Kathryn Ford--Raissa - 5:3:22, 7.57 PM
12:07AM May 4, 2022
Raissa Miller, PhD
Kathryn Ford, PhD
Hello and welcome to this edition of the thoughtful counselor podcast. I am Raisa Miller here today with Dr. Kathryn Ford. We'll include a link to Dr. Ford's full bio on the show notes. But for a brief introduction, Dr. Ford is a practicing psychiatrist and psychotherapist with the focus on work with couples and other relationships. She's developed the learning partners model of couples therapy, which emphasizes learning and adult development. And a central part of this model is dialogue and aperture awareness. I'm really looking forward to diving into this conversation today. So Dr. Ford, thank you so much for joining me.
Thank you Raissa, it's great to be here with you. And with everybody that's tuning in to this. Yes. Well,
to get us started, can you just share a little bit about your background? How did you decide to become a psychiatrist psychotherapist specializing, especially in work with relationships, which is double trouble? Right? How did how, what's that story?
Right? Well, you know, the short version of the story, especially concerning how I ended up working with couples is it just felt right. As you know, like many practitioners, in the first couple of years of my practice, I worked with a little bit of everybody, I worked with a lot of individuals, some couples, and what I noticed was that I loved the couples work, it was the place that I felt the most competent, the most energized. And so I just kind of went in that direction. So that's the direct experience answer and the historical answers, since most of us therapists and counselors love the history of things. The historical answer is, you know, like most people, I watched intensely the first relationship I was privy to, which was my parents relationship. And that's our first experience of watching a relationship and a couple's relationship. And my parents were both raised in the panhandle, plains of West Texas. And they were, you know, there, they were big families, each of them farmers, ranchers, and as you might imagine, those people didn't talk very much at all. But my parents were the two kids in each of their families that went away to college, and got introduced to the world of language and thoughts and communication. And in fact, my father became a college professor, my mother became a therapist. And so they were very adept with language and love to talk to each other. And what I watched was the intensity with which they tried to connect, and the frequent failures and disappointments about that. And I think what I came out of that experience with was lots of questions about this, this kind of relationship, it seems very important and yet very difficult. And I think we all kind of carry away from our childhoods, certain big questions that that we that we then proceed to try to answer. And for me, those questions had to do with what is going on with the importance of this relationship? And why does it work better? And how could it work better? And I think the two strands that came together for me as I tried to answer that, were something having to do with complex systems and the way that everybody and everything is interconnected. And the other strand was to learn to trust direct experience. The first strand, my father was a systems thinker, he you taught business and organizational design. And so he probably talked to me about everything and systems terms. I also started with Nathan Epstein, who developed the Master's model of family relationships. And as a medical student at Brown, he was the chairman of the Department of Psychiatry there. I took a rotation with him and I'm pretty sure that's what sealed my fate I was just riveted by the way he was approaching human beings which was as interrelated human beings as opposed to one by one and that just felt so right to me. And then when I got to California and encountered mindfulness and yoga, and got introduced to the value of and the ways that you can cultivate direct experience and use it to guide your life Have those two things sort of knit together. And my model, which is based around aperture and aperture awareness is basically a model of the importance of interconnection between people. And the way that you can use direct experience or what's sometimes called mindfulness in the moment to guide those relationships. So all of that came together and resulted in me being a couple of therapists and resulted in the model that I, that I started to develop.
Yes, and that that's going to be the focus. That's what we'll dive into in just a moment. But it is. So you know, it just kind of makes sense that from an early age, then you were curious about these dynamics between people and key relationships and how individuals interacted. And one of the thoughts, you know, this, one of the inner interview strands I really focus on is the influence in neuroscience and counseling. And I feel like interconnection, has intuitively been known through time, you know, that we're all connected, so to speak. But recently, there's more science to help illuminate just how that interconnection works. So through your education and practice over these years, how has kind of this understanding of relational neuroscience influenced the way you developed your model work with clients? And again, you don't have to go into great, great detail, but just kind of in an in a nutshell, so to speak.
Yeah, I noticed that one of the things we have in common is this fascinating show with neuroscience and this emphasis on it. I saw your book, I can't wait to crack it up. So, you know, I feel like in my career career, the big excitement is neuroscience is just like, so thrilling. In fact, I used to when, when it first kind of hit the hit the streets maybe a couple of decades ago, I felt like, this is the first thing to come along since I first started my training, that actually is thrilling and new is and is going to revolutionize things. So I I'm just thrilled by what it offers me what it offers my clients. You know, in particular, the understanding of neuroplasticity, I feel like it's all brand new brain, the brain that we had, you know, before when before I hit my formal training was a brain where we thought that we learned stuff and our brain developed, you know, maybe ages zero to 20. And then we're done. And from then on, it was just a loss of neurons. And the new brain, you know, tells us and the Neuroscience tells us that we keep learning and changing right into our eighth ninth decade, as long as we're alive. And that that's really who we are, that the brain is an organ meant to change and with every encounter in our lives, and every moment encounters our lives, where we're kind of a new human being each with each moment. And that's terribly exciting, and of course, terribly hopeful for people who feel like they can't quite figure something out. And, and the old model told us well, that's just who you are. And I think people are so carrying that, like a, like a heavy brick in their backpack. And actually, who we are, are learning machines, and learning learning people. And and I think the second piece of neuroscience that really makes sense to me, and for my couples has to do with the connectedness, that we're so interconnected. You know, there's lots of studies that show that even at the level of our cardiovascular systems or immunological systems, that we don't just, we don't regulate ourselves simply inside this one little envelope of skin, that we're so interconnected that we actually are regulated by other people. And so this combo of neuroplasticity and interconnectedness is really at the heart of the way I work with and look at couples work and relationships.
