A Discussion of Family Therapy for Military Families

emotionally focused family therapy for military families. an interview with Con Sheehan, LCSW on attachment parenting

Con Sheehan, LCSW does attachment-based EFFT, Emotionally Focused Family Therapy in Reno. Con was recently a guest on the Communicate and Connect Podcast.

Ep. 50 with Con Sheehan on Emotionally Focused Family Therapy

In The Communicate and Connect Podcast for Military Relationships, marriage counselor Dr. Elizabeth Polinsky explains relationship science and discusses educational tips for improving your relationship and navigating military family life.

From Dr. Polinsky: “In this podcast you’ll find insights into how children cope with feelings of caregiver inaccessibility and how this can influence their behavior and life choices, including the risks of substance use. We also discuss specific challenges faced by military families, such as managing parental roles during deployment and the unique stresses that can impact both children and parents.

To aid our understanding, Con shares examples from his practice, focusing on creating a family environment where each member’s needs are understood and met. We’ll emphasize the importance of repair, availability, and intentional parenting—even discussing how therapy, even short-term, can be instrumental for families.”

Click here to learn more about family therapy in Reno with Con and his colleagues at Emotional & Relationship Health Counseling Associates.

Dr. Sue Johnson (1947-2024) revolutionized relationship therapy

Dr. Sue Johnson, (1947 to 2024) was the innovator of Emotionally Focused Therapy, EFT.

Remembering Dr. Sue Johnson

If you’ve heard me describe the work I do or have been a student, you’ve heard me talk about Dr. Sue Johnson. I felt (continue to feel) an enormous loss with her passing, April 23rd. No individual was more important to the development of relationship therapy than Sue. Her work and writing were grounded in seeing people’s good intent and using emotional experience to bring it back online, no matter how deeply it was buried. Sue saw the good, AND at the same time did not tolerate bad-faith engagement. She was soft, slow and warm Dr. Sue in the video demonstrations of her work, but another Sue emerged when good-faith left the discussion. I loved these things about her!

I found my professional home with her.

My work was becoming centered in attachment theory when I met Sue in the clinical research and then in a book called, “The Practice of Emotionally Focused Therapy; Creating Connection,” in 2000. A few years later I met her very briefly in person at the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference in Anaheim, CA. I remember my sense of her being on this little island where emotion was prized, in a huge sea of cognitive-behavioral waters. Sue made so much sense! I was working frequently with court-mandated clients and “changing thinking” was NOT an effective mechanism for change, but it was the prescribed one. Focusing on emotional experience through an attachment lens proved to be the key to true change. Fortunately, years later, I found a formal path to learning EFT. My clinical work went to a place it never would have without Dr. Sue Johnson. A week doesn’t go by without me feeling deep gratitude for Sue and Emotionally Focused Therapy. Thanks to Sue, I could profoundly impact my clients’ lives in ways I never imagined when starting my career.

In this same professional home I met colleagues from around the world, some of whom are now amongst the most dear and important people in my life. They are family. I’m glad Sue knew how grateful we were for the connections she fostered – connections evident at EFT summits, trainings, and online.

Sue Johnson embodied what she taught.

I wasn’t a close, personal friend of Sue. But I did spend some time with her and did correspond with her periodically- and this always felt close and personal. You could feel her attentiveness and focus in a way that I can only describe as “honoring”. Sue engaged in this way, and I think this way of attending was a big part of what she helped therapist students find in their work. I’ll treasure my correspondence with her, the opportunity I had to do a live case consultation with her and my role in continuing to grow a community of EFT therapists in the Reno/Tahoe area.

My heart goes out to the Sue’s family, the people closest to her and other colleagues experiencing her loss. Sue’s work will not only live on, but will continue to be expanded upon and proliferate. Here is a link to an article in the Ottawa Citizen where you can learn more about Sue and her work.

