209: Trauma in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) with Kathryn Rheem

Welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch! This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

In this episode, we’re talking trauma in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) with Kathryn Rheem. Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast spots, and watch it on YouTube – follow and leave a 5-star review.

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The Couples Therapist Couch 209: Trauma in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) with Kathryn Rheem

Learn more about the Couples Therapy 101 course: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/

Learn more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new

In this episode, Shane talks with Kathryn Rheem about trauma in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). Kathryn is the Director of The Washington Baltimore Center for EFT. Hear how she got over her Impostor Syndrome, how our nervous system is impacted by trauma, how to teach people to be able to receive love, how to connect with someone who’s angry and defensive, and the power of empathy.

This episode covers everything from EFT to empathy. Here’s a small sample of what you will hear in this episode:

  • How do you teach people to be able to receive love?
  • Why is it hard to deal with our emotions?
  • How do you assess emotion in EFT?
  • Is EFT improved with couples therapy?
  • How do therapists lend their limbic system?
  • When did Kathryn meet Dr. Sue Johnson?
  • How does EFT impact trauma?
  • What are the different types of emotions?

To learn more about Kathryn, visit:




Check out the episode, show notes, and transcript below: 



 Show Notes


What is The Couples Therapist Couch?

This podcast is about the practice of Couples Therapy. Many of the episodes are interviews with leaders in the field of Relationships. The show is meant to help Therapists and Coaches learn how to help people to deepen their connection, but in the process it explores what is most needed for each of us to love, heal, and grow. Each week, Shane Birkel interviews an expert in the field of Couples Therapy to explore all about the world of relationships and how to be an amazing therapist.

Learn more about the Couples Therapy 101 course: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/

Find out more about the Couples Therapist Inner Circle: https://www.couplestherapistcouch.com/inner-circle-new


Please note: this transcript is not 100% accurate.

Kathryn Rheem 0:00
You know, our feelings are happening all the time. But if we're not referencing them, or we don't know how to or we've lost that connection because life has been hard, then in therapy, we can restore that connection and get back into having our best GPS actually work on our behalf rather than just be some random thing that I don't know if it'll help me or not.

Intro VO 0:25
Welcome to The Couples Therapist Couch, the podcast for couples therapists, marriage counselors, and relationship coaches to explore the practice of couples therapy, and now your host, Shane Birkel.

Shane Birkel 0:43
Everyone welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch. This is Shane Birkel, and this is the podcast that's all about the practice of couples therapy, if you got a chance to tune in last week, I shared an episode from about five years ago with Dr. Sue Johnson. And if you didn't hear she, unfortunately, she passed away. And I just want to send my regards to everybody in her family and in the world of Emotionally Focused Therapy. And I shared that episode in honor of her and I wanted to keep that momentum going with Emotionally Focused Therapy, I reached out to some of my friends in the EFT world who are going to be coming on as guests coming up here. But in the meantime, I wanted to share another episode about Emotionally Focused Therapy that I did several years ago with Katherine ream, and she's one of the leaders. She's a trainer, a supervisor in Emotionally Focused Therapy. She's taught therapists from around the world for the last over 20 years. And this is a really good episode where we talk about the trauma that people have that impact their relationships. So she talks about how to use Emotionally Focused Therapy to address some of that trauma that comes up when you're working with couples. So without further introduction, here's the episode with Kathryn Rheem. Everyone welcome back to The Couples Therapist Couch. This is Shane Birkel, and today I'm talking with Kathryn Rheem, Director of the Washington Baltimore Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy. Hi, Kathryn, welcome to the show.

Kathryn Rheem 2:24
Thank you very much. Hi, there. Nice to see you.

Shane Birkel 2:26
Great to see you. And for those who don't know, Kathryn is an expert when it comes to EFT and working with trauma. And so I'm really looking forward to diving into that today. But before we get into it, why don't you tell the audience a little bit about yourself and your work?

