, “I find with EFT, the theory never lets me down”. This is exactly right! Having this humanistic, compassionate and research-based theory of human attachment makes every couple understandable, and with understanding comes true empathy and the calmness and wisdom to guide them in the direction of loving and liking each other again!