Yeah, so the neuroscience kind of energized you, in the sense that gave you hope, as you mentioned, for the possibility of learning and change, and then also just kind of helped understand that dynamic co regulation function that couples can serve. And you mentioned that the regulation function, and I and also the dysregulation function, right? Like I can, um, you know, when my spouse walks in the door, I can almost tell within a millisecond, just by feeling in myself, like, what the mood of the moment is, you know, like, how are things good or things dead or, you know, are tired and how quickly that's contagious. And although it probably happens, in all relationships, I think, in those long term committed relationships or with people you're living with, and interacting with someone intimately. I mean, it's like, it happens so quickly and prevalently.
Yes, absolutely. You know, that do you know this wonderful book called a general theory of love No, that's a new one. It's not surprising. It's a real sleeper. But I love this book. This one, this book came out at the very beginning of the new neuroscience. It's three psychiatrists from UCSF. It's a, it's a tour through neuroscience, and then relationships and how that all fits together. And one of the the wonderful things they say in the book is, it's all about finding people who regulate you well, and staying close to them. And I think that has to do with what you're talking about, about emotional contagion. It's like, yes, we we really reverberate with other people's experience. And so you know, we're, that's, that's the new new understanding of the old saw, we're all in this boat together. And that way, we're on the boat together. And we have to be use mindfulness to figure out how to how to work with that.
Yeah, and I think that's what maybe a good tie in to, to your model, and kind of the ways that you work with clients, because that's exactly it, if, if we're not conscious of this, it becomes automatic and reactive. And just those same cycles of, of the ways we're connecting in an in an unhelpful way is often occur. So let's jump in, you've kind of briefly described your learning partners model that maybe dig in a little bit to the principles of philosophy, and then even more, so just make it concrete for us, like what what does it look like when you work with couples from this model?
Right, right. So that that, that'll take us on the grand tour. So I'll start slowly and build it as we go along. First, I would, I would say just another little piece from the neuroscience, it's important and related to as we enter this territory of my model, you know, the importance of mindfulness is that it's a way, one of the things we learn from neuroscience is that our brain has neurological biases, our brain has certain if you think of it in computer terms, which we these days, often think of things in terms of, of what we do with our computers, it has certain default settings, like one of our neurological biases is to scan the environment for anything that could be problematic or negative. So we have to exert a little bit of mindfulness and a little bit of conscious steering, if you will, to override our neurological bias to overemphasize the negative and not pay enough attention to the positive. So one of the things that's really important in relationships, is to do that, and I would say, for life in general, is to be able to do that. So the relevance of mindfulness here is that it's what allows us to start to override the biases, the biases were put in place a long time ago under different conditions. And they still serve as well, in some cases. But the ability to choose whether we're going to pay attention to the negative, or the positive, for example, is what I mean by an override that's made available through through mindfulness. So I would say get into my model. You know, when I first started doing this, I call the model learning partners, which was a way to emphasize the interconnectedness of people, the way that we learn and the way that we learn from each other. I really think that we're all meant to evolve as human beings for our whole lifetime. And the main way we do that is in relationships, I think that relationships are intended to develop us, and we need relationships in order to develop. So I called it learning partners to emphasize the importance of learning and the importance of becoming a team around learning with the idea that the relationship is not a static thing. It's something that you are learning to do as you go along. And then came my awareness of the centrality of openness for couples. As I applied my own mindfulness and sat with couples and asked myself the question like, What am I paying attention to, to guide me? And what do my couples need to pay attention to what emerged was, the primary thing here is people's openness, if you think about it, everything we want from each other, and we want a lot from each other. So we want to be understood and listened to and cared about and connected with, etc. All of that depends on our openness to each other. And we're not always open to each other. So I could be extremely articulate with you about something that matters to me. But if I'm closed or you're closed, or worst case, we're both closed. Nothing good is going to happen. If that you're not going to hear me accurately, you're not going to be able to pay attention to what I'm saying. You're not going to care about what I'm saying. So all of the other things, all of the other skills that we need all of the other approaches that we need to being with each other, depend on this one kind of basic what I call aperture awareness, the Northstar, this basic thing of openness. And the word I started to use for that was aperture. And increasingly I've come to call my model more the aperture awareness model. And the reason I use aperture is openness and closeness refers to the same thing that we mean when we talk about defensiveness being defensive as being closed. Okay, not defensive as being open. And that's the common terminology that we use in counseling and therapy. And also that lay people use however, you think about what comes to mind know how you feel when you think of defensiveness for me, too. For me, defensiveness is not a good enough word. I, I feel offended by the word defensiveness
It has a negative connotation
yes, it evokes something about a wall, it evokes something that's static, that's hard, you have two choices, you either put up with it, or you blast through it, neither of which is a good alternative. And what I begin to realize is that our openness and closeness is not a static thing. It's not a character trait, it's not something we always have in this relationship, or that, in fact, it's something that's dynamic, and it's varying in each moment. Every moment that people are interacting with each other, their openness and closeness is is moving, it's opening a little bit closing a little bit opening a little bit closing a little bit. And that the a bit and thus, the ability to pay attention in the present moment to what's happening, is really important, because otherwise, we get off in the weeds of thinking about, well, what does this have to do with what you did yesterday? Or what does this have to do with your childhood, or, you know, all of these things that are important, but not as important as making sure that you're in touch with with aperture,
The here and now.