Kathryn Rheem 2:42
Sure, I was introduced to Emotionally Focused couple therapy in grad school and ended up doing an internship for the Army just outside of Washington, DC. And my supervisor there came up to me and he said, Guess who's giving us a training on trauma? And the only reason he would say that is because it must have been Sue Johnson. And so I said, it must be Sue Johnson, because that's really that would be the only relevant question only reason why it would be relevant. His question would be relevant for me. And sure enough, it was and I said, very, in a way naively in other ways, spontaneously, I said, I want to go and he said, your cat, your civilian. And then after the next session, so many, many, many army couples, he was standing outside my office door, which was unusual, and the first thought I had is Oh, what have I done wrong? And he said, I called the Pentagon and I said really rot row, what have I done wrong? And he said, I got you permission to go to San Antonio. So with Su when she was training the family life chaplains, the Army Family Life chaplains, in EFT so then I email Sue, we didn't know each other, but I had attended her externship up in Canada, maybe a year, year and a half before then. And I said, You don't know me, but I was in your training, and the army just gave me permission to go. And I so I'm gonna go and if I can be helpful in any way, I'm happy to I'm working towards certification and EFT I think at the time I was seeing, like, 24 army couples every week. And if I can be a resource in any way, small or large, let me know. And I was nervous to send the email just because of how amazing she is. And my husband encouraged me. And I was like, oh, so I sent it and then I thought, Oh, God, what have I done? What a what a junior move to make what an amateur I must be. And I think literally like eight minutes later, she wrote back a one liner and said, Do you want to share a hotel room? Oh, my gosh. Yeah. So there we met at the door of this hotel room where we spent a couple of days together.

Shane Birkel 4:50
I want to I want to hold on. I want to pause for a second because this is so helpful for therapists to hear because I think we all face this self doubt. There. We have in ourselves. So, you know, you are facing all of this. What's that impostor syndrome? And what what an amazing opportunity that happened when you were able to face that and take action.

Kathryn Rheem 5:14
Yeah. And it really speaks to the potency of attachment theory because it was really me borrowing my husband's faith in me and his view of me, that allowed me to take the risk and that is attachment theory coming to life and as you know, EFT is based on an adult attachment. So it was in those couple of days with Sue and all those army chaplains where Sue and I developed what ended up being called our strong bond strong couples weekend a post combat deployment weekend for soldiers and their partners soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan back in 05, 06, 07, 08, 09. And so Sue and I ended up as she says, You don't take on the US Army and not become battle buddy. So we we became battle buddies having our own version of her being Canadian and both of us being civilians, trying to get our strong bonds strong couples program implemented systemically, we we must have done it 12 or 15 or 16 times at installations around the US and in Germany, for 16 to 48 couples per weekend. Now we could say based on her book called me tight which was published in oh eight. So we were helping couples get emotionally reconnected after being downrange after facing combat after enduring all that they endure downrange overseas in harm's way, you know those wars OEF and oaf for 360 degree wars, there was no backline there was no place really to get respite, even the green zones weren't always safe, as we know and have heard and learned. So anyway, we our mission, as always, is to help partners reconnect emotionally, in order to get the benefits of their love relationship we love is we are all meant from a nervous system perspective to get the benefits of love. Emotion, of course, is the messenger of love, as we read in a general theory of love. And so emotion being the messenger of love. We have to help partners learn to send a clear emotional signal. And in order to get the benefits of their love not to just know I'm loved, but to feel my partner's love for me to actually feel it tangibly as you know, as much as as an intangible as it is, but we can feel it, we get a bodily felt reference of feeling loved to being loved, which is what our bodies need to get the benefits of love.

Shane Birkel 7:34
What an incredible story. Fun, yeah. And amazing opportunities in such great work to do the strong bond strong couples thing for all of those veterans. Yeah, but that segues well, because what you're talking about is disability to receive the love. And when when someone's experienced trauma. And someone has, you know, whether it's been through, they've been through comment, combat, or they've been through some sort of childhood trauma or whatever. It can be very difficult for people to receive that love.

Kathryn Rheem 8:10
They have no bucket for it. Or as we also say their template doesn't have their nervous system doesn't have a template for safety and security and love, love that feels good. So,

Shane Birkel 8:21
you know, well, this is a huge question, but let's start with

Kathryn Rheem 8:26
the huge let's dive into it. Yeah, let's dive in big or not. It's a big topic, right? 45 minutes. We gotta go.

