As I was growing up, I remember one of the mantras that I heard from some of the adults in my world. They would say one of the best approaches to difficult situations is encapsulated in the acronym KISS–Keep It Simple, (warning! pejorative word coming up) Stupid. I found this to be quite helpful as I grew and developed.
In my opinion, Dan Wile (1993, 2021) was one of the most brilliant and effective couple therapists to ever live. His approach to treating couples focused on only two techniques–doubling and solving the moment (instead of the problem). He did not get bogged down in complicated cognitive conceptuatlizations of his clients’ problems. His pursuit of only two objectives in the treatment kept his work focused and consistent, fostering an atmosphere of safety and understanding that led to recovery in the relationships he was treating.
In a similar manner, Neurodynamic Couples Therapy primarily utilizes two strategies to help couples metabolize the historical feelings that their right brains naturally access in repetitive conflicts. These are 1) curiosity; and 2) emotional dwelling. As the therapist pursues an understanding of the couple’s experiences with a process of in-depth curiosity, ever probing questions become the avenue for each partner to begin to clearly articulate to themselves and each other the precise nature of their losses, wounds and traumas.
Robert Stolorow and George Atwood (2018) have written about emotional dwelling as an important expansion of our understanding of empathy. While curiosity can be seen as a left-brain technique of the therapist, since it involves putting feelings into words, emotional dwelling is a right-brain process. It is the ultimate in joining with another’s emotional pain to create a platform for all three persons in the room to viscerally surround the traumatized child in each partner’s brain with a safe place to be fully known and healed.
If the therapist’s brain is too consumed with left-brain formulations of how they see the couple’s troubles, it is not available for emotional dwelling. Resisting keeping it simple is often an avoidance of what is not easy in the treatment. Patiently sitting with another’s pain, particularly that which is linked to old traumas, is very taxing. And if it resonates with the therapist’s own experiences, it is particularly hard.
I was trained as an opera singer earlier in my life. If all the preparation and practicing I had done was front and center in my mind during a performance, it usually didn’t go well. My teacher’s advice was to trust my preparation and “Just sing!” All the knowledge about humans that we have accumulated as therapists is a critical element in our success, but Neurodynamic Couples Therapy places it in the background of our work. We are not there to train; we are there to experience with. Our professional knowledge helps us make sense of and normalize our clients’ struggles, but only if our ability to “just feel” is in the forefront.