Sunday, March 02, 2008

Two Day Intensive EFT Workshop for Counselling Psychology Doctoral Students

Entry for 1 March 2008:

The new Counselling Psychology doctoral course, a joint program delivered by the University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University, is in its initial year of existence, the first cohort of students now in their second term. Counselling Psychology courses in the UK are supposed to embrace multiple theoretical orientations. However, it’s OK for them to have a core model: Our course is unique in the UK for having a Person-Centred/Experiential core theoretical model, offered in the first year (out of three).

The students have up until now been focusing primarily on more or less classical person-centred therapy, but the core model encompasses PE-EFT. Last Fall I did an overview PE-EFT theory lecture, and this past Thursday and Friday I ran a two-day intensive workshop consisting of a theory review plus four key PE-EFT tasks: Empathic Exploration, Systematic Evocative Unfolding, Clearing a Space, and Two Chair Work.

This structure (which includes two more 2-hour follow-up sessions in April) emerged out of discussions with the Ewan Gillon and the rest of the Counselling Psych tutor team. Going into it I was somewhat concerned about whether it would really work. Could we get anything meaningful done in 2 days? Would it be just an extended "taster" course? How would the students respond to the experiential nature of the training? Would the space -- which turned out to be in the GCU continuing education centre --work?

In the event, things were not ideal: First, in my haste, I left the handouts at home, and had to ask Diane to schlep down to GCU (on Cowcaddens street, on the northern edge of the city centre) with the hand-outs. Next, we didn’t have adequate break-out space, and had to make do with some of the groups practicing outside in the foyer area, which fortunately was stocked with small clusters of chairs here and there, along with pirating temporarily empty rooms.

I had met the students before but didn’t really know most of them. Over course of the two days, however, I got a good sense of them. Although they are diverse in backgrounds, as a group the state of their therapeutic knowledge is more consistent than is the case for the Level 1 PE-EFT training that we have been running in the summers here. This meant that there were things that they found consistently challenging about what I was offering them: In particular, asking questions and process guiding felt like a real change of gear for them, and they struggled with this over the two days. Even the pace of the empathic work was faster than they were used to, and in general, the whole process seemed more intense, which was anxiety-provoking for them. They felt overwhelmed by trying to pay really close attention to what the client was saying, while also mindfully selecting what to pick up on empathically, monitoring the client’s current process (including the client's sense of safety with what they were talking about), and managing the current task…. Well, we’ve never said that PE-EFT is easy. At first, some of the students found this all too much and so felt paralyzed by it.

When we got to Two Chair Work, on the second day, this experiential load and accompanying anxiety came out in a way that I hadn’t anticipated: In the first practice, most of the students in the therapist role had trouble keeping track of which part of the client was in which chair! I've been doing Two Chair Work for so long that I'd forgotten that this can be tricky! When this happened, it also muddled the person in the client role, causing the exercise to grind to a halt. After thsi, we worked on how to help client and therapist begin with a clear understanding of what the two parts of the split were, via empathic reflection and formulation before starting the task, followed by various task structuring responses along the way. This worked much better, and initial discouragement and overwhelmedness evolved into a sense of accomplishment, as the group went back again and again through the afternoon to practice the task. By the end, one group had “graduated” to three chair work (adding an observer self), while another group successfully managed a transition to Empty Chair Work -- without any input from me! -- and all the groups had managed to help someone in the client role run the process at some point without the wheels falling off. Very impressive!

By 4.30 pm on Friday, they couldn’t absorb anymore, but we were all pleased with how it had gone. So we processed for a while and called it day. I’ll meet with them twice in April for the follow-up sessions, during which we’ll do one session on Empty Chair Work and one supervision-type session on applying PE-EFT tasks with clients. By then, this will have amounted to most of the Level 1 PE-EFT training that we’ve been running in each summer. What then? I suppose if any of them wanted to, they could sign up for the Level 2 training. I guess we’ll talk about that when we get there...

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