Yes, the here and now. Now, aperture is a here and now phenomenon, it's also a felt sensation. So the other thing about them about the model is that you can sense it, that it's a sense, it's a field sensation, just like our vision is, is a felt sensation, you don't get knowing whether you're open or closed, by thinking about it by analyzing anything, either any more than you get to seeing by analyzing the photons that are hitting your retina, and trying to decide where they're coming from and how strong they are. You open your eyes, and you see something. Likewise, at a certain point, when you open your awareness to aperture awareness, you just sense it. Now some people already know that therapists and counselors in particular I think, are trained to pay attention to how they are in the room, how they are in the relationship. So sometimes with people in fact, I would say more often than not, when I try to use this term with couples or with other relationships, all I have to do is ask them just pay attention right now, are you open or closed? And usually what comes back is a pretty quick answer. Well, of course, I'm closed, did you hear what you just said, right? I'm really open. I'm dying to hear what she's gonna say about XYZ for other people. So that's one way to get to aperture awareness. And what I say is, we don't pay enough. We don't pay attention to it. Because we haven't really been pointed in that direction enough. And we don't know exactly what to do with it.
Yeah, it requires a bit of tuning into our internal world or our felt sense or embodied sense. Which, yeah, culturally just isn't always taught or encouraged.
It's de emphasize Yes. And that comes back to this thing of learning to trust, direct awareness. What I will add also, because in in sharing aperture awareness with clients, it's going to be important to know that many of them I would say, more than not will know when you say, I want to know if you're open or close right now, they are going to know, however, there's a certain subset of people for whom they're so far away from, from that level of awareness that they're going to have to learn to get there. And there's a few ways you can help them. And I just want to mention those. Yeah. One way is that there's some for some people, the physical sensations that go with that are going to be more predominant. So for some people, they can be aware of warmth and coldness tight and loose, so looseness and warmth are often signs of being open. tightness and coldness, especially in your midsection are often signs of being closed. And so some people know that they have tightness in their jaw that there's some occurs in knots that's closed, and they can use that to start to realize, oh, yeah, that that's, that's that open closeness thing that she's talking about, that I'm closed right now, for other people. people a way to get there is to, to recognize that the things you most want to be able to do in a conversation. And in a relationship, like being patient, being compassionate, being generous, those are all things that you're able to do when you're open and not so able to do when you're closed. So that's another cue. Like, if you're struggling to listen, if you're struggling to even entertain the possibility that the person you're talking to, is saying something important, you're probably pretty close. And that's the most important thing to know about that moment. Like I said, to pay attention to that as if it's the North Star for guiding you
that that know those things are really helpful. Because I think you're right, a lot of times you can just intuitively sense openness and closeness, but but perhaps at times, having that connection to physical sensations or to kind of more our projections, so to speak of, of this, that moment of open a closeness can be helpful, especially if that's what you it sounds like, what you're saying is that is the prereq. So to speak to effective connection or dialogue around an issue with a couple, like if you don't have openness, yes, there's no sense in proceeding in that conversation, it's not going to be helpful,
you do totally captured it, there's no sense in proceeding and in fact, you're likely to injure. So not only will you be ineffective, but when two people are closed, and they're trying to continue interacting, that's when the injuries happen. Because the things that we say and do when we're closed, first of all, cause the other person to close down. And now we're both closed, and I'm much more likely to be misunderstood. So I might be trying to say something that's actually positive and gentle. But if we're both closed, you're more likely to interpret it in a negative way. And secondly, I'm more likely to get agitated and say, say things that are actually harmful. So you don't want to be trying to be in dialogue and trying to be in conversation. If you're both closed, you have to that's, that's the value of tuning into your aperture and having aperture awareness is that it helps you guide your interactions, these moment to moment interactions that are going to build your relationship. It helps you know when to pause, when to slow down, when to go ahead and when to stop. And there are times where you have to stop the conversation altogether, because two people are so close. So that's the utility of Aperture awareness, it helps you figure out what to do in all of those sticky, difficult moments that happen so often, when two people that really matter to each other are trying to converse.
