Some form of transformation is the stated or at least implied promise of most types of psychotherapy, including Neurodynamic Couples Therapy. The term literally means “changing form”, although Google goes further and says that transformation is some type of extreme, radical change.
What are we promising to transform in couples treatment–changing a bad relationship into a good one? turning an unhappy life into a happy one? changing both partners’ character? resolving all of their conflicts? As the saying goes, not exactly.
The source of people’s troubles that causes them to seek treatment can predominantly be boiled down to fear of being human. Our clients are afraid of normal, human, difficult feelings, and they believe that “good” people can avoid them. Either no one has ever helped them deal with difficult feelings or they have been told that it is desirable and possible to avoid these “negative” feelings. I once had a patient whose parents actually told him that, if he did everything “right” (whatever that was), he could avoid emotional pain in his life.
Our work is about changing people who are afraid of being human into people who embrace all of the joys and vulnerabilities of being human. People who are afraid of being human spend most of their mental and emotional energy being anxious that they either have done or are doing something terribly wrong and will suffer awful consequences for their errors, along with unbearable feelings. Their relationships are filled with conflicts about who was wrong, who should be held accountable, and how they must atone for their mistakes. They believe that, if these questions are appropriately answered, there will be no more emotional pain.
Neurodynamic Couples Therapy begins with the premise that no one is doing anything wrong. The therapist repeatedly emphasizes that the conflicts a couple is experiencing are a naturally human process designed to heal–not an indication that someone is flawed. The healing is about learning together that all of their feelings are normal, manageable, understandable, and deserving of care and connection, instead of judgment and rejection.
The joy of being fully human cannot be experienced without the ability to embrace the full range of human feelings. All of our therapeutic interventions are designed to help our clients change their experience of their own feelings from fear to pleasure–the pleasure of being freed from the anxiety of having normal human feelings. Many authors of our literature call this “mastery”. It is the knowledge that whatever experiences come along in our human lives, we can handle them without mercilessly judging ourselves or others, creating distance from our loved ones, or emotionally disintegrating.
Simply put, the transformation we are promising in Neurodynamic Couples Therapy is from the fear of being human to an appreciation of every experience and aspect of self that both partners have lived and felt. It is indeed a “radical” shift from needing conflicts to expose their feared feelings to not needing conflicts anymore.
Next post: Needing conflicts