Shane Birkel 8:33
Yeah, good. So how do you teach people to be able to receive that love, and then get through those difficult situations that come up for them as they're trying as they're feeling so much stress in their relationship with each other? Yeah,

Kathryn Rheem 8:47
so in EFT, we're experiential. So I like your word teach. We actually have experiences in session that help each partner's nervous system take in their partner's love for them. And so EFT is experiential by prioritizing emotion. And since all humans who are breathing have emotion, and emotion gets scrambled in a in any relational dynamic, that stressed stressed out or upset or arguing or disagreeing. And so most of us send a very scrambled emotional signal. But in EFT in our sessions, we slow each partner's world interest psychic world there within, we slow it way down to distill it. We want to help partners make experiential contact with their inner world. We want to help partners befriend their inner worlds. We're all constantly humans, mammals, in fact, are constantly referencing our inner worlds our limbic brains. But if they're all chaotic and scrambled up on the inside, we won't feel like it's a good reference. We won't want to reference it, it won't feel good to reference it and when we reference it, we won't have confidence in it. And so in EFT, the way we teach partners about their, the way we teach people about their partner's love for them, is we want them to feel it in a safe and slow down way. And so we distill each partner is in our world. And we work with to get in contact with primary emotions fear, sad. And then we help people share fear and sad in an experiential way and limbic Lee open in a vulnerable way. Because that's how we create bonding moments. So literally, in session what we call enactments coming from Mnuchin structural family therapy, we ask partners to share their soft feelings, their vulnerabilities that all humans have, regardless of rank grade or status, with their loved one in a soft, slow and low way, which allows connection like the Velcro, the more vulnerabilities expressed, the more the velcro is available. And so you know, you have a pair of shoes you used to wear that the only reason team has worked is because the velcro stuck. Right. Right. You know, those shoes sandals we're talking about? Yeah, I don't know when I'm dating myself, but. But we need that Velcro to stick between loved ones between family members. And what makes the velcro work in a love relationship is the sharing of vulnerabilities, emotional vulnerabilities. And so we actually work to create those moments in therapy, because we know that change has to happen in session. Like any other good experiential model, the change has to happen in session before we expect the change to happen outside of session. So we literally create experience, after experience after experience, session by session, of the partners love being real, being safe, going closer to it, and certainly processing the fears that come alive, when it doesn't feel safe, or when I'm too scared to let it in or too scared to go closer to it or too scared, for whatever reason, because often as we know, regardless of what type of trauma, you know, love hasn't always been safe.

Shane Birkel 12:15
Right? And so let's take a specific example. You're talking about this feeling of your emotions sort of being scrambled? Or that you said something like not wanting to go, you know, feels so scrambled not really wanting to go there. Exactly. What would that look like in the session? And then what do you as the therapist, how are you helping people get to the, I guess, first of all, identifying those emotions you're talking about?

Kathryn Rheem 12:43
Yeah, so one of as we know, one of the common hallmarks of trauma is emotional dysregulation, and often how that shows up. Not always, of course, but often is emotional numbing. And numbing is the perfect example of why over years of painful experience, I learned a coping strategy and my coping strategy is to avoid my own emotion. And so then I'm in a difficult relational moment with the one who matters most actually, the one I love the most, the one who matters most, the one that my whole life is wrapped up with. And I and I don't know how to send an emotional ping because it's too scary. It's too chaotic on the inside of me so I don't even reference how I feel. But without being able to reference how I feel my partner gets a signal that I'm indifferent perhaps or not caring. And so when I don't send an emotional signal because my insides are all scrambled up, my love relationship suffers because I don't send an emotional ping I don't know how to reassure I don't know how to reach with any emotion leading the way or with any emotion at all. And so not being shutting down being coming emotionally avoidant, so very common because well, my dentist says it's why we don't floss right? Why don't we floss? I asked him, and he knows a little bit about what I do. And he says, I think you know the answer to this. And I was like, Well, no, I don't know that I do. And he said, We don't floss because it hurts. We don't like to feel pain. And so right. I do know that I did know the answer. In this way humans avoid making contact with their pain. We all do lots of things to avoid feeling our pain. And when we're in an emotional upset, we are pain, unprocessed pain, tweaks, behaviors, we say things we don't mean we say things that hurt our loved ones. Unprocessed pain and fear. Make us do funny things. We eat too much. We drink too much. We do all kinds of things that end up undermining, you know, our own goals, our own ways of living or how we want to be. So that's not the most specific example Shane, I'm happy to put it in context of a relationship or what a person who's shutdown says.

