In the last several blog entries, I’ve presented various aspects of doubling, a technique originally devised by Jacob Moreno and the signature method of Collaborative Couple Therapy. In doubling, I speak as if I were one of the partners talking to the other. Since I make speculations about what that partner is thinking and feeling, I end my statement by asking:
- “Where am I right and where am I wrong in my guess about how you feel?”
- Or, “Do I have that right or is there a better way to put it?”
- Or, “I made up some stuff here. Tell me which parts, if any, capture how you feel.”
- Or, “I’m speculating. Is there anything to any of it?”
At times, partners respond by saying something like, “That’s what I meant” or “That’s what I was trying to say” or “I wish I’d put it that way” or “What he said” or “that’s spot on” or “you’re good” or “Can we take you home with us?” I’ve (1) helped them express what they had been struggling to say but didn’t have or couldn’t find words for or (2) introduced a new way of thinking about the matter—a way they didn’t have before but that sounds good to them and, as a result of my suggestion, might now begin to have.
If partners respond positively to what I just doubled for them, I sometimes go on to say, “Would you like to say to (partner’s name) in your own words the part of what I just said that’s most meaningful to you?” I hope in this manner to spark an intimate exchange
Sometimes, partners respond to my doubling statement for them by saying something like, “That’s not quite right” or “That’s partly right” or “That’s almost it.” That’s a good outcome, too, since you can then say, “What would make it exactly right?” which will enable them to put their own stamp on it, make it more accurate, and state it in their own words.
At still other times, partners respond by saying something like, “That’s wrong” or “That’s not it at all.” Again that’s a good outcome, since you’re then in a position to say “What is the right (accurate) way to put it?”
Partners generally forgive my errors as long as I accept their corrections. In fact, the immediate, nondefensive way in which I accept their corrections increases their sense of safety with me, strengthens our relationship, and reaffirms their role as the final arbiter in our joint effort to map their world.
Occasionally partners object to my effort to soften their accusatory comment by, for example, acknowledging their role in the problem. They say, “That’s not how I feel at all.” Immediately I backtrack. “Oh,” I say, “I got it all wrong. It’s more that you’re saying, ‘I’ve got a totally justifiable grievance here. I know that they say that it takes two to tango—that both partners are responsible for the problem—but in this case I think it takes only one to tango.’”
In other words, I have a Plan A and a Plan B. When partners make angry comments, the first thing I try—my Plan A—is to double for them in order to soften their comment. I turn their “you” messages into “I” messages, replacing their accusations with acknowledgments. If they don’t like my restatement—they think I’m being too Pollyannaish and saying it too nicely—I quickly shift to Plan B in which I restate a version of their original angry comment. I don’t want to whitewash their feelings or talk them into anything. And I don’t want them to lose the sense that I’m with them.
When I adopt Plan B and restate partners’ original angry comments, I don’t do it exactly the way they did it. Tamara’s original comment to Jacob was an outraged, “You never do… and you always do…and another thing…..” Doubling for her, I say, “As you can see, I’m pretty angry about a lot of what you do and don’t do. At a time like this, it’s hard for me to remember what I like about you.”
I’m trying to match, even exceed, the angry content of Tamara’s remark. I’m going beyond it in saying, “At a time like this, it’s hard for me to remember what I like about you.” I’m trying to reassure her that I understand the depth of her feeling. On the other hand, I’m doubling for her in a nonangry manner, adopting a conversational rather than an angry tone of voice and reporting anger rather than unloading it. I hope by so doing to make it easier for Jacob to hear.
As long as partners are able to tell me that my statements for them are too nice or off the mark, I can make adjustments. Problems arise, however, when partners have difficulty correcting me. They are reluctant to disagree with an authority figure, have a wish to please me, lack confidence in their own perceptions, or assume that I, as the therapist, must be right.
Accordingly, I try to make it easy for partners to correct me:
- I may preface my doubling by saying, “This is a total speculation. I give myself about twenty percent chance of being right.”
- If partners respond to my doubling by saying, “That’s mostly right,” I say, “Tell me about the ‘mostly” or “What would make it perfectly right?”
- If a partners say “You’re right” but do so in an unenthusiastic or perfunctory way, I say, “That’s a hesitant ‘You’re right.’ I think I got it wrong.”
A partner responded to the doubling statement I made for her by saying, “You’re 99.999 percent correct,” I said to myself, “99.999 percent? That’s virtually indistinguishable from perfect. That’s certainly good enough. I’ll let it go.” But then I remembered the guideline I set for myself: follow up on any slight hint partners give that my doubling statement is off. I asked, “Tell me about the 00.001 percent.” I’m glad I did, since what she went on to say showed my originally doubling to be totally off the mark.