3. Facilitating Trust - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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3. Facilitating Trust

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > DownRelRabbitHole- Assessment

Down the Relationship Rabbit Hole, Assessment and Strategy for Therapy

Individuals feel more connected to one another by revealing their inner vulnerabilities and then being understood by the other person.  This can be difficult when attempts to facilitate confiding in one another elicits habitual reactions of anger or withdrawal.  Individuals may have significant underlying feelings that they feel too vulnerable to express.  If unacknowledged, they may have difficulty expressing hurt in other than anger or shutting down.  Dan Wile in an interview by Wetherford (Psychotherapy.net, viewed 2010) addresses this.  "…withdrawing or being angry is a leading-edge feeling.  So I would help people capture that.  I might help them express their anger in a way that is more satisfying to them and easier for their partners to hear.  Moving over and speaking for them, I might say, 'I'm still fuming about what you said ten minutes ago. I'm not even listening to anything you're saying.  It wiped me out.'  I'm hoping that the person I'm speaking for will express a sigh of relief and, when I ask whether I got her feelings right, will improve what I said to make it more accurate. If a partner is withdrawing, I'd try to give words to that.  I'd move over next to that person and, speaking for that person, say, 'Well, when you say what you just did, I get despairing, and feel hopeless about us and kind of give up and don't have anything to say.' A statement like this—if the person were able to make it—is the way for that person to be intimate at that moment."  While the individual wishes his or her partner to hear or get the vulnerability, Wile as the therapist shows that he has received the messages of inner vulnerabilities or feelings.  He simultaneously models for the other partner and facilitates intimacy and trust between himself as the therapist and the first client.  The therapist may often see a visible softening in the affect and physical presentation of a client as he or she thinks and feels, "Finally, someone gets me!"  This would be facilitative of rapport between an individual and the therapist, which duplicates the entry to the partners doing and being so for each other.

Wile continues, "It's that intimacy is each partner saying what's on their mind, their leading-edge feeling, with the other one understanding.  And you could say that a goal I have in couple therapy is to get the partners to develop, or develop further, such a permanent platform from which they can co-monitor the relationship.  Intimacy is created by the way partners talk about what's happening in their lives and, in particular, about what's happening between them.  It's a consequence of their ability to be mutual confidants.  That's a key point to my approach—the goal of the couple developing the ability to observe their own interaction patterns, the permanent platform… it's having a way of getting in touch with what you need to say, what you're feeling, and having a relationship in which the other person is able to take it in, is eager to hear it, and has a confiding comment to make in return.  And it doesn't become a fight, and the other doesn't withdraw.  When people are saying the main things on their mind, their main worries and concerns, their ache of the moment, and feel it's heard by the other person—well, that's the height of intimacy" (Wetherford, 2010).  Trust entails risk.  A client risks trusting the therapist.  Putting out vulnerabilities only to be disappointed over and over by another person, much less ones partner makes it hard to risk again.  Often the individual, partner, or family member wants to be able to trust without taking any risks.  The therapist must be clear to the client that he or she will have to risk trusting in order for there to be any growth.  The therapist must confront the client's fear and desire to avoid risk.  By the time a client arrives in therapy, he or she may have had negative experiences of risks being horrific from his or her family of origin, childhood, adolescent, and peer relationships, and the couple's relationship.  The therapist may become the latest person for him or her to risk or not risk trusting.  Therapy requires validating the fears and honoring the courage it takes to engage in therapy.  When the therapist responds or interacts in a manner that is nurturing of tentative risks (with the therapist or in the therapy room), the individual becomes a bit more willing to risk further in therapy.  Highly critical and important in couple or family therapy, risks with the therapist can lead to risk taking with his or her partner or family members.

The therapist can be very direct about the risk or even flamboyantly direct if it suit his or her style.  It may be therapeutic for some couples or families for the therapist to say, "Welcome to the room of pain— therapy!  All that has been so painful…all that you've learned to avoid, you have chosen to face here… on purpose!  Scared that you will be disappointed or devastated?  You should be!   You're taking quite a chance given what you experienced in life, this relationship and possibly in other relationship before this one, or in this family.  But you are here to try anyway.  I honor your courage."  Whatever the personal style and the therapeutic orientation, the therapist should honor how difficult it is for the client to try something different.  The therapist is acknowledging that it is difficult to stretch culturally in ways that are foreign and dangerous.  The individual or each partner or family member can be asked what he or she is afraid of.  Sometimes the fear is relatively minimal.  There may be fear of not maximizing the relationship, or unfulfilled individual, couple, or family needs.  Sometimes the fear is of gradual degeneration, damage to children, and/or divorce.  Or, the fear may be much more substantial such as a fear of being betrayed.  The greatest fear may be of fundamental self-betrayal- of failing oneself.  In the case of couples or families, whether both partners' and all family members' fears are matched or not are informative for the process.  The therapist's confidence that he or she can facilitate the process is critical to an individual, each member, and the couple or family taking the risk.  The therapist can offer him or herself as a cross-cultural translator.

"I know what needs to happen.  I know how to facilitate this process.  I've done it before and it has worked with other individuals (or couples and families) with similar issues.  I don't know if you will do it as an individual or as a couple or family.  I don't know if the process will work for you or if you can handle the process.  However, I know it can work.  If you don't trust yourself or others (or each other or have confidence in each other) right now, then you may use my confidence in facilitating the process for the time being.  Perhaps, from that you'll eventually gain confidence in the process of therapy.  Perhaps, from that you'll gain eventually gain confidence in your process of being a couple."  This verbal intervention may sound bombastic or overly promising.  The words do not guarantee successful therapy or successful relationships.  For some therapists, similar words may not be necessary if their affect and demeanor sufficiently convey confidence.  Verbal or non-verbal communication can however, assert the professional expertise and experience of the therapist.  The therapist needs to be clear in his or her process to give the client sufficient confidence to compensate for their initial uncertainty.  A conflicted or confused individual, a struggling couple, or a family that is out of control with minimal hope does not need a passive ambiguous therapist!  "Uh… I don't know how it'll be.  I guess we'll try this or that and see what happens," may sound too vague for clients seeking grounding in their turbulent relationship sea.  The therapy may be well served if the therapist has a structured or semi-structured initial assessment or diagnosis process.  While the assessment process should have its own intrinsic value in eliciting important information, the specific assessment tools or process may be less important than the therapist's confident and expert presentation.  Tools or processes familiar to the therapist may allow the therapist to project the confidence and control clients are instinctively looking for.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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