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Section 9
Therapeutic Intimacy (Part 1)

Question 9 | Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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On the last track we discussed reromanticizing.  Reromanticizing is a technique consisting of four steps.  The four steps in the reromanticizing technique are identify what is pleasing now, identify what used to be pleasing, identify what the client has always wanted to pleased by, and combine and prioritize. 

On the next two tracks we will discuss how intimacy can be used to foster intimacy.  Topics we will discuss include the healing potential of friendship, the unconscious selection process, and a technique for overcoming limitations on intimacy. 

Would you agree that healing love has to come from outside oneself?  But must it come from a spouse?  Can the healing love come from a close friend? 

2 Ways Intimacy can be Used to Foster Intimacy

#1 - The Healing Potential of Friendship
Have you ever lead a counseling group and had an opportunity to observe the healing potential of friendships?  As you know, close bonds often develop be­tween members of therapy groups, and I find it productive to encourage this love and support.  In a typical session I might pair Mary, who grew up with a neurotic, unaffectionate mother, with Susan, a strong, earth-mother figure.  I asked Susan to hold Mary on her lap and stroke her and let her cry.  Mary would feel soothed by the exercise, but she wouldn’t be healed. 

Mary stated, "I enjoyed the hugging, but Susan’s not the right person.  It’s not Susan I need hugs from.  It’s someone else." After numerous experiments like this, I concluded that the love clients are seeking has to come not just from another person within the context of a safe, intimate relationship, but from an intimate match—someone so similar to a client’s parents that the unconscious mind has them fused.  This appears to be an effective way to erase the pains of childhood.  Clients may enjoy the hugs and attentions of other people, but the effects are transitory.

#2 - The Unconscious Selection Process
But this brings us back full-circle to the original dilemma:
-- How can a client’s partners heal if they have some of the same negative traits as the client’s caretakers?  
-- Aren’t they the least likely candidates to soothe emotional injuries?  

For example, Hayden, the son of a depressed, sexually repressed mother, chose to marry Becky, a depressed, frigid wife.  How could Hayden recapture his sensuality and joy through Becky? Would you agree that if Hayden were going to be healed Becky would have to change?  Hayden’s depressed, frigid wife would have to re­cover her energy and sensuality.  Then and only then would she be able to give Hayden the consistent nurturing he had been looking for all his life.

Think about your Hayden’s unconscious selection process.  While it was possible that what Hayden needed the most was what his wife, Becky was least able to give, it also happened to be the precise area where Becky needed to grow.

Technique:  Overcoming Limitations on Intimacy
Therefore, I began to focus my attention on turning the healing potential of Becky and Hayden’s marriage into a workable reality.  The unanswered question was how could Becky be encouraged to work on overcoming her limitations so she could meet Hayden’s needs?  I decided to develop an exercise with some of the same features as the Reromanticizing exercise from the last track.  

One partner would be asked to come up with a list of requests, which the other partner would be free to honor or not.  In this case, however, the requests would be for potentially difficult changes in behavior, not for simple, pleasurable interactions; in fact, virtually every one of the requests would zero in on a point of contention.  For instance, clients would be asking their partners to become more assertive or more accepting or less manipulative.  In essence, they would be asking them to overcome their most prominent negative traits.

Here’s an example of how intimacy can be used to foster intimacy from Hayden and Becky’s experience.  To begin the demonstration, I asked a volunteer to state a significant gripe about his or her partner.  Becky started by sharing what at first appeared to be a superficial complaint about Hayden.

"Hayden has a terrible memory," she said. "It seems to be getting worse. I’m always nagging at him about his memory.  I wish he would take a memory course." Hayden, as if on cue, promptly began to defend himself in a weary tone of voice.  Hayden stated,  "I’m a lawyer.  I have to remember thousands of pages of legal briefs.  I have an excellent memory."

Before Becky had a chance to restate her criticism, I asked her what bothered her most about Hayden’s inability to remember. When did it make her the most upset? Becky responded, "I guess when he forgets to do something that I’ve asked him to do.  Like last week, when he forgot that we had a date to go out to lunch.  Another thing that upset me was when we were at a party a few days ago, and he forgot to introduce me to his friends.  I stood there feeling like a complete idiot."

In order to identify the desire behind Becky’s criticism, I asked, "What deeper feelings, like sadness, anger, or fear, might underlie these frustrations?" Becky responded, "Well, when he does those things, I feel unloved.  I feel he doesn’t care for me.  I feel rejected.  So I guess what I want is for him to show me that I’m important to him.  That he’s thinking of me. That I’m as important to him as his work."

At this point I could have asked Becky to try to figure out what childhood wound Hayden was reinjuring by being so insensitive to her feelings: had her parents treated her in a similar way?  But I didn’t feel that it was necessary for her to dredge up such information to benefit from this particular exercise.  

Would you agree that all Becky had to do was:
1. Identify a chronic criticism,
2. Convert it into a desire, and then
3. Describe a positive, specific behavior that would satisfy that desire?  

Therefore, I stated, "Now, Becky I want you to write down a list of specific behaviors that would help you feel more cared­ for.  Will you give Hayden some concrete information about how he could become a more positive force in your life?"

She thought for a minute, then said she would.

Think of your Hayden.  Have you identified an area of change in your client’s partner that could help increase his capability for intimacy?  How can you begin to implement a strategy for change through a technique like Overcoming Limitations on Intimacy for your male intimacy client’s partner?   

On this track we have discussed how intimacy can be used to foster intimacy.  Topics we will discuss include the healing potential of friendship, the unconscious selection process, and a technique for overcoming limitations on intimacy. 

On the next track we will wrap up this discussion by presenting the second part of intimacy used to foster intimacy.  After initializing the Overcoming Limitations on Intimacy as on this last track, the next three steps are to identify a chronic complaint, isolated the desire, and compose a list of target activities on which to request action.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Tosone, C. (2011). The legacy of September 11: Shared trauma, therapeutic intimacy, and professional posttraumatic growth. Traumatology, 17(3), 25–29.

Wadlington, W. (2017). Review of Pragmatic existential counseling and psychotherapy: Intimacy, intuition, and the search for meaning [Review of the book Pragmatic existential counseling and psychotherapy: Intimacy, intuition, and the search for meaning, by J. L. Shapiro]. The Humanistic Psychologist, 45(2), 183–185.

Wetterneck, C. T., & Hart, J. M. (2012). Intimacy is a transdiagnostic problem for cognitive behavior therapy: Functional Analytical Psychotherapy is a solution. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, 7(2-3), 167–176. 

What is a productive technique for initializing intimacy as a way to foster intimacy? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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