Yes. So what if you recognize either a counselor in their client or just a person themselves recognizes that patch now that I'm tuning in to this, I'm closed? A lot. In fact, maybe all the time in this dialogue? I'm closed right? Now how like, how can you foster more openness other than just saying be open, you know, openness? But yeah, like, are there ways to just soften that closeness to move more towards openness?
What what that reminds me of is that one of the things I really wanted to emphasize is that everything I'm talking about not only applies to all relationships, but it especially applies to our relationships as counselors and therapists, with our clients. I firmly believe that what I'm talking about with aperture is the thing that we're paying attention to whether we know it or not, I sort of feel like, you know, there's this old joke about a therapist or a counselor is somebody that picks your pocket and then sells you your own watch. But if you didn't know you had a watch, that's quite a service. Yeah. What I'm doing is I'm pointing out where the watches, I'm pointing out, I think that in those moments where we're really effective with our clients, what's going on is that we're, we're wide open aperture, and we're facilitating the other person being. So these principles are valid are useful, not only for working with couples, but also in any of our work with individuals, your your own awareness, my own awareness as a clinician needs to be on my own aperture. And by the way, that's the answers to so how do we help people be open number one thing is our own aperture. The strongest force in the room when you're working with somebody is your own aperture. Our apertures are very resonant with each other. One of the properties of the limbic system is limbic resonance, and what that means is the system in our, in our brains that's responsible for especially responsible for reading other people's feelings and other people's motivations, which is the limbic system. We're very resonant with each other. It's that emotional contagion thing that you talked about. Good morning. And so I think Louis iminium. And Landon actually coined that term limbic resonance. And what it means is if you think of a roomful of drums, and if you if you hit the head of one drum, all the drums in the room vibrate. And that's who we are, as human beings, we vibe, we the word vibes that came out of the 60s or 70s. Yeah, pretty literal. Actually, we feel each other's vibes a lot. And so what's cool and also can be hazardous is that we resonate very strongly with each other's apertures, the strongest force for your aperture to open, the strongest influence for your aperture open is going to be my open aperture. And likewise, the strongest influence for your aperture close, if we're in conversation is going to be me closing down. So that's very important with your couples. But it's also very important with any of your clients. Sometimes it's about teaching them new things, teaching them refrains, teaching them to pay attention to their aperture. And all the time, it's about openness all the time, it's about your ability to stay open in the moment. And you do that by paying attention to your own aperture. And really, if you notice that you're closing down to prioritize that may think about it in a session.
And this is had been very useful a number of times, I'll get to a point that I realize I'm starting to get kind of anxious and agitated by something one of the person is saying, and I'm really upset with them, I don't like what they're saying, I'm agitated by the fact that they're so close or whatever. What I have to remember at that moment to do is to is to pay attention on my own aperture to remember to ask myself, so what's happening right now? Are you closing down? And almost always, if if I think to ask usually, the answer is, yeah, I'm starting to close down here, I'm having a negative reaction to something I'm hearing, I'm closing down, and that's not going to allow me to be effective, I need to reopen. Now, as therapists, we do have certain tools for reopening. And those are the tools we're trying to teach our clients, I really think that everything we're trying to teach our clients is simply to be able to do the things that we've learned to do ourselves as clinicians. That's the curriculum. And to me, the therapy is over when the other person or the couple can do the things that they've been doing in the room with you, and that you've been helping them to learn by the by your own doing of them. So paying attention, my own aperture and reopening, for me, that happens most easily. There are several, several things to do there. For me, what's very powerful sometimes is to is to remember my compassion, that to remember my compassion for the person that I'm having a negative reaction to, like, maybe somebody's saying something really mean to the other person. And I'm getting agitated and upset by that, to kind of sit back notice my apertures not so open, and look for my compassion for that person, like, wow, I'm pretty sure that person loves this other person, I know that from sitting with him for a while. And right now they're not being very loving, they must be scared in pain, you know, something is getting in the way of their lovingness. And once I can reconnect to that my aperture starts to reopen, feel as I'm describing it to you, I can feel like Oh, yeah. And so returning to compassion for the other person is often a way to get to open aperture. And sometimes, especially, especially for your clients who are just being introduced to this, sometimes a pause is helpful. If you start to notice that apertures are falling, yours or the other person's and usually they're following each other. Because sometimes you need to say, Well hold on a second. You know, I really want to be listening to what you're saying, I, I think it's important what you're trying to tell me, and I'm noticing that I'm starting to close down. Let's modify something often, you know, if I started to talk to you about something that you don't want to talk about, and you sort of closed down My Next Move unconsciously may be that I'm going to start talking louder and louder I talk, the more you close down and faster I talk, the more you close down, and pretty soon we're both pretty closed. So I might at that point, say hold on a second, I'm closing down what you're saying is important. But I noticed I can't listen. Could you please speak a little bit more slowly and maybe a little bit less loudly. And let's try it again and see if I can listen better. Now of course, that if you do speak more softly and slowly that's going to help me to reopen, but also just the fact that I paused and signaled that I'm taking you seriously that I'm taking the conversation seriously. That in itself is going to help you to open and your openness is going to help me To open, et cetera. So these are some of the things that we can do to help ourselves stay open. Because after all, in important conversations, the goal isn't to be, I usually use a one to 10 scale with people with aperture is very helpful just to see where you are, and so on. So usually, when I asked you about average aperture, I don't just ask them open or close, I asked them on a scale of one to 10. If 10 is wide open, where are you. And I generally think of five as the place where we're good to go five or above five, are open enough to have the conversation and below five in the bottom half of the scale, you probably need a pause, you may need a short pause, a little pause, you need a course correction, either something between the two of you like the way you're talking to me, or maybe something inside of you, like I returned to my compassion and kind of adjust things that way. But but the pause is very important. And I can say more, I do want to say more about the benefit of slowing down a conversation. Do that now or a little later? Or would you like to go next?