Cover photo of Dr. Sue Johnson (PHOTO BY BRUNO SCHLUMBERGER /Postmedia)

Questions To Ask a Prospective Couples Therapist

Cornelius Sheehan, LCSW, seated. Therapist in Reno for Relationship counseling

Starting couple’s therapy is a significant step towards improving your relationship. However, finding the right therapist for you and your partner can be difficult. It requires an evaluation process, for which you need the right criteria. You want confidence that the therapist’s expertise aligns with your specific needs. A prospective therapist should be willing to do a brief consultation before you begin working together. Below, I’ve shared a list of what experience has taught me are some of the most important questions to ask a therapist you’re considering working with. I’ve divided the questions into three categories: 1) A Therapist’s qualifications. 2) The therapist’s theoretical perspective on relationship distress, and on wellness. 3) The therapist’s process.

Here is a checklist of questions you might ask during a consultation with a potential new couple therapist to find out if they’re right for you:

Couple Therapist Qualifications

Experience and Professional Engagement
Approximately what percentage of your practice over the last two years has been dedicated to working with couples?” And, “do you have a regular consultation process wherein you discuss your work?” These questions aim to assess the therapist’s dedication to couples therapy. A therapist applying techniques learned for individual therapy to the complexities of a couple’s dynamics can fall far short of what a relationship needs.

Specialized Couple Therapy Training and Qualifications
What specific training in couples therapy have you undertaken?” Exploring their specialized training provides insight into their qualifications and dedication, facilitating the process of finding the right therapist for you. Prospective therapists should be able to describe application of a method of therapy relative to their training. An EFT Couple Therapist can describe their process in a detailed fashion.
“Do you have specific training regarding difficulties related to sexuality?” This is an important question for couples struggling with problems relating to sexuality to ask.

Feedback and Evaluation Process
“How do you provide feedback and evaluate progress in therapy?” This question allows couples to understand how the therapist assesses progress and navigates therapeutic milestones. A transparent feedback mechanism is vital for ensuring that therapy remains aligned with the couple’s goals and for making necessary adjustments to the therapeutic approach.

Couple Therapist’s Theoretical Orientation

Therapist’s Theoretical Orientation
“What theoretical perspective guides your work with couples?” It is essential that the therapist operates from a solid theoretical foundation, such as Attachment Theory, which is at the heart of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT). The approach a therapist takes should be grounded in solid theory. Also, there should be a structured methodology to effectively address relationship distress.

Does the Therapist Understand When NOT to Do Couple Counseling?
“What are the Contraindications to Couple Therapy?” A prospective therapist should be clear about this. They should describe when the type of couple’s therapy they do might not be the best choice or should be approached with caution. Common contraindications follow: Severe mental illness and substance use disorders that interfere with participation. Misaligned agendas for therapy. Ongoing affairs that threaten a partner’s sense of security. Also, a risk of violence that prohibits vulnerability. In some cases, addressing the contraindicating issue (such as through individual therapy, addiction treatment, or safety planning) can make couple therapy like EFT a viable option later on.

Therapist’s Focus: Emotional Connection or Behavioral Contracts?
“How important is the emotional bond versus behavioral contracts in your approach to couple dynamics?” Herein, a therapist who emphasizes strengthening the emotional connection addresses the core issues of relationship distress effectively. The late Dr. Sue Johnson’s insight, “it’s about the bond, not a bargain,” poignantly captures the essence of couple therapy.

Perspective on Enhancing Communication Skills
“How do you work to enhance communication skills in your therapy sessions?” Ideally, the therapist’s approach should highlight the importance of fostering trust that your partner is available, responsive and emotionally engaged. By contrast, a focus on mere communication techniques can interfere with the depth of understanding in the relationship. “I statements” and similar “communication tips” don’t come online readily when intense emotion gets stirred. This is a very important distinction in finding the right therapist for you.

Couple Therapist’s Process

Expectations for Therapy Duration and Frequency
“What are your expectations for the duration and frequency of therapy sessions?” This question helps set realistic expectations for the therapy process. For example, you want to understand how long it might take to see improvements and how often sessions will occur. Therapy is a significant investment. It’s crucial for planning and commitment to the therapeutic journey that you know what to expect.

Strategies for Enhancing Connection Outside Therapy
“What strategies do you recommend for couples to enhance their connection outside of therapy sessions?” A therapist who offers practical tools, exercises and resources for couples to work on between sessions demonstrates a proactive approach to therapy. This can help accelerate progress by encouraging partners to actively engage outside the therapeutic setting.

