Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Effect of Proxy Voice Intervention on Couple Softening in the Context of Enactments

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

The Effect of Proxy Voice Intervention on Couple Softening in the Context of Enactments

Article excerpt

In this study we evaluated the effectiveness of proxy voice (therapist acting as client's "voice") intervention, embedded within couple enactments, on client-perceived softening. The primary research question was whether use of proxy voice would be more likely to bring about softening, or if its use was counterintuitive to enactment conceptualization and would elicit struggle behavior (e.g., withdrawal or negativity). Results indicate that proxy voice has a significant, positive association with softening and is inversely related to withdrawal or negativity. Preliminary findings suggest that proxy voice intervention embedded within a fluid, carefully delineated, and discriminating model of enactments effectively facilitates essential elements of couple interaction (expression of primary affect and articulation of self-concept and attachment threats) while promoting self-reliant couple interaction and increased softening.

Current scholarly work has recommended enactments as leading to positive outcomes in relationship therapy and used independent of theory, model, or problem (Butler & Bird, 2000). During enactments, direct couple interaction is the primary focus while the therapist acts as process coach and works toward facilitating couple self-reliant interaction (Butler & Gardner, 2003). Consistent with process-outcome research methodology focusing on discrete outcomes of specific interventions (Hanna & Ritchie, 1995), this study investigated one subsidiary, enactment-based intervention, namely proxy voice (Butler & Gardner, 2003), linking it to an index of immediate or proximal therapeutic effectiveness (e.g., spouse softening).

Proxy voice is useful during couple dialogue in which distress is present and partners are struggling with expression of primary affect in softer terms (Butler & Gardner, 2003), thus allowing the therapist to reframe the speaking partner's experience, make explicit primary affect, and link it to attachment and self-concept concerns or longings. Proxy voice is intended to help facilitate softened interaction. The intervention, employed in this study during an enactment, represents a slight departure from enactment's primary emphasis of client-to-client engagement. Thus, proxy voice represents a momentary intrusion into couple interaction, with attendant therapist interpretation, reframing, or elaboration of the couple's/family's own expressions.

Proxy voice intervention is designed to help couples communicate in ways that promote softening and attachment negotiation and reparation. Nevertheless, therapist directiveness and teaching behaviors may increase the likelihood of therapist-client struggle (Butler & Bird, 2000; Miller & Rollnick, 2002). Although proxy voice intervention (as operationalized here) is highly respectful and only marginally intrusive, given that proxy voice brings therapist insertions into and editing of couple interaction, we wondered whether the use of proxy voice interventions during enactments would facilitate couple softening or some form of therapist-client struggle.


Conceptualization of Enactments

Utilization of enactments in a variety of relationship therapies. In relationship therapies, a conceptual argument can be made for enactments as independent of a specific theory, model, or problem. Some form of enactments is used in structural therapy (Minuchin & Fishman, 1981), behavior marital therapy (Gottman, 1999; Jacobson & Margolin, 1979), skills therapies such as Relationship Enhancement (Guerney, Brock, & Coufal, 1986), emotionally focused therapy (Greenberg & Johnson, 1988), and narrative therapy (Brimhall, Gardner, & Henline, 2003). Enactments in general serve to facilitate: (1) effective communication skills; (2) expression and attention to affective experience and to primary emotions in particular; and (3) couple self-reliance and interactional confidence, hope, and expectancy for change. …

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