Oh yes, I would, I feel like I need a pause just to let all this sink in. You know, I'll say a couple of things, and then turn it back over to you. Because I just want to hear more what you have to say. But the first thing that's running through my mind, as you talked about the role of the therapist, in kind of setting the stage, so to speak, or kind of being the person in the room with openness to to help bring the other person's openness out, so to speak. I think about Carl Rogers, and yes, person centered therapy and yes, core conditions that he said, therapists have to have an encounter and clients have to perceive in order for effective healing to happen and that I hear a lot of those things being warm, non judgmental, accepting, as as like maybe the as ways of displaying openness, so to speak, are the manifestations of an open state of being.
Yes, exactly. Yeah, you know, there's a what I love that you mentioned karma. There's a wonderful story about Carl Carl Rogers that I think captures this thing of resonance and how it's the most important that that an open aperture is the most important thing you can do for a client. In his later years, Carl Rogers, as you probably know, turned in the direction of international diplomacy and negotiations. And he would meet with groups of people that had strong and, and dangerous differences with each other like representatives from different countries. And the story goes that this could be apocryphal, but but I think it could also be literal, the story goes that at that point in his life, all he had to do was walk in a room and sit down and the conversation went better. He didn't have to do anything. And I think that has to do partly with the expectations that had preceded him a little better. But I think it also has to do with this aperture resonance. And if he was sitting there nice and wide, open and compassionate and available, he didn't really have to say very much for it to have a positive influence on what the other people we're going to be able to do with each other.
Yeah, back to the story, you told the drum, right, like he's letting out a vibe, there's a vibe in the room that he kind of sets set the stage for, that's really beautiful. I love when some of the the founding theorist of of the mental health field like it comes back around in a way that is understood deeper, maybe different terms, but that those truths are remembered and re energized, so to speak. You know, I mean, it's exciting. It's both old and new to be talking about aperture in that way. Right. The other thing to just summarize, because I I was really, really curious when I was reading about your work, just even online, is that piece of like, it sounds great. But how do you get it and those ideas of tuning into compassion, allowing yourself a pause, that also aligns with what I know about the nervous system, that when we're in a, I guess, Gottman called it like flooded, but an override state. It is so hard for us to be tuning in to the other person and being able to express empathy and so kind of connecting to your terms and your model to that literature as well. Or even Porges talking about social baseline or like the social engagement system and that that has to be on for you know, the collaborative conversation or creative problem solving to happen. So I just think about all that too. So that actually kind of helps me. Put your model into that. lends to around. When we're not open and we're wanting to move towards openness. Perhaps we can also think about what strategies do I use? Just to regulate my nervous system? In general? You know, is it taking a breath? Is it allowing a pause for things to just settle? Is it cognitively tuning in to the compassion piece to allow my heart to soften and reconnect with the human on the other side of this conversation? But yeah, yeah, so those are where all my thoughts were going? Yeah. From what you shared. Good. Yeah. Excellent. Now. Yeah, take us down the road of slowing things down. Okay.
There, I want to talk about slowing things down. And then I want to get into what you refer to as well, how do you actually do this because I want to describe what it looks like in the room in the consultation room when you're using this as a professional. But before that, let's talk about sewing. Because it's maybe the most important thing to know and to to do of any of this, I often refer to slowing it down as the Swiss Army knife of all the tools in the toolbox. Because it's a tool that has all the tools inside of it, it's a tool that allows you to get to the other tools. And here's the way that goes. Most of our conversations happen at a rate that it makes it impossible to actually process while we're talking. In fact, they happen so fast, we don't even process the content very well. And the content layer is just one layer of many channels of information that are happening simultaneously. There's the content. And what I mean by that is the storyline of what you're exchanging, yes, we are going to my mother's for Thanksgiving, no, we're not. Why aren't we? That's the storyline. That's the content level, please don't even hear each other accurately at the rate that we usually Converse. And furthermore, we certainly don't have the bandwidth to process, how we're feeling, what we're picking up about what the other person's feeling our avatars, and a myriad of other things, the the associations that are going off in our mind, as we're listening to this, in order to do the right amount of the proper processing of an important conversation, it needs to proceed way more slowly than usual. And there needs to be pauses between times of speaking. The exercise that I use with my couples that that always they find the most useful is a slowing it down exercise. And I'll briefly describe it. And also I will say, in advance of our conversation, I put several of the exercises that I use on my website so that people can access them. So on my website, we'll talk about where that is later. There's a tab that's services. And under that there's a tab for therapists. And if you go to the therapists tab, you'll see the exercises, excellent, slowing it down exercise is very exaggerated. And I find that that's important because this is such a hard thing to do. And what I have people do is stay in the conversation they're in, but in, but they're going to speak for only two sentences each time they speak, which is not very much. It's really short.