Shane Birkel 15:05
Yeah, that would be great. Yeah. Because, you know, one of the things that, that I see in the couples I work with all the time as a way of avoiding that pain, it's much easier and it's I think it's an unconscious thing. It's not intentional. It's much easier to blame. And I do this with my own wife to blame my partner instead of acknowledge my own hurt or fear in the moment. Yeah,

Kathryn Rheem 15:32
yeah, you know, you're you're you're so brave to talk about your own coping strategy Me too I to do that can do that. And in EFT, we frame all of that as coping, when we're overwhelmed with a distress. we all we all cope in ways that end up working against our greatest hope, we hope our loved one will turn towards us and come to us and yet we blame them and of course, that pushes them away. Or, you know, blame as as a defensive posture, you know, evokes a defensive posture from our loved ones. And so, how we do that in therapy is, as we say, we work below and behind the defense is really important in any therapy with trauma with a trauma survivor, is helping the defenses be put in context. And as Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, talks about or talked about, all behavior makes sense in context, from an attachment theory perspective, blaming is a beautiful protest to not feeling good about what's happening. And I use those funny words on purpose because it's a bit of a paradox to think of blaming as a beautiful protest. When you're not the one being blamed. You know, when you're the clinician and you're helping your lovely clients understand why blame ah, I just talk about myself, I blame when I feel alone, I blame when I feel misunderstood. I blame as a way to turn up the emotional heat to get my husband to turn back and turn to me come back to me instead of withdrawing or retreating. So again, blame we slow anything down, we put it in context, from an attachment theory and an emotion perspective. The brain our human brains are way too risk adverse to have a random emotion. And so we just are random behavior for that matter. We just don't suddenly start blaming randomly we, there's always a thread from an emotion theory perspective, that drives us to end up in a coping strategy or defensive strategy called blaming or withdrawing or retreating. And so for the person who copes by blaming as a way to push out the emotional energy, because I don't want to feel it. I need to avoid my own pain. In EFT we would go you know the body is gosh, I think quickly. Bessel Vander Kolk the body is the bridge between making turning turning a nobody into a somebody or some similar phrase like that. From a Peter Levine perspective, sensations. Sensations move us physiologically, emotions form the bedrock of sensations there's such a connection between emotion and the body body and emotion and so in EFT we're often working with our clients who shut down as a coping strategy to help them make contact with the sensations in their body. What happens on the inside when your partner turns up the emotional heat and you say oh no head for the hills you know run for cover doc. I gotta get out of here. I got to somehow make this storm this emotional storm coming at me. Slow down, go away. And that oh, that oh no run for the hills that's full of emotion and with a EFT therapist knows how to worm her way in or worm his way in and, you know, warming has a negative connotation but that's when we talk about coming alongside each partner and couples therapy. coming alongside and co-regulating and EFT the clinician is a temporary attachment figure until each partner can become a safe and secure attachment figure. So the EFT clinician comes alongside each partner, and worms her way wormed his way in to hold the painful emotion to hold the scary stuff to hold the chaos together. Emotion is to metabolically potent to hold by ourselves. And so since we're helping the clients shift from individual coping strategies, to relational coping strategies, this is a paradigm shift. We the EFT clinician is an intermediary, a surrogate processor, as Sue Johnson says to help our clients learn to tolerate stretch their window of tolerance to learn to feel and make contact with their own inner worlds long enough to distill it long enough to get primary emotion long enough to get the softer, vulnerable emotions, because those are the ones that we have to take the risk and share. I know I'm talking a lot, that's great,

Shane Birkel 20:10
no, great, you know, if you if you are working with a couple and both of them are really emotionally activated in a situation. Yeah. How do you how do you tell us what that looks like? How do you manage that kind of situation?

