Couples come to us for treatment because they want to stop fighting and ease their pain. They are only in our offices because they have tried everything they know to do to accomplish these two things, and they think we have the magic to make it happen. The skill of the therapist is in helping them discover that they already have the magic within their own brains, but what they must do is learn to fight differently and embrace their pain.
The goal of Neurodynamic Couples Therapy is to experientially show the partners that the emotional triggers that always spontaneously show up in their interactions are invitations to know and understand each other better. The mutually constructed enactments that arise mostly from their nonconscious right brains should never be shut down, but instead explored in depth. As I have said previously, couples are accustomed to looking for the bad guy and the innocent victim when they are triggered. Looking for the bad behavior and changing it is NOT the goal of treatment. The seeming bad behavior is a very important window into discovering childhood pain that needs to be lived, heard and understood.
“Diagnosis” is not a part of Neurodynamic Couples Therapy. It can lead to the pathologizing of one partner, making her or him the identified patient, instead of seeing the couple’s struggles as emanating from an equally created drama. If after many trials one or both partners cannot consistently follow the safety rules that have been outlined in the past eight blog posts, they are not candidates for couples treatment and should be encouraged to seek out individual treatment. I do not “play God” and tell my clients whether they should stay in their relationship, although I will take action if I feel that someone is in imminent danger. I do see it as my responsibility to be clear about the conditions under which I know couples treatment is possible.
Another way to state the goal of treatment is to gradually teach the couple how to take advantage of the opportunity that is neurobiologically programmed to be in a perfect state of empathy and growth. Their brains have chosen exactly the right partner who will naturally participate in creating experiences in which unmetabolized feelings from the past can be lived in real time and processed. A feeling that is unknown cannot be healed–couples have an automatic mechanism for knowing and empathizing, but the therapist has to help them develop the courage to look beyond the present circumstances for the true healing. Neurodynamic Couples Therapy purports that this is the natural way we get fully released from the past so that our brains’ energies can be used for the development of the real self within our intimate partnerships. Couples who reach this point experience a type of closeness they never thought was possible.
About the author:
Jana Edwards, MSW, LCSW, BCD is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specialized in treating couples in her private psychotherapy practice in Denver, Colorado, for 35 years. Through her experiences with around 200 couples, she developed Neurodynamic Couples Therapy. She has taught workshops for therapists on her method for the past 10 years and provides consultation services to many couples therapists.