Using the Experiential Format to Launch a Couple’s First Dialogue
The Experiential format involves the therapist teaching just enough of the basic RE skills to allow a couple to initiate a substantive dialogue as quickly as possible. In practice, this includes the Empathic, Expressive, and Discussion/Negotiation skills, because these are the skills necessary for a couple to begin dialoguing. But in the Experiential format these skills are taught in a highly condensed, abbreviated manner. The advantage is that this enables the couple to more quickly engage an issue through dialogue than typically would be the case in the Time-Designated format. The tradeoff, however, is that the partners will not have been able to practice empathy in order to get accustomed to the demands of being a good Empathizer before initiating their first dialogue. As a consequence, it is vitally important that the therapist be proactive in carefully structuring the partners into their respective roles in their first dialogue. It will then become equally important to monitor the couple’s dialogue during its early phases in order to steer the couple in constructive directions. This will include helping the person in the role of the Expresser translate unskillful statements into more subjectively appropriate language, while also initially demonstrating and continuing to model good empathic responses for the person in the role of the Empathizer. The success of RE therapy in its Experiential format is highly dependent upon the skill of the therapist in structuring and coaching the couple’s process of intimate dialoguing (see the relevant sections on coaching in chapters 7, 9, and 11).