“What’s love got to do with it?” Is love just a second-hand emotion, as Tina Turner sings?
“Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”
Where is love in a society exploding with white privilege, horrific racial injustices, cultural inequities, and a pandemic disproportionately effecting people of color?
Where does love fit into individual therapy with people whose distress is met with no loving relationships for comfort or support?
How can love revolutionize our therapy and our racist society?
Love, defined as safe and secure bonds, is the north star for therapists. “Love is not only an end for therapy; it is also the means by which every end is reached” (Lewis, Amini, & Lannon, 2002). Love is action. How do we as therapists put love into action and how do we help clients shape love?
Attachment science first revolutionized our view of romantic love. Romantic love is more than low conflict, fairness, and passionate sex and romance. Attachment defines romantic love as a secure bond. Goals of couple therapy have shifted from reducing conflict and increasing relationship satisfaction to shaping secure bonds reliability and responsivity.
According to attachment theory, as practiced in Emotionally Focused Therapy and presented by Dr. Sue Johnson, the revolutionary new science of love defines love as a secure attachment bond – the kind of responsive, engaged, reliable bond between romantic partners, where they each say, “I can find you when I need you; I can call for you in a moment of need and trust that you will be there for me.”
Individual Therapy and Love
For the past 10 years, I have been asking how does love and attachment security extend to individual therapy – especially to our individuals who have no significant others to count on?
I have discovered that it extends beautifully to individual therapy because emotional distress of anxiety, depression and trauma reactions are essentially about problems with emotion regulation. Dr. Johnson argues that psychotherapy is most effective when it focuses on the healing power of emotional connection. Attachment theory provides proven techniques for treating the two common presenting problems in individual therapy: anxiety and depression. It provides a practical map for shaping love or secure attachment that positively impacts emotion regulation, social adjustment and mental health.
EFT revolutionizes the goals of individual therapy!
Rather than focusing on teaching skills of self-regulation, self-acceptance, and stress management, EFIT therapists are oriented to creating transformational in-session experiences that shape secure attachment – shifting views of self and other for effective co-regulation of emotions.
Therapists create corrective emotional experiences in individual therapy to shape safety and security with others and within self. Love, care, and acceptance of self and of emotional experience evolves in relationship. Trauma resolution leads to resilience and distinguishing where interpersonal safety can be found.
Race Matters and Love
We cannot stop there. We need one more revolution. We must engage in revolutionizing our capacities for empathy and cultural humility in therapy.
We can no longer be therapists, “aside from race or culture.” We cannot afford to be colorblind and settle into a complacent space of trusting that we all share the same human experience and that we have the same universal attachment needs and longings.
“Be aware of the limits of your empathy,” writes Ijeoma Oluo in So You Want to Talk about Race. “Your privilege will keep you from fully understanding the pain caused to people of color by systemic racism, but just because you cannot understand it, that does not make it any less real” (p. 209).
What does love look like in the face of racism? The love embodied by black leaders – Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Cornel West, Michelle Obama, Amanda Gorman and many other women and men — is a love infused with righteous anger as well. John Lewis called it good trouble. We need the kind of anger that sees injustice. We need to hear core anger – and validate it. We need to risk humble, empathic attunement with depths of core anger and resilient bonds of love, as our clients share them.
Black History Month is alive with a call to risk the discomfort of broaching issues of race and culture – inviting as much or little as clients wish to share at any moment in time. Dr. Ken Hardy, Professor of Family Therapy, who says we need to make talking about race our work, reminds us, “Everybody is entitled to safety, but not everybody is entitled to comfort.”
We don’t need to know the answers. We don’t need to be accurately attuned all the time. We need simply to risk discomfort, to be curious to see the handles, and hospitable and courageous to invite opening cultural doorways.
Ways to express this:
“I want to understand your experience – I want to hear from you when I seem to be missing the core of your story. I want you to feel free to share as much or little about how you are impacted by race and culture – especially when it seems I may be failing to understand.”
[In couple therapy] “I realize you may each have very different experiences – and I want to hear from each of you and I want to hear how you talk with each other about differences.”
Dr. Cornel West, author of the groundbreaking classic Why Race Matters, calls us to resist complacency. He suggests, “Justice is what love looks like in public. Tenderness is what love looks like in private.”
If we follow love as our north star in therapy, we must embrace West’s challenge to resist complacency and Hardy’s challenge to risk discomfort. We can continue to learn to collaboratively create accepting, empathic, genuine, culturally sensitive relationships with our clients. Together we can create safe havens and secure bases to explore difficult, foreign, and unacceptable emotions and relationship patterns as fuel for change.
February brings us both Black History Month and Valentine’s Day. It’s a time for both love and validating righteous anger. A time for becoming culturally sensitive therapists ready to risk making mistakes.
“Becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim,” writes Michelle Obama in Becoming. “I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”
Time to go ridin’ on the freeway of love as we seek the north star of love, tenderness, and justice!
If you are interested in the intersection of EFT and anti-racism, or want to expand your understanding of Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy, you may be interested in:
- my upcoming workshop on EFIT Training for Graduates of HBCUs and Clinicians of Color on February 19, 2021
- the EFT in Action on February 20, 2021
- EFIT Level 1 training in late February 2021
- the EFT Externship beginning in late April 2021
If you have any questions, comment below!