In the previous blog, I presented doubling, which was originated by Jacob Moreno, as the signature method of Collaborative Couple Therapy. When you double in couple therapy, you speak as if you were one of the partners talking to the other. In this newsletter, I discuss how my use of this method evolved over time and how I introduce this method to the couple.
When you double, you can remain where you are or move next to the person you’re speaking for. If you remain where you are, you can slip into doubling without introduction:
“So you’re saying….” or “So you’d be saying….?”
“Are you saying…?” or “Could you be saying….?”
“What would it be like if you said…?” (Lynn Maya came up with this variation)
“If I were you I might be thinking/feeling…” (Jane Nolan Yen came up with this variation)
“Here, I’m you, Rosa, talking to you, Jackson, and for you I’d say….”
Statements such as these are within the range of what clients generally expect from therapists. You don’t need any special explanation. Some sort of explanation is necessary, however, if you move next to the partner you’re speaking for. Without some sort of statement, clients can become startled: “What are you doing?”
The first time I move next to a partner to double, I say something like:
“I’d like to do something here that I often do, which is to come over and speak as if I were one of you talking to the other. I’m going to do it now for you, Rosa, and then at other times I’ll do it for you, Jackson.”
Then I explain my purpose:
“I do this for various reasons: to check whether I understand what you’re saying, to see how it sounds to you if someone else says it, to come at things from a different direction, to make guesses about what you might be feeling, to sneak in ideas of my own or, as in this case, to draw attention to something touching that one of you said.”
I end by acknowledging that what I’m doing may seem strange.
“It may feel weird at first. If it continues to feel weird, I’ll stop doing it.”
As I move next to the person, I look to see how she or he is taking it. Most people seem curious, even intrigued, wondering what I’m going to say. An occasional partner seems unreceptive in which case, of course, I back off.
If it’s early in the first session and the couple and I are not yet comfortable with each other, I don’t move when I double. I remain where I am. Even in later sessions, I stay where I am much of the time when I double. I reserve moving-while-doubling for occasions when I want to have special impact:
- A partner has just made a stinging comment that I want to detoxify. Susan Johnson calls this “catching the bullet.”
- The couple is engaged in an intense fight and I want to get their attention and show them how it might sound if they were having a conversation rather than this fight. At times, I spend much of the session moving back and forth between the partners, doubling for each in turn.
- The couple is stuck in a devitalized exchange into which I want to inject energy and emotion.
You may have heard the story of the psychology professor who was delivering a lecture on Skinnerian conditioning to a class at a university. At the break, the students got together and decided to use Skinnerian shaping on the professor himself. They agreed that each time he moved toward the corner of the classroom, they would reward him by smiling, taking notes, nodding, and sitting up alertly in their seats. By the end of the class, the professor was backed into the corner delivering his lecture.
Something like that happened to me with my couples. Some years ago while seeing a couple, I must have shifted for a moment from speaking to one of the partners to speaking as that partner. In place of, “You must have felt sad and heartbroken,” I must have said something like, “Could you be saying, ‘I felt sad. It broke my heart.’” Tears came to the eyes of the woman for whom I was speaking and her husband was moved, also—which encouraged me to try doubling with other couples. They liked it, too, and I began doubling more and more. When I shifted a little in my chair toward the partner for whom I was speaking, they liked that even better. My chair has wheels and soon I was scooting next to the partner for whom I was doubling. My behavior had been shaped in a Skinnerian way by the couples I saw.
One couple, after listening to a tape that I gave them of our couple therapy session, came back the next week and reported, “You need oil for your chair.” I never figured out how to put oil in my chair, but something happened the next month that made that problem moot. I was giving a demonstration of couple therapy to a professional audience. The couple and I were on a riser so the attendees could see. Since the riser was too small to allow me to move my chair, I contented myself with kneeling next to each partner as I spoke for them. The couple told me later that they liked my kneeling, since it put me lower than they were—which made it all the more clear that I was working for them rather than imposing something on them.
That’s what I do these days—get out of my chair when I want to have special impact on a couple, kneel next to the partner for whom I want to speak, and look directly at the other partner. If kneeling is difficult or inconvenient, you can sit on a small stool.