And they're going to pause for about that same amount of time before the second speaker speaks. So the rhythm becomes sort of like watching a tennis rally. It's like you speak. And then there's this nice long pause. And then the other person speaks. And what that allows is what William Isaacson's describes as letting the sounds cascade into silence. And I just love the way you said that because it kind of evokes this feeling of yeah, when when you hear something, you hear it kind of the first time through, and then it kind of reverberates in you and it's almost like you hear an echo that's sort of like what you heard. But now it's a little different. And you might hear a new shade of meaning. And you might have a new idea about what you're hearing. And there are all these layers of hearing. And then they're all the same layers of your own response. Your first response is that your only response? That's the only one you're going to know about if you're if you're in this rapid fire kind of conversation. And often it's not your best response, often in a hard conversation. Your first response is a closed aperture response. It's that, oh, wait a second, you know, and it's a defensive response. So what we want is we want enough time that we can notice mindfully that defensive response, that closed response, and we can wait till our aperture kind of relaxes a little bit opens back up and we could do something that's a little bit more inviting, like wow, I didn't Know You thought I was always late. Tell me more about that. And that's so different than that first response, which might have been, are you kidding? I'm not the one that makes us late, right. And we've all been there at half time. So you're wanting to introduce space and silence into your conversations. And that by itself allows people to hear each other better. It allows them to stay in real time connected to what the apertures are and what their feelings are. Which means that if you need to ask for an adjustment, you have the presence of mind to think to do that. And a time and again, when I give this exercise to couples days, first, they first they find it really hard, and they don't want to do it because I can't say what I want to say in two sentences. And then, after just a few beats, they start to realize, oh, wait a second. This is making me less anxious, I'm starting to calm down. And the typical response is, you start your anxiety starts to lower, and you start to realize that, well, I don't actually have to get it all out in one breath, because the other person is going to speak now I'm going to have another turn. I'll say the rest of it then. And if it very naturally helps people to move away from the kind of conversation we so often habit, which is this rapid fire debate about something into something that's more like a dialogue where we're truly open. We're truly listening. And we're doing what Isaac's calls thinking together? And that's what you want.
Yes. Yes. That, that seems so practical. Yes, it is. Yes, I mean, I have all these philosophies about this. And the neuro of this is is fun to think about. But absolutely, when it comes to sitting with another person to have a conversation or to facilitate a conversation, these types of have practical tools to make it possible to get to where the philosophies can play out. It's just so important. So what more than can you share about kind of translating these ideas to the consultation room and helping them come alive?
Let's do that. Because I think there's a pretty big difference in the way I work structurally, though, the way some couples therapists work. And for me, it's a difference. It's really important that works for me. When I'm working with a couple, I'm not sitting and talking to them. I'm not conversing with them about what went on last night in the kitchen. I'm not talking to them about how they feel about each other. I'm on the sidelines coaching. And what that means is they're having a conversation, because their relationship is developing overall, in every moment that they're conversing. Especially they're important, hard conversations. I don't want to be rehashing last night's conversation, I want them to be having a conversation, while I'm in the room to see where they go awry, where are they shut down, why they shut down. So I'm in the position of the mindful observer. And certainly the way I think of it is I'm supplying the things that they need for a good conversation. So that they can have a better conversation and so that they can start to learn how to do these things. And I'm going to supply them as long as I need to, until they can start to do these things themselves. At a certain point, I want them to start to be mindfully observing their own conversation, and thus the slowing down. But in the beginning, they're talking, they're having a conversation. And inevitably, it starts to go off track in a typical way that their conversations do. And I'm on the sidelines, observing first and then starting to coach them with some suggestions. Like, you know, I think this will go better if you try the slowing down exercise. Let's do that for a few minutes and see what happens. That would be a typical coaching comment I might make from the sidelines. On the other hand, sometimes what might happen is that in the coaching role, I'm mostly coaching their conversation with like occasional outtakes to do that other kind of work that's so typical of dyadic therapy work where somebody really kind of gets triggered and gets overwhelmed. It gets dysregulated. So they're talking maybe I've made the solid down comment, suggestion, maybe they go back to it, and then at some point, one person might get really triggered starts to get really close down, can't reopen what Gottman calls flooding. At that point, I'm going to call a complete timeout. And I'm going to turn to the person that's flooding or near near to, and I'm going to work with them along the lines of what what just happened. And I'm going to ask them not to interact with their partner because that partner is triggering to them and I'm now asking them to pay mostly attention to me. I'm paying it to into keeping my aperture very wide open, and counting on the influence of that, as well as some, you know, unraveling of what exactly they can notice inside of them in terms of memories, reactions, whatever I'm doing that work until they can reopen. And then I'm directing the back into the conversation. And now I'm back in the role of coaching the conversation. So there are two different roles there. There's their complementary, and but mostly, I'm in the role of the sidelines, Coach observing and providing commentary and observations that they're not yet able to make for themselves. But in time, I'm hoping that they will learn to do that. And I actually have a little vignette of a piece of a session that I would like to read if we have time, because I think it'll, I think it'll give people the flavor of oh, this is what aperture looks like aperture work looks like in the room?
