EFT, RLT and another perspective – Encounter

I’ve just listened to this episode of The Couples Therapists Couch

 In this episode, Emotionally Focused Therapist, Figs O’Sullivan, conceptualizes a case from the standpoint of working from the EFT perspective. Relational Life Therapist, Shane Birkel, talks about how an RLT therapist would work with the same couple. Figs and Shane talk through some of the similarities and differences in the two approaches and how they view couples cases that come in for therapy.

I’m immediately drawn to the conversation, and want to participate.  I appreciate the value systems in both models.

EFT: empathy, people are not bad, healing is not an individual thing, it is relational, between the couple.

RLT: accountability, the distinction between latent and blatant, shame and grandiosity, influence of patriarchy.

They both see the relationship with the therapist as important.

What they have in common is the way the therapists work, listening, reframing, validating and valuing.  All the way through both say “I will empathise, I will tell, I will validate… the therapists are active with one partner while the other one listens.

As I think of how this happens in psychodramatic couple therapy there is a difference.

The therapist will do similar work to form a relationship with each partner, enough to establish their credibility as a facilitator.  Facilitating encounter is not about content.  The couples’ world that is produced in a new way.  Facilitation is about the process. The therapist produces the drama so the couple have a new connecting experience.

The couple take turns. One is the talker, the other the listener. (protagonist, auxiliary) The therapist assists the couple to:

Listen so the other will talk
Talk so the other will listen

The therapist is both a producer of the drama and an auxiliary to each of the participants (modelling mirroring , role reversal and doubling). The drama unfolds step by step in such a way that the couple experience their “truth” without the fight and flight.

Mary is the “protagonist” she is talking.

Mary: You are so angry, you wont listen to me. you ignore my needs and walk off and slam the door.

With doubling and coaching she learns to say:

Mary: When I hear the door slam, I think you are out of control. I think the child in you has taken over.  I feel powerless, scared, sad.

Bob has warmed up to being in her world, to listen, to be there, to put aside his side of the story (for now).  He is able, to be a good auxiliary:

Bob: When I slam the door, you think I’m out of control and you feel scared and powerless. (good enough mirror)

When I put myself in your shoes and see your world through your eyes what makes sense is : (he does not need to say this each time but he learns that is what he is doing.)

You are helpless when I walk away.

You are scared when I slam doors.

You have been telling me this for a long time and I have not really heard it.

(good enough role reversal, she nods)

I imagine you are fed up and desperate.

(good enough doubling, i.e. articulating thoughts and feelings she has not said but might have.)

A moment like this can happen in the first session. All the relational  work is done by the partners, the therapist’s job is to produce that encounter.  Facilitation is a big work, and it requires a good relationship between the therapist and the client.  It is different from being the auxiliary, or the protagonist.  It is to be the director, to use psychodrama language.


How did Bob become such an effective auxiliary?

Lets explore another scenario (an alternate take in this session).  Lets focus Bob’s ability to maintain his commitment to be with his partner.

Mary: You are so angry, you wont listen to me. you ignore my needs and walk off and slam the door.

Bob may not offer the mirroring (see above) he may say:

Bob: I can’t listen to more of this stuff. I’m always the one who is in the wrong.

The therapist then works with Bob (mirroring, role reversal, doubling) to assist him  to stick his job of being with her.

For example the therapist might be along side Bob, and double him to make an “aside”:

Therapist as Bob: I find it so painful to be blamed as the one who is the problem. It hurts.  She may be right I do slam doors but I’m desperate.  I don’t want to do that.  I don’t know what else to do when I’m attacked.

I said I’d stay with her.  I can see she is in pain.  I can see her her pain is coming out as blame.  Maybe I could stick to being the listener.  See through to her pain.

The therapist checks with Bob that the doubling is accurate.  He also checks that the doubling is assisting Mary to see Bob.

The therapist could take another approach and produce an enactment. Bob steps aside and sees himself (briefly enacted by the therapist) and expresses to himself:

Bob:  You can tell her about your pain later.  I can see you are being triggered, she is not your father.

Bob contains his pain and does the harder job of seeing through her attack to the pain:

Bob: When I slam the door, you think I’m out of control and you feel scared and powerless. (good enough mirror)


Mary has now had the experience of Bob listening, she might notice how her talking has an impact on how he listens. Bob has learnt how to listen and stay with her.  The core difficulty has been attended to in the here and now production of a new version of their drama.

And then Bob has a turn at being the protagonist. He may well get in touch with the 10 year old boy.

The therapist has been a producer, and an auxiliary.

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