From Judgement To Connection. Interview With Rebecca Sears – Pagina de Psihologie
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Rebecca Sears is one of the senior Imago International Relations Institute trainers, and the Imago Center representative in Washington. Rebecca has been working in the field of psychotherapy for more than 30 years and she is an Imago psychotherapist since 1994. From 2016 Rebecca began her first clinical certification program in Imago Therapy in our country, within the Multicultural Association for Psychology and Psychotherapy and this year at the end of June she will bring to Romania the most loved and human workshop for couples around the world.

Here, at paginadepsihologie.ro, we always start with this question for all the specialists we interview: Why psychotherapy and especially why relational psychotherapy? Was it something from your childhood or it came to you later due to some events from your adult life?

Great question! I fell headlong into psychotherapy at age 30 when I began to have anxiety attacks that seemed to have no „logical or medical“ reason. And, as I started my discovery process in therapy, I quickly found patterns rooted in my childhood and the effects of messages I received when I was a child that were playing out in my adult life. Indeed these messages made me appear as a strong accomplished person who could do almost anything she put her mind to… except deal with loss, failure and vulnerability, the essentials to have a meaningful „real“ life!

It did take me awhile to realize that growth comes in relationship …wounds and needs develop in relationship and healing comes in relationship. Thank goodness western psychology (the paradigm of the individual) is finally becoming aware that life is about connection and relationship.

How is it that you came across Imago Therapy and how do you think it is different from other therapies – from both single patient or a couples therapy point of view?

I found Imago Relationship therapy because of my divorce. I had had 12 years of individual therapy that helped me understand myself and my history but was almost useless when it came to living with someone who wasn’t me! And as a therapist I realized I did not have the tools to help the couples who came to me, and as many therapists, I was sending them each to individual therapy and then they were getting divorced… either that or I felt like a failed referee in sessions. Imago is a process and skill set that goes beyond understanding into the realm of practice and connection that helps a couple restore their empathic understanding and passion regardless of their differences… an amazing and awesome process!

So often we find ourselves, not only in our couples but also in family, friendship and professional relationships, reading and analyzing the other persons mind. Dr. Hunt talks about „wonder“ and dr. Hendrix was saying in an interview „Curiosity is sexy“. Could you please expand on this interesting idea?

Oh yes… that movement from judgement to becoming curious! Judgement drives disconnection and leaves a person stuck in their old, past or childhood messages of what is right and wrong and prevents growth and alive new energy. All of us have brains that instantaneously move into judgement – especially with our partners – that’s part of the survival mandate of the brain… but we can learn to move into curiosity and wonder. Just imagine yourself totally frustrated and critical with your partner’s behavior and instead of saying (or thinking) „I don’t like that!“, „they shouldn’t do that!“…moving into the thought „hmmm, I wonder why I don’t like that?“, „I wonder why they did that?“, „what worries or scares me about their behavior?“

The direction of judgement closes the door and can end the connection/relationship and possibility for growth… and the choice to be curious and wonder leaves the door open to learn more, see with new eyes and keep the empathic connection open in a relationship. The movement is from right or wrong into the juicy complexity of a life lived with someone totally different than you… now that is totally sexy and exciting!

As therapists, in our offices, we often see couples who come because they are very concerned about their children. After a first meeting, though, it comes clear that children are just reacting to their parents’ relationship troubles. How could we motivate parents to understand how important their relationship is not only for them, but also for their kids?

Just tell them! They are already amazing for trying to help their kids! Most couples just don’t have the practical information about how to be a loving couple… they want to be but don’t know what to do differently when the conflict and inevitable differences emerge. Certainly this is where Imago comes in.

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But most couples when they have a chance to think about it know their relationship is the garden their children are playing in. Most couples would not want to have the marriage their parents had and when they have a chance to discuss this safely with their partner will want to improve their relationship/marriage not only for themselves but for their children. I am very direct with couples about this and encourage them to learn the skills of Imago no matter what happens to their marriage. Being a parent is so challenging when you don’t feel the empathic understanding (not agreement!) of your partner!