Kathryn Rheem 20:27
Yeah, so we we will, um, you know, we understand that attachment protests come out with a strong emotion. And we talked about that being that strong, hard, reactive emotion that fast moving emotion we talked about that being like secondary emotion, defensive protective postures. And so often in a route, both partners are caught in secondary. And we make space for that and EFT we have an intervention called Catch the bullet. So we do protect the listening partner, we do catch the bullet and reframe it in attachment terms and work with the underlying emotion that drives the bullet or forces the bullet or gives a bullet all of its energy, and all of its sting all of its potency. But we make space for secondary, we actually have learned the science Sue's great science and all of the couples and all of us who have worked on behalf of the EFT science, we've learned we have to make space for secondary in order to contain it. You know, we want to contain not from a top down perspective, but from a bottom up perspective that I'm with you. Your emotion, you know, emotion is contagious, whether we like that idea or not emotion in one partner will very quickly bring alive emotion in the other and same with the clinician. So the clinician gets in the clients emotion with them. And when you get in the emotion with somebody, suddenly you break your client's emotional isolation and it starts containing it starts shrinking the metabolic load the potency of that emotion, the more I feel alone, the more potent my emotion will feel, the more alone I feel the more potent my emotion. So somebody's willing to in our chairs or on wheels in EFT, somebody's willing to wheel close to me, look at me talk with me, get in my anger with me. Suddenly it shrinks. And it's contained, and we work with it. secondary emotion always has a soft underbelly of primary emotion where our vulnerabilities lie. And so we're, again, we're containing secondary, we're making space for secondary containing it in order to access and then work more with primary, secondary emotion makes perfect sense. But nobody's going to have a bonding moment. When one person share secondary emotion. We have to help get our clients to primary emotion, and then turn those primary emotions into bonding moments because that's when like I said before the velcro becomes available. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 22:57
so if you're experiencing someone you know, if it let's say it's angry defensiveness, what does that mean for you, as a therapist for you to connect with that? Or let them know they're not alone? With that? How do you what kind of words would you actually be saying in that moment?

Kathryn Rheem 23:11
Tell me all about it. I can see the blood rising in your face. I feel my own body responding as I watch your emotion grip, you overwhelm you flooded you tell me what's coming alive right now, what's happening? What are you? What do you feel on the inside? What sensations are you having? And I would say turn to me Tell me, which is a small protective move, but at least some protection. Of course, the partner will still hear it. But we do our best to not let that secondary expression get get dumped on the partner. And so I'll say and this is why I'm glad my chairs on wheels, I'll say turned to me Look at me. Occasionally, I've had to wheel my chair in between my clients chair to to interrupt that mutual defensive possibility that we were just talking about. I'll say, wait a minute, there's one of me there two of you, you're both really upset. I get it. You know, this makes perfect sense to tell me about it because I want to get in the soup of emotion with you. And so I want to know what you're going through. So I can as Jim Coan neuroscientists from UVA talks about I want to be your co regulator, you too can't co regulate each other right now. But that is where the EFT therapist knows how to go close and work with the emotion as a leading element the target of change the dance as Sue says emotion is the music to the dance the couple's caught in, so I'm gonna go close to the emotion. I'm going to take it in. I'm going to co regulate with that partner, get some reregulation, get some limbic regulation, and then turn to the other partner and do something similar. And so the stage one of EFT goes a lot through the therapist. And because a couple especially with trauma survivor, one or both partners being trauma survivors, especially Lay because softer feelings are pretty intolerable when you feel victimized or you being victimized or you've been victimized or your nervous system doesn't have a reference for softness being safe. And so as we know, with trauma, we can get caught in these defensive emotional postures. And so I go close, I get in a state of limbic resonance and regulation. I'm passing Peter Levine talks about somatic experiencing being physiological call and response in EFT I talk about EFT being an effective call and response. And so one limbic brain can restructure the limbic brain of another like, I know that my limbic abilities, I'm not saying they're great, but my willingness to loan out my limbic system to my client. I loan my limbic system in service of the client because clients people don't learn limbic ability limbic adeptness Olympic adroitness like we learned the capitals of every state or, like we learned geometry in school, we learn it by being in relationship with a Olympic li able other. And that's one way to describe the EFT clinicians role is to be in a state of limbic resonance and regulation with clients in order to get limbic revision. We are really worked, especially with trauma survivors, but all of EFT one of the goals for treatment from an attachment theory perspective, this is Bobby's research coming here is that we're working to create a revision of view of self and view of other is I view myself as worthy I view myself as capable I view myself as lovable. You know, we've all had, what do I know, some of us have had therapy where clinicians have tried to teach us that and it's been tucked down. But in EFT, we feel our partners responsiveness, that antidotes our fear that we're not lovable, or we're not worthy, but we feel their responsiveness and, and the EFT clinician helps me let their words in and touch my heart and to process the emotion that comes alive, when they can let their words and then touched my heart. And that gets starts to helping me revise my view of myself as unlovable or not worthy of love, or not worthy of a good partner or not worthy of a safe relationship. So we're really working towards revision of view of self and view of other, which, I don't know, maybe everyone knows this, but procedural scripts distilled from 1000s of interactions across our lifespan that tell us about our worthiness for love and care and protection. That's one of Bobby's definitions of view of self, you have other also called internal working models.

