I find one of the most effective techniques when helping people look at their behaviour is the ‘action replay’.
A bit like how football pundits on Match of the Day examine a dramatic incident on the pitch, the therapeutic action replay looks in detail at an incident in the ciient’s life.
In the TV action replay there may be different camera angles showing a different perspective on a disallowed goal or alleged foul. In the same way, the therapeutic action replay can sometimes reveal different meanings.
For example, a client may talk about an argument with their partner, a family member or friend, how the other person was being unreasonable or selfish.
I’ll invite the client to try and remember exactly what was said by both parties and how he or she felt at different stages of the interaction.
Drilling into the detail
Drilling down into the detail is important. When we have an actual interaction described with what was said and felt, it comes to life much more than when we say, “I could tell my boyfriend was annoyed with me so I told him where to get off!”
The quote above contains judgments – how did the person know her boyfriend was annoyed with her? Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. Without checking it out with him it’s hard to know for sure.
When we’re able to break down the argument into its different parts we can often she new light on what might have been going on for both people.
It can sometimes mean the client is able to see things from their partner’s point of view, or perhaps see themes in the incident that link to other things we’ve talked about in the therapy.
For example, when slowing down an incident it may become clear that the client has made certain assumptions about the person they’ve had conflict with. Their partner may have said or done something that the client interpreted as a criticism. The client then reacts to that perceived criticism and escalates the argument.
The assumptions we make
In intimate relationships a common situation is where one partner is quiet or withdrawn and the other partner interprets this as anger and feels that they are being blamed for something. This can lead partner two to say something like, “Why are you so miserable?” Or “You’re always annoyed with me about something.”
This reaction then leads partner one to feel judged or misunderstood and they then react with irritation.
Helping the client see that they made an assumption that the silence was a sign of anger or disapproval is important. They can then hold the possibility that their assumption was incorrect – perhaps their partner was just tired or worried about an unrelated matter.
A further level to this kind of interaction could be that the client had a parent who would become quiet or withdrawn when angry with their child.
Again, this is the kind of theme that can be explored in the therapy, thanks to the information provided by the action replay.
I think one of the reasons the action replay can be so helpful is because so much more is going on in our everyday encounters than we realise. Much of our behaviour in relationships is automatic or unconscious, so looking at an incident in detail allows us to bring deeper feelings and assumptions to conscious awareness.
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For more details about my psychotherapy practice visit www.patrickmccurrycounselling.co.uk