Approach to Individual Sessions
“Do you conduct individual sessions with partners?” Generally, therapy should involve both partners, with individual sessions reserved for specific assessment purposes. This approach reflects the therapist’s commitment to treating the relationship as the central client. Further, you probably don’t have the right therapist for you if they don’t have a clear policy about how to treat informations shared during individual sessions!

Ensuring Impartiality
“How do you maintain impartiality in your sessions?” Asking this question probes the therapist’s strategy for navigating complex couple dynamics. Thereby, ensuring they view the relationship as an interconnected system. I think it’s so important to feel confident about a prospective therapist’s answer to this question. This is because the experience of therapist bias toward one partner is a primary reason clients cite for therapy “failing.”

Summary: Finding the Right Therapist for You

Selecting the right couple therapist is a process. Importantly, one that requires careful consideration and inquiry. The list of questions provided herein are designed to provide meaningful insights. Specifically, insights into a therapist’s approach, philosophy, and their suitability for navigating the complexities of your relationship. We invite your questions and offer a no-cost, confidential consultation.

I hope this approach helps ensure you get couple counseling underway with the right therapist. Ideally, you’ll be with a compassionate, well-trained professional who provides a clear vision of process and goals. And of course, one who can effectively support and guide you through the challenges and opportunities of strengthening your relationship.

Cornelius Sheehan, LCSW is an experienced couple's therapist in Reno, NV and writes about helping you find the right therapist and get the most out of therapy.

“Cooling the Flames: De-escalating Arguments in Love”

De-escalating Arguments in Love, cooling the flames of couple conflict
handling couple conflict

Strategies for Handling Arguments in Relationship

Introduction

As an experienced, certified Emotionally Focused Therapist (EFT) couple therapist, I’ve spent years helping couples navigate the complex tides of their relationships. I’ve realized that one of the most common challenges couples face is handling relationship conflict, i.e. managing and de-escalating the arguments we all experience. In what follows, I want to share with you some insights and strategies from my clinical world that can help turn heated arguments into opportunities for deeper connection and understanding.

Understanding Conflict Through an EFT Lens

The EFT Perspective on Relationship Conflicts

In Emotionally Focused Therapy, we see conflicts not just as clashes of words or wills, but as expressions of deeper emotional needs and fears. Often, what starts as a minor disagreement can quickly escalate into a full-blown argument when underlying attachment needs are not met.

I recall a couple, let’s call them Gretchen and Walt, who came to me struggling with frequent, intense arguments in areas ranging from finance and parenting to which grandparents’ house they would visit first over the holidays. Through EFT, they learned that their conflicts weren’t really about the chores or the finances; they were about seeking emotional safety and connection. Gretchen and Walt each wanted to know they were taken in by one another.

Emotional Awareness and Regulation

The first step in de-escalating arguments is understanding and regulating your own emotions. It’s about recognizing the signs of emotional escalation within yourself. This awareness creates a pause, allowing you to choose a more constructive response.

For instance, when Gretchen felt unheard, she learned to express her feelings without blaming Walt, saying things like, “I feel worried and a bit afraid when we don’t talk about our finances.” This shift in communication made a huge difference.

Communicating Effectively in the Heat of the Moment

Communication Techniques for De-escalation

Effective communication during an argument is key. In EFT, we focus on expressing underlying emotions and needs without attacking the other person.

A technique colleagues and I often recommend is the ‘softened start-up’. Instead of beginning a conversation with criticism or contempt, start with a statement that opens the door for understanding. For example, “I feel stressed about our schedule and need to talk about it,” is more likely to elicit a positive response than, “You never make time for us.” Granted, this can be hard to do when you lack confidence (haven’t had the experience) that your partner will be receptive to your softened message. A well-trained EFT therapist will help you understand and overcome this block to softened messages.

Step-by-Step Guide to De-escalating an Argument

Here’s a simple guide to follow when you feel an argument escalating:

  1. Pause and Breathe: Take a moment to breathe and step back from the heat of the moment.
  2. Reflect on Your Feelings: Ask yourself what you’re really feeling and why.
  3. Communicate Your Emotional Needs: Share these feelings with your partner in a non-confrontational way.