Shane Birkel 27:37
Oh, yeah, that's fantastic. No, and, you know, and that's where I think, you know, we have these people who come to therapy, and well, I, again, I don't know, I have these people who come to therapy, probably due to probably, they'll say something like, oh, yeah, I grew up in a perfect family. And then you dig a little deeper, and you try to explore that, and I love what you do, the way you just said, I won't be able to repeat it exactly. But you know, something about we have, it comes out that, you know, they had a very dismissive father or something. And like, you know, these, you imagine this little kid, you know, 5, 6, 7, 8 years old, growing up in this situation where they, their emotions were never acknowledged. And that, you know, there were 1000s of interactions where they learned without ever being told anything about how not, you know, how to deal with emotions, or how to not value themselves, or whatever it is, whatever the theme is, for each individual person, but, you know, it's, I would differ, you know, there's like, people talk about trauma with a capital T and trauma with the lowercase t that that stuff that we all experience on some level as human beings that make it hard to deal with our emotions and present situations. Exactly.

Kathryn Rheem 28:58
I mean, we, we in EFT are wanting to, to work. You know, one of the main reasons we care so much about being with a couple or having the client be the couple is that we want to work on the relationship in which the symptoms come alive. And so whether it was small t or big T trauma or developmental trauma, which some people think of as small t trauma, but other you know, I, I think developmental trauma is it's so subtle, that it can only sometimes it doesn't come out. So you're in a love relationship, and you realize how hard it is to have a long term. Let's see, what do I want to say it's hard to maintain equilibrium, in your love relationship, and it's not a lack of love. But sometimes that's when developmental trauma becomes less subtle or more obvious, and more tangible. And at this point, then we get to work with it instead of a no I was fine. Lots of people had it a lot worse than I did. But then why am I rigid in these relational moments? And the EFT therapist we've learned to assess for trauma based on inter psychic rigidity of our clients of each partner. And so the places where a person A client can go emotionally how much emotional flexibility is there isn't. And so we're learning I mean, I never need to know the story, the narrative of trauma, we never, I mean, never as a strong word, but we often won't know the exact trauma or presence of trauma or known trauma or not known trauma, but we adjust how we work in EFT based on the interest psychic rigidity or inter psychic flexibility that's available or not with each partner. And that's what's that's what changes our work. The content like any FTE as you know, we're process consultants, we work on a process level, we try very quickly, as quickly as we can to move away from content. We can't solve the content. Most people, you know, when they're emotionally connected, most people can work pretty well together to solve their own content issues. That's right. It's when they're emotionally disconnected from our paradigm. It's when we're emotionally disconnected. And we feel a sense of threat in our differences or differences between us whether it's parenting style, sexual needs, spending habits, that differences between us become threatening. And so it's what did what does a human do with threat? Well, the, you know, fears a human's threat signaling system. But what do I do if I don't feel my fear? So here I am caught in this intrapsychic process. attachment theory is a theory of threat management. Fear indicates threat to humans. That's how we know we're facing some sort of threat. But then I don't know how, how to pay attention to my fear and what to do with it. And that's what we end up teaching you're good word at the very beginning. It's by experience, we help our clients make experiential contact with their fear so they can share it in these uncomfortable ie threatening moments.

Shane Birkel 32:01
Yeah, you're really good at describing this. This is really helpful. Oh,

Kathryn Rheem 32:05
good. I'm feeling worried about way too many words stuck in my head. That's

Shane Birkel 32:10
great. You had mentioned before, the idea the this reality that you as a therapist are sort of helping, this might not be the words you use, but helping co regulate or lending the other person your limbic system or something.

