Deep Roots: Culture & Attachment – Part 1

 This is a companion to my book on Emotionally Focused Therapy with African American Couples, Love Heals. Therefore, a fundamental understanding of Emotionally Focused Therapy is helpful when reading.
Greetings! My name is Paul Guillory, and I’m a psychologist and trainer in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). In companionship with my book on Emotionally Focused Therapy with African American Couples, Love Heals, I would like to share with you the powerful effects of using both an EFT map for working with attachment bonds and using a map of “race matters” to enhance the attunement and the love bond in African American couples. By “race matters,” I mean – explicitly – racism, racial identity, race-based stressful events and racial trauma during the course of therapy. In addition, these include personal and structural discrimination, which impacts their health, wealth, employment and educational experiences. The clinical text advises that black couples experience more threats to their romantic bonds than other ethnic groups. While this literature has encouraged therapists to talk about race or racial differences, there remains little to no clinical examples for processing “race matters” in therapy. Instead, race is typically treated as a demographic category or contrast to be noted in counseling. The internal working models of racial identity are a clinical blind spot. Too often, the historical and current negative priming that locates the blame for the impact of discrimination within African Americans’ character is a central feature of the internal working models of Americans. Moreover, this negative priming should be a particular focus of the couple’s work. By extension, the central work of therapy is the clinical model of the therapist, and most evidence-based models of couple therapy see themselves, at best, as “culturally neutral.” There is much diversity among African Americans, which also means that the cultural influence in their lives and therapy will range from significant to marginal. We can raise the bar of clinical treatment when therapists integrate EFT with cultural humility. By “cultural humility,” I mean having a conceptual map of race matters that includes: First, conceptualizing and understanding racism, racial identity, race-based events and racial trauma. As a social construct and reality, race for African Americans has been about social rejection that has directly or indirectly caused pain—secondly, experience working with a diverse population of African American individuals with EFT. African American scholars have repeatedly warned all clinicians of their potential for implicit bias and social power elements that might influence the therapeutic relationship. So, finally, the therapist must self-view their own developmental and humble approach to understand and practice working with cultural matters and EFT. EFT is an experiential model grounded in attachment science. The EFT model offers a map for couple therapists to integrate the intrapsychic and internal working models of attachment with a system model of the interpersonal interactions between partners. EFT is a stage model with three key change events: de-escalation or stabilization, withdrawal, re-engagement and pursuer softening. The process of couples therapy is organized into five “tango” moves. There are also EFT-specific interventions, validations, empathetic reflections, heightening, and conjectures designed to enhance the emotional attachment, and significance of experience within each partner and between the partners. To demonstrate the powerful effect of using both an EFT map for working with attachment bonds and using a map of “race matters” to enhance the love bond between an African American couple, I invite you to join me in the couple therapy session of “Clifton” and “Monique.”  (Continue Reading Part 2) Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples is an evidence-based model developed by Dr. Sue Johnson, a clinical psychologist and one of the leading innovators in couple therapy. Dr. is also the author of several books on EFT, including Attachment Theory and Practice: The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, Love Sense and Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations For A Lifetime Of Love. In addition, she has produced many training videos with the International Center of Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy. Those interested should seek out Dr. Johnson’s work for background regarding EFT.

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