Creating the Right Environment for Healthy Conflicts

Timing and Environment Considerations

The setting in which you address conflicts is crucial. Avoid starting difficult conversations when either of you is tired, stressed, or distracted. Choose a time and place where you both feel comfortable and are less likely to be interrupted.

Foundations for Resilient Relationships

Building Healthy Conflict Resolution Foundations

To build a relationship that withstands the storms of conflict, regular emotional check-ins are vital. These create a space for discussing feelings and needs outside of heated arguments. Understanding each other’s conflict styles and attachment needs is also crucial.

In my practice, I’ve seen couples transform their relationships by simply dedicating time each week to discuss their feelings and needs calmly and openly.

When to Seek Professional Help

When to Seek EFT Counseling

Recognizing when you need professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If arguments are becoming frequent and more intense, or if you find yourselves stuck in the same patterns, it might be time to seek EFT counseling. This can provide a safe space to explore deeper emotional issues and learn effective strategies for managing conflicts.

The Journey of Change

Sustaining Change with EFT Principles

Implementing these strategies is a journey, not a one-time event. It requires patience, practice, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small, and be patient with setbacks.

Conclusion

In conclusion, remember that every argument presents an opportunity for growth and deeper connection. By applying these strategies, you can turn conflicts into catalysts for strengthening your bond.

Keep in mind that love is not just about agreeing on everything; it’s about navigating disagreements in a way that enriches your relationship. Handling arguments in relationship is a path to deeper connection.

If my colleagues and I can help you on the path of connection that grows and flourishes, reach out to us for a free consultation. 775-235-2205

Additional Resources and Support

For those interested in exploring more about Emotionally Focused Therapy and relationship enhancement, there are numerous resources available. Books such as “Hold Me Tight” by Dr. Sue Johnson, and websites like the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) offer valuable insights. Additionally, I’ll be hosting a series of workshops and webinars in the coming months, focusing on deepening emotional connections in relationships.

The Promise of Emotionally Focused Therapy for Stronger Communities

EFT and stronger community

Building stronger communities is crucial, especially now as we face a widespread loneliness epidemic. The path to greater connectedness is clear. Based on attachment theory, EFT recognizes our inherent need for deep social bonds and strong emotional connections, fundamental to robust communities. By focusing on emotional dynamics, EFT helps forge secure, resilient relationships, aiding in resolving conflicts and emotional pain. It enhances emotional control and thinking adaptability, enabling calmer responses to new experiences. At its core, attachment theory and EFT teach us that embracing each other, rather than avoiding or opposing, is key to overcoming distress.

On the macro level, the promise of Emotionally Focused Therapy can be understood from several angles:

  • Cultural Impact: Firstly, recognizing the importance of emotional intelligence and secure attachment can shift cultural narratives. This, in turn, impacts entertainment, education, and policy, pushing societies towards valuing emotional health and strong bonds.
  • Model for Healthy Communication: Additionally, EFT provides tools for validating feelings, empathetic listening, and open communication. When applied widely, these can foster understanding and minimize conflicts, benefiting both personal relationships and larger contexts like communities and workplaces.
  • Strengthening Relationships: At its core, EFT believes that strong attachments promote well-being in individuals and relationships. By mending attachment wounds and nurturing closer bonds, EFT subsequently bolsters family and community stability.
  • Reducing Divorce and Separation Rates: Furthermore, EFT’s effectiveness in addressing relationship issues suggests its broader use could decrease divorce and separation rates, ensuring stable homes for children.
  • Mental Health Improvement: On another note, EFT can diminish symptoms of anxiety, depression, and related disorders. Broadly speaking, this means a healthier public, fewer healthcare expenses, and heightened work efficiency.
  • Education and Prevention: By integrating EFT principles in education or health campaigns, there’s an opportunity to proactively fortify relationships, mitigate relationship strain, and amplify societal grasp of emotional health.
  • Economic Impacts: On the economic front, enhanced mental health, declining divorce rates, and improved work relationships spur economic gains. Content and emotionally stable individuals are often more industrious, potentially elevating economic performance.
  • Research and Development: Lastly, EFT’s success and strong research base could fuel further studies in psychotherapy and relationship dynamics, ushering in advanced therapies and strategies for people and couples.