Kathryn Rheem 32:27
loaning, lending loaning. Yeah, I always say loaning, but lending is just as lending out my nervous system, my limbic system, I process the client's pain and distress through my own system as a way to get into CO regulated an effective column response with them. Sometimes only

Shane Birkel 32:44
what that what does that mean? What do you

Kathryn Rheem 32:46
Yeah, sometimes when clients are so shut down or so afraid of making experiential contact with their inner world? Because emotion is contagious that contagion of emotion works bidirectionally Of course. So you know, ideally, we evoke a big intervention in EFT which is to call forth or to draw out the client's softer emotion. But of course, with a lot of trauma survivors who cope by shutting down and and then as your example of a dismissive parent years after a year, year after year, decade after decade of having emotions be dismissed. Why would I pay attention to them? No one's gonna listen to me anyway. But then they come to EFT my dissertation for my doctorate was the first task analysis of the withdrawal re engagement process. So we care very much about learning how to help a withdrawal which is our EFT approximation for the avoidant adult attachments, coping strategy. We care very much about helping the withdrawal, make safe contact with his not always his but in this example with his inner world, and so I will if that's if my evoking doesn't work, which is pretty common for withdrawals, why would they decide suddenly, it makes sense to open up there for decades, their coping strategy has been to avoid their emotion. And just because I'm a lovely EFT therapist, and I care a lot doesn't mean that someone's going to open up suddenly. But loaning out my limbic system means I will, you know, empathy allows us to feel into another person's experience, and the neurological underpinnings of empathy and mirror neurons. And that's a different webinar, a different podcast, but I will imagine what they've told me about themselves and I will loan my limbic system to them and I'll start feeling on their behalf. So that my emotion hopefully catches is contagious enough to evoke their emotion. And so I help them learn to open up safely by getting caught in the contagion of some of my emotion that I'm conjuring up that I'm developing within myself on their behalf to make it safe to feel and so I know I'm Like the leader, with a machete hacking through the jungle, to carve a path to safe experiencing of my own pain, I'll go there first because I know how to do it. And then I expect myself to go there first and I don't leave them alone, I stay, I say to my clients, I'll go with you. Let's get in the RAF, let's go over that edge, there was a ton of emotion in your voice, but you just swallowed it back, you just stopped yourself from going in that head. Let's get in the raft. I'm in there with you, your wife is at the bottom of the falls. It's okay. It's gonna be scary for a little bit. But we're in this together, you started to say how sad you felt you felt sad, you felt scared. I saw it in your throat, you were feeling it. This is the riskiest part of all to let yourself feel sad and scared, you're successful man, you're super high functioning, sad and scared the grip you they grip you we want to help you just make a little bit of contact with sad and scared. So I'll bring him to his sad and scared in this instance, using my voice. Using my willingness to go to the pain and go to the fear and using my limbic system in service of his of him, make it to do my best to do everything I can think of to do to make it safe enough for him to have a moment of experiential contact with his own inner world. It's an experiential contact that allows us to distill what we're feeling. And then when it's distilled, it gets ordered, and it becomes coherent, and it becomes structured. And then when anything's ordered and coherent, and structure will reference it a lot more regularly, we'll have a lot more confidence when we rest, when we reference it and will actually feel competent. Like we know, we know our own inner world. And back in the day in the early research of emotion, we know emotion is the best GPS, like we can't not reference how we're feeling we're referencing how we're feeling all the time to ensure our survival. And so let's actually an EFT let's actually make referencing how we're feeling useful and as safe and as instilling confidence as possible.

Shane Birkel 37:16
That's great. Yeah. And I feel like it seems once you understand it, it makes a lot of sense. But people need to be told that they need to be educated about that. There's a in our culture, it's a virtue, to avoid those difficult emotions to stay on top. Yeah, right. It's so unhealthy, as we know, as therapists to hold all of that without allowing yourself to feel. Yeah,

Kathryn Rheem 37:45
and I'm thinking of Steve Porges, his great research where he says the neuro ception of trauma clients has been reset. People, trauma survivors in particular are trying to go through life without feeling but feeling is our best way to ensure our safety. His neuroception term that we're constantly part of our nervous system is constantly working behind the scenes below our awareness to ensure our survival, like how do we know to turn right or turn left. And we have to get a felt sense. But if we're not feeling our you know, our feelings are happening all the time. But if we're not referencing them, or we don't know how to or we've lost that connection, because life has been hard, then in therapy, we can restore that connection and get back into having our best GPS actually work on our behalf rather than just be some random thing that I don't know if it'll help me or not.