Shall I do that? Yes. Okay.
So let me just pull this up. So this is a session with cat and for your, for your listeners. This is not three seconds long, but it's also not 30 minutes long. This is a couple of minutes, we'll go through this. And hopefully, it'll give you an idea of what this really looks like, you know, in in the live as it's happening. So this is Kevin and L. Ella, and their parents of four month old, and I've been working with them for a while. So they're familiar with the term aperture and openness. And they're still they're still needing a lot of coaching. So Ella and her check in, I usually also do check in so that I know kind of what where we are how people are feeling and what we might talk about, by the way, I'll mention I don't choose the topic, they always choose the topic, with rare exception, they choose the content. And I'm coaching not content, but process trusting that the very best conversation about the content is what's going to happen if I help them stay open. So I don't really need to get involved with the content, I just need to help them stay very open so that their very best selves are present with each other to figure out whatever it is they need to figure out together.
Yeah, it almost seems like it doesn't matter what the content is, in most cases
For the purpose of what I'm teaching, it really doesn't. It matters to them, and it needs to matter to them. Because otherwise you won't have a conversation to work with. Right? It needs to matter enough that they actually go through their usual process of getting triggered, shutting down, et cetera. But they choose the content. And I usually go for a content that's the right amount of heart. If they're just starting, I might ask them to choose a topic. That's not the very hardest one from the beginning. And then as they start to learn, they move towards the harder topics. So I asked him for the check. And Ella and her chicken mentioned that she wants to talk about nighttime and bedtime, explaining that she goes to bed and he stays up late in his study. So So I say to Kevin, are you okay with talking about that? He says, Sure. I say so what are your apertures right now? Kevin, I'm good. Maybe about a seven. Allah says I'm fine. I sit and I redirect her. And I say, Well, what would you say on a one to 10 scale? She says I'm about an eight or nine. I say okay, so So Ella says, So what do you do after I go to bed? And she sounds kind of challenging about that. So I'm wondering, Is she really an eight or nine? She pauses and waits. Kevin says after some silence, I work sometimes I surf the web. Ella, I don't see what's so interesting about surfing the web. Now I'm thinking she's definitely not an eight or nine. Kevin after a pause. Well, it's not that it's so interesting. But why come to bed when you're already asleep in any way, you've made it perfectly clear that you're no longer interested in me. A brief look of surprise passes over her face, which thing goes very hard. And she says, Look, you try taking care of the baby all day, plus everything else and you see how interested you are. Kevin says great, just great. He looks at me, this is hopeless. I say okay, let's take a timeout here. So this may asking for the pause. ello, what's your aperture? She says to I say to Kevin? He says zero. So I turned to Kevin. And I say so let's see if we can figure out how you can each reopen. I don't want I don't know. Oh, Kevin says I don't know what to say to get her to talk to me about it. And I am then engaged with him. And I say I think you caught her off guard. And that was her first response. Kevin says yeah, but she never will talk to me about our intimate relationship. Just by turning and talking to me though his aperture has started to reopen a bit, which typically will happen. He's relieved of the pressure of interacting with this other person who matters enormously to him. And my aperture is nice and open. So he's starting to get the effect of that If I say well, I think reassuring her would go a long way, reassure her about what? That you care about her that you know, this is hard to talk about and that you really do want things to get better. Some combination of things like that. Kevin pauses, he says, so, yeah, I really do wish we could be happier. I can't stand being apart and I do want to talk to you about what's going on with sex. He's now moving back towards a five. So he's good to go. Ella Hauer still looks tense, and is clearly trying to steady herself. She says, okay, so what do you want to know? I say to Ella, what's your aperture right now? She said, I don't know, maybe a four. And I asked Kevin and he says I'm a five. And I say to Kevin, so five is good to go. But for him not so much. See if you can help her to reopen more. Kevin says, well, so why won't you talk to me about this? I think it's not perfect, but let's see if she can work with it. lol says I hate talking about sex with you. And I think maybe now she's closing again. Kevin looks at me. I say to Kevin asked her what she's feeling. And Kevin says, What are you feeling right now? And Alice's angry? No afraid. She pauses and then she flushes and then she starts to cry. And she says everything is just so hard since the baby came. I just can't do it. Any of it. Sex. There's just one more hard thing I can't do. He looks surprised and he goes quiet. There's a big pause. Then he says tenderly to Allah. L I had no idea. You were feeling this bad. LL cry Ella cries more. Kevin says, Why don't you talk to me about it. At this point, they're now a fiver better both of them. And I don't interrupt to ask. Allah says all you want to talk about is sex. There's another big hot paws. And Kevin turns very directly to her and says l tell me what's been going on with you.
