A study by Bradley and Furrow (2004) explored the impact of the softening process on therapeutic change and factors that contribute to the effectiveness of the softening process. Using task analysis the researchers identified four therapy tapes where a therapist’s behavior elicited successful softening events. Upon examining the therapist’s behavior by using The Classification System for Counseling Responses (CSCR) and an Emotionally Focused Therapy Coding Scheme (EFT-CS), the researchers identified six themes that occurred during successful blamer softening events.
The first theme that emerged was Processing Possible Blamer Reaching where a therapist encourages a blaming partner to imagine taking the risk and reaching toward the other partner. Evocative responding and heightening, EFT interventions that are aimed at intensifying underlying feelings, bring the blaming partner’s fear of reaching into focus, which leads to the second theme of Processing Fears of Reaching.
Two subthemes, associated with clients’ views of self and views of other emerged during content analysis. When tapping into clients’ fears, the therapist needs to distinguish between these two themes. For some blaming partners in this study exploring fears of trusting other was sufficient. For others, processing fears associated with the view of self as defective and unworthy of love was absolutely necessary. Not until the view of self and fears associated with it were processed was the partner able to actually move to the position of vulnerability and ask another partner for support and reassurance. With couples where partners experienced trauma, it is important to process both views of other and views of self (as cited in Bradley and Furrow, 2004).
In the next two themes, Promoting Actual Blamer Reaching and Supporting Softening Blamer, the therapist softly asks the blaming partner to reach to the other and supports the softening partner’s effort with validation, approval, and encouragement. The last two themes of Processing with Engaged Withdrawer and Promoting Engaged Withdrawer Reaching Back with Support are centered on engaged withdrawer’s supportive response. As a result, partners create a new emotional experience of mutual responsiveness and accessibility. The results of this study offer clinicians a way to navigate through one of the most challenging and important components of EFT – blamer softening process.
In another article, Bradley and Furrow (2007) focused on challenges that EFT therapists face during the softening process and used case examples to illustrate how therapists can overcome these challenges. The first difficulty that is described by the authors is the lack of an attachment base. If an attachment foundation is missing, therapists may become overwhelmed by clients’ sense of hopelessness and negativity.
On the contrary, conceptualization of a couple’s distress from an attachment perspective allows the therapist to identify attachment needs and work on restructuring interactions toward emotional engagement and softening without getting overwhelmed by clients’ negative affect. Empathic reflection, reframing and heightening interventions are used to uncover attachment fears and bring to light the deeper meaning, underlying negative interactions between partners, which is longing for emotional connection and safety.
Attachment-related affect distance, which is identified by the authors as another impediment, pertains to a therapist’s attempt to deal with a client’s underlying emotion by talking about it instead of moving into it. It is imperative that during softening process the therapist evokes and heightens the blaming partner’s underlying feelings “so that attachment fears and needs are activated and become amendable to change” (Bradley & Furrow, 2007, p.37).
It is during the softening process when the blaming partner’s fears of rejection are especially activated. Fearful that another partner will not be responsive if asked for reassurance or comfort, the blaming partner may never dare to reach out to her partner from the position of vulnerability and will continue to use blame and demand to have her attachment needs to be met.
In order to make progress in the softening process the client’s perceptions of self and others, parts of two different internal working models, need to be acknowledged. Fear of trusting that another partner will be available in times of need is different from fear that one is worthless and does not deserve to be loved and cared for. Acknowledging and separating these two perceptions in a session can be done through reflection and heightening using a word “part.” For example, the therapist may use the words “part of you” to reflect the view of other, and then use “another part of you” to reflect the negative view of self.
The last obstacle, interpersonal enactment failure: no softening reach, describes the therapist’s failure to orchestrate the interaction where the blamer actually asks for her needs for comfort and reassurance to be met.