Most of the people who have tried the Imago Healing Dialogue could see its benefits. Nevertheless, many complain about how it can seem forced and artificial. Although I know the science behind it and felt its healing capacity during our Imago Training, I still have some restraints when I just have to mirror my partner’s words. And I’m not talking about difficulties in not judging, labeling or analyzing (which also come up, but are manageable) but I fear that he will think I’m crazy for repeating whatever he says. This has never happened even though he has no Imago background and I successfully tried mirroring, validation and empathy but I still have this fear. Is there a trick to feel more confident?

I totally understand this concern! I felt the same way as I was learning to be a good listener who was struggling to see my partner’s reality and begin to imagine how they might be feeling!

Learning to listen and not react when the brain perceives threat or danger/difference is certainly counter-instinctual. With the Imago Dialogue we are not working for comfort we are working toward safety and connection. And there is no short cut except practice on this one! But there are a few pointers to help along the way:

  1. Ask your partner if its ok if you try to get what they just said… don’t just start mirroring without permission. That can feel unsafe to the partner.
  2. Always try to slow down and imagine that what your partner says makes sense and its your job to find something that makes sense whether you agree with it or not… Try to say „I’m listening“, „I hear that“, „that makes sense“….
  3. Grow your muscle to save your response for later and thank your partner for telling you their concern or frustration. You can always say „I’ll think about that…“
  4. Let your partner know you are trying to learn the Dialogue and why… ask them if its ok for you to practice. You are trying to become a person who listens better and is less reactive.
  5. Sometimes I just mirror one or 2 words to slow my reactivity down and give the signal that I’m listening.
  6. Practice when there isn’t a conflict or tension, have fun with it! Mirror the clerk in the store! You will grow a muscle and calmness that will serve you the rest of your life! I’m still learning and love the challenge!

Rebecca, please tell our readers why would it be great for their couple and family to participate in our Imago couples workshop that we are organizing in June in Bucharest. Which are the benefits? Can you illustrate this through a real situation from one of the workshops you had before?

Oh my goodness the benefits are huge! I have been doing this workshop since 1996 and I have never had a couple say they were sorry they attended! This workshop is so safe, so packed full of information and empowering exercises you will just learn so much about yourself and your partner! I have couples all the time that say „We have been married 30 years and I never knew that about my wife (husband)“.

And one of the most amazing outcomes is experiencing safety, empathy and passion with your partner. And you find out that all couples are struggling with the same things. In the last workshop I held there was a couple that had already separated and filed for divorce and their attorney urged them to attend since there was such anger. The husband didn’t talk all the first morning and the wife was crying for the first 3 hours. I just urged them to listen and only do what they wanted to do and I would help them. No pressure. And as the group around them worked, they finally picked up their workbooks and tried their first Dialogue! And that’s all it took….

What can happen when a couple feels reconnected is amazing and this workshop creates the environment for that to happen.

Can you tell us about a funny or out of the ordinary situation that appeared as a result of the Healing Dialogue during a Couples Workshop that you or one of your colleagues had held?

Well there is always a lot of humor once the workshop gets going and couples realize they are all the same! When the group starts to feel safe couples start to tell stories or ask questions in front of the group… so there are lots of funny, kinky, creative things couples have done and do! And of course I just mirror and smile! And yes, I can still be surprised! I can also remember a very touching moment in one of the first workshops in Russia when a very stoic russian man teared up in front of the group on the second day and said: „For my entire life I have never felt safe or even known what it felt like“… he took his wife’s hand, looked around the group and said: „now I do“.

Cristina Petrescu-Ghenea

Este medic specialist în psihiatria copilului și adolescentului, psihoterapeut de cuplu și familie. A absolvit Universitatea de Medicină și Farmacie “Carol Davila” București și programul de formare al Asociației Multiculturale de Psihologie și Psihoterapie. Este unul dintre psihoterapeuții asociatiei, autor al site-ului paginadepsihologie.ro și coordonator al grupurilor de formare în psihoterapia familiei din București.

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