"Who knew it would feel this good?" David deadpans.
"Don't whine," Sarah deadpans right back.
I look at the two of them as they look at each other. OK, I think, traction. They're ready for the next phase of change that awaits them.
Although Sarah didn't need much coaching in this case, that's unusual. People ask me about when the latent client's issues emerge, and my usual answer is the minute the blatant starts giving them what they've been asking for; then the latent's issues come to the surface. Most partners don't swoon into their spouse's arms and say, "Thank you," for the changes they've made. I routinely tell latent partners, "There's a world of difference between complaining about not getting something and allowing yourself to open up and receive it." We call this transmission/reception work. Once partner A starts transmitting, the coach often needs to work with partner B to receive it. This is now the time when A, the blatant, gets to address his concerns and wishes for B, the latent--which most often consists of a wish for either less distance and/or less fighting and, almost always, more warmth.
Once the couple's dance shifts from a recursive loop that's negative to one that's positive, from a vicious cycle to a virtuous cycle, the therapeutic use of self shifts to one of amplification. "You were able to do what? Oh my word, how were you able to do that?" In this phase, we look not unlike a solution-focused or narrative therapist. One particularly useful amplification technique that underscores and feeds progress is demarcation: that was the old (antirelational) you; this is the new (relational) you, or in David's words, "David 2.0." I'll often speak to clients about the "new empowered" or conversely "the new, softer and gentler" versions of themselves.
From Therapy to Therapeutic Coaching
Some clinicians resonate easily with this way of working--being themselves, telling the truth as they see it, sharing experiences they've had in their own lives, being direct. In fact, they may say that they're already doing many of these things by the seat of their pants. For others, this way of working may make sense, but it requires an expressive style that's too foreign to their temperament or clinical belief system. More than adopting any particular methodology of change, therapeutic coaching is founded on the belief that we can be far more direct and challenging to the clients who come to us than we've previously acknowledged. I operate with the assumption that, by and large, people are neither fragile nor stupid. If you show them how they're getting in their own way and what behaving more skillfully looks like, they'll be grateful. Rather than the expectation that telling tough truths will send clients out of the room screaming, I've seen over and over that, if done with love, grace, skill, and even an occasional dose of real wisdom, therapeutic coaching brings clients back for more.
To be sure, the approach I'm describing requires therapists to move beyond their comfort zone and step out from behind a veneer of calm neutrality. But I believe that in order to teach our clients how to be authentic and connected, we must be real with them ourselves. If our work with troubled couples is to move to a new level of effectiveness, we need to consider how well our traditional assumptions about relationship, change, and our own roles are serving us and our clients. I've found that the couples I see are ready to meet the challenge of examining themselves, of becoming explorers in what is, for them, uncharted territory. The question for the field of psychotherapy is whether we're ready to meet that challenge ourselves.
Terry Real, L.I.C.S.W., Good Morning, America's relationship expert, founded the Relational Life Institute. His books include The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Make Love Work and the bestseller I Don't Want to Talk about It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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