Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy

Couples' Experiences of Vulnerability When Participating in the Reflecting Team Process: A Case Study/Les Experiences De Vulnerabilite Vecues Par Des Couples Participant a Une Demarche D'equipe Reflechissante: Etude De Cas

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy

Couples' Experiences of Vulnerability When Participating in the Reflecting Team Process: A Case Study/Les Experiences De Vulnerabilite Vecues Par Des Couples Participant a Une Demarche D'equipe Reflechissante: Etude De Cas

Article excerpt

Despite the belief by some researchers that vulnerability has a pivotal role in the therapeutic process and relationship outcomes (Johnson & Greenberg, 1988; Scheinkman & Fishbane, 2004), there are no research studies on clients' experiences of vulnerability when participating in couple therapy. This research aims to begin to address this gap in the literature by exploring clients' experiences of vulnerability when participating in the reflecting team (RT) process as part of couple therapy. We begin by presenting a brief overview of published literature on vulnerability in couple relationships, therapeutic interventions that attend to vulnerability, and client experiences of RT interventions. This exploration is intended to encourage reflection on clients' experiences of vulnerability when participating in the RT process as part of couple therapy, and contribute to therapy research and practice.

VULNERABILITY IN COUPLE RELATIONSHIPS

In the context of couple therapy, Scheinkman and Fishbane (2004) defined vulnerability as: "a sensitivity that individuals bring from their histories or current context in their lives to the intimacy of their relationships" (p. 281). Willingness to communicate and respond compassionately to expressions of vulnerability are believed to be hallmarks of healthy intimate relationships (Cordova & Scott, 2001; Johnson & Greenberg, 1988; Scheinkman & Fishbane, 2004). More specifically, communicating vulnerability is associated with humility, trust, safety, and intimacy (Carter & Carter, 2010; Cordova & Scott, 2001; Davis & Piercy, 2007; Stevens & L'abate, 1989), and responding compassionately is essential to building and maintaining secure relationships (Johnson, 1986; Makinen & Johnson, 2006). Alternatively, failure to recognize or respond to expressions of vulnerability can contribute to negative interactional patterns and the eventual dissolution of relationships if these patterns are not interrupted (Johnson, 2005; Johnson & Greenberg, 1988; Johnson & Williams-Keeler, 1998; Scheinkman & Fishbane, 2004).

Though different theories and strategies are employed, the majority of couple therapy approaches target negative interactional patterns, and encourage expressions of vulnerability to strengthen relational bonds (Benson, McGinn, & Christensen, 2012; Davis & Piercy, 2007; Johnson & Williams-Keeler, 1998). Surprisingly, despite identifying expressions and responses to vulnerability as pivotal to therapeutic outcomes (Benson et al., 2012; Johnson & Talitman, 1997), researchers have not explored clients' experiences of vulnerability during the couple therapy process. Research findings support that clients often experience therapeutic interventions differently than anticipated by therapists (Henkelman & Paulson, 2006). Therefore, seeking information on clients' experiences of the therapeutic process is pivotal in guiding therapeutic practice. A better understanding of clients' experiences of vulnerability may enhance therapists' abilities to create therapeutic environments from which couples can heal their relationships (Davis & Piercy, 2007).

According to Carter and Carter (2010), in the context of couple relationships, vulnerability emerges while expressing oneself cognitively, behaviourally, or emotively when the anticipated consequences are either undesirable or uncertain. Couples have reported that feelings of vulnerability can emerge when communicating feelings, perceptions, fears, desires, and needs at a sincere and emotional level (Carter & Carter, 2010). Many therapists believe that when expressions of vulnerability are met by an emotionally accessible and responsive partner, the self and other are enriched (Johnson, Makinen, & Millikin, 2001) and intimacy is enhanced (Cordova & Scott, 2001; Stevens & L'abate, 1989). Conversely, when sincere expressions of vulnerability are met with negative consequences, future expressions of vulnerability may manifest as depression, aggression (Jenkins, 2006), or disengagement (Carter & Carter, 2010). …

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