And as I usually get kind of a little bit teary eyed, yes, just feel the shift in them just just in that little like, I'm just reading a vignette. But you can just feel how they move from close to open. And that's that's what I want people to be able to imagine. It's not fancy. This is all you do. But this is what you do, or what I do. As I'm helping people to reopen.
Yes, yes. Yes, I got tears in my eyes, because I think there is a tenderness to that to the power of i heard in that vignette that you were slowing them down that you were having them check in that. And that that gave them the space and the mindfulness that you mentioned at the beginning to express what they really did feel, you know, and the closeness wasn't perhaps allowing how they really felt to be expressed. But by slowing it down and making sure the conversation didn't happen in that way until they were open it it gave room. Right for the tenderness to emerge. Yes, the connection to merge. Yeah. And it's still hard. It's still messy. And I think that that's part of what I like about how you have presented this, again, that on your website, and just in our conversation is you're not promising that it's going to be easy, or that relationship conversations are going to be you're going to like arrive to a state of openness that is permanent. But that it's Yeah. Yeah,
the things that matter most in life and the things that we're learning ourselves as counselors and therapists, and we're trying to help other people to learn our lifelong learning. It's not a place we arrive at. It's something that gradually we get more and more adept at being more open more of the time. And we get more adept at reopening after we've closed down. And this is this is a lifetime of learning. And you help people to appreciate that, that it's okay, if you get closed down in a hard conversation, you're not going to be a 10 all the time. If you are, you're you're being too safe, and you're not really having the conversation. And so in a really good hard conversation. People's apertures are varying from somewhere between four and eight is a nice zone to be in. And when you get below five, you pause and kind of regroup and then you go back above five a little bit. Maybe you dip down to three, you know, but you're kind of in the mid range because that's where you're going to be if you're really tackling hard things you're going to close or reopen all the time.
Okay, but the goal is just awareness that this is even a thing this that aperture is something that exists and is critical to having these conversations that we need to have that allow for connection, which is what we really want.
Exactly connection is what we want. And yet, we can get rather terrified of it. And so and that's the neurological, the aperture, we go into fight flight freeze at the drop of a hat. I mean, I can could even feel it. When I was anticipating our interview, I thought, oh, no, you're dealing with a stranger. And we have those kinds of anxieties, as much as we have this longing and desire to connect. And we're constantly trying to solve the riddle of how do we get as much connection as possible with as little pain and injury as possible? Yes,
okay. Well, I, I just so grateful that you're willing to spend this time sharing about this model and sharing about the how it looks in practice. But I know that this is just like tipping our toes in the water. Of what you have spent a lot of time learning and writing and doing, where can counselors, therapists that are interested in knowing more and digging deeper? Where can they go to learn this? Or to find out more?
Yes, excellent. So there's two major resources. One is my website, which is Catherine Ford, md.com. And pretty much everything is there, including various other podcasts I've recorded and interviews where there articles I've written. So all of my, my writing and teaching is in this in these small pieces that you can dip into are there. And as I said, on the in the section, that is for therapists under the Services section, you'll find these exercises, the slowing down exercises, as well as some others. And you'll also find a reading list there. And then the other places a lot of my teaching right now is through Stanford Continuing Studies program. And I usually teach a course every quarter for the next two quarters. For let's see where we're coming up on summer. And in summer of 22 and fall of 22. I'll be teaching my course for couples, which is basically a couples workshop. a two day couples workshop taught through Stanford Continuing Studies. The dates for this for the summer one are July nine and 16. And it's not live yet on the Stanford cite, but it will be soon. And they can sign up for that. The other thing is, occasionally I have a how shall I put it? I have a therapist who wants to really learn this model, but they don't want to attend the couples workshop as the couple and I have them sitting in is sort of an additional therapist in the room to observe to make comments as they like. So if someone's interested in doing that with these horses, they should contact me directly about that. And I would say those are the major resources right now. And as well I am a frequent what do we call it blogger for Psychology Today. So you can go to the Psychology Today blog section and you'll find articles by me there. And if you go to my website, you can sign up for my newsletter. Once a month I put out a newsletter that sort of topically arranged with that has usually a couple of things for me a couple of things from other people on a topic, like I think the last one I put out was about listening. So you could sign up for the newsletter and you'll get that automatically in your email box.
I'm so excited you're you're giving resources away which you know, is just such a treasure and then having these other opportunities to potentially learn dig in more with with the Stanford Continuing Studies class. So I mean, like I kind of mentioned we're talking about riders I feel like you are bringing old wisdom into a new light and in such a practical way to give us the skills to do it because just talking about it is easy, but the doing of it can be quite difficult. So thank you for for that innovation, you know, for bringing bringing to light something that is so true about our human interaction and and then helping us learn how to do it better, because we need that.
Great so thank you so much for a great conversation. This was fun.
Yes, thank you.
The Thoughtful Counselor is Desa Daniel, Raissa Miller, Aaron Smith, Jessica Tyler, Stacey Diane Arañez Litam,
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