Shane Birkel 38:41
something and something else I was thinking of, as you're talking is that wouldn't amazing. You know, it's one thing to be able to do that with an individual. But what an amazing opportunity to do it with their partner and to teach them first of their partner can witness the experience, but also to teach each of them to hold that those emotional experiences with each other. Yeah,

Kathryn Rheem 39:04
we are working. I love how you said that, Shane, because we're working to create an environment of recovery of recovery between the partners like you know, individual and group therapy have been great for trauma survivors, but then they go home and often the partner gets caught in the echoes of trauma. Often the partner is blamed because of the symptoms of trauma coming alive. Often the partner can get vicarious trauma or secondary trauma, PTSD. And so we're really that's what we want to work on the symptoms. We want to we want to help the couple cope together, the symptoms come alive. relationally trauma doesn't stay inside the skin. Trauma becomes a relational issue, that relational dance and even though the partner might say but it wasn't me I didn't do it to him or her. And I often say I know it wasn't you. We so know that and yet you have this amazing privileged position to be the first safe person to help your partner heal To help your partner get a chance to have her or his longings for love and to have quote unquote, you know what trauma survivors say I just want a normal love relationship, to have the chance to build safety to earn us from another perspective of Bobby's to get earned security, that we might not have attachment security on our nervous systems, like people who didn't endure trauma could have, but we can always earn security and earn security is enough. Because that feels so much better than insecurity. Yeah,

Shane Birkel 40:34
yeah, that's great. So we just have a few minutes left here, anything that would be important for us to consider as we're winding down.

Kathryn Rheem 40:44
Hmm, let's see, I run an EFT Cafe. That's an online class and right now we're doing EFT and trauma if any of your listeners are interested in TheEFTCafe.com, my colleague, Jennifer Olden, and I teach EFT through webinars similar to this one, although this is a podcast. So I would love for you to share that with your listeners if you're willing to.

Shane Birkel 41:06
Yeah, so that's great. So where can people find that?

Kathryn Rheem 41:11
Yeah, TheEFTCafe.com. The website. We do right now we're in an EFT and trauma cafe. And so it's every Wednesday at noon Eastern time, and it's an hour and a half. And I show my videos of my sessions, believe it or not, and so I show sessions and Jen who's an amazing reflector of process and does well slowing me down and elucidates the teaching points. So she and I are collaborators and partners in the EFT cafe. And so I'm showing my therapy and she's making the teaching point is clear, and concise because you can you can tell I can talk. So we do a stick. We've done a stage one cafe, we've done a stage two cafe, as you might know, EFT has three stages. And so we try to teach all three stages. We just announced just in the last few days, we announced a behind the mirror with Katherine bream, where I'm just going to show the session I did last week with the same couple, for better for worse to show how EFT is done in real life with with couples, you know, week in and week out. So I right now I'm taping a dual trauma survivor couple who've had 10 years of intimate partner violence that was alcohol addicted and fuse, they're both now sober, doing great. There was an attachment injury, which in EFT terms means a rupture to the relationships bond and event that happened in the relationship that redefine the relationship is unsafe. When one of the partners left the home, you know, walked out on the marriage, not really but behaviorally by walked out as a way to get the couple into therapy. And so was walking out as a way to get help. But of course to the other partner, it felt like a big betrayal and a big abandonment. So we're working on working with this couple we're in the thick of stage two, which is primary motion to primary motion. This is where the bonding events happen in EFT. And so with trauma stage two can be messy because we get reactive emotion. You know, we expect that that's normal. The softer feelings are risky and hard to let in. They're hard to trust. They're so different.

Shane Birkel 43:30
Alright, thank you so much to Kathryn Rheem. I just wanted to continue to honor Dr. Sue Johnson who passed away a couple of weeks ago, and the whole Emotionally Focused Therapy community by continuing to share Emotionally Focused Therapy content. And this was another interview from a few years ago. And I hope that you got as much as I did from listening to Kathryn. Also, if you're interested in continuing the conversation, definitely join the couples therapist couch Facebook group, where we continue the conversation from the episodes. And I hope all of you have a great week, I'm going to be sharing a lot more interviews about Emotionally Focused Therapy that I have on the schedule coming up here. So thank you all I appreciate anytime you have a chance to leave a rating or review for the show. It really helps get the word out to other therapists who can benefit from the information that we share here on The Couples Therapist Couch. So, thank you all again so much. I appreciate all of you. Have a great week. This is Shane Birkel. And, this is The Couples Therapist Couch!

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