Task Analysis of Couple
and Family Change Events
SUSAN M. JOHNSON
The air in the room weighed heavy as the couple and therapist once again hit an
impasse. “If I could only talk about my fear,” confided the husband as he gazed
down at the floor. The atmosphere was tense as the couple therapist aided the
more blaming spouse in “softening” toward his partner—a pivotal change event
in the emotionally focused approach.
A chance for Change was knocking on the office door.
Panic coursed through the therapist's veins. His tensing body screamed,
“What do I do now? I can feel that this is big. I've never seen him this vulnerable.
This is really important. I've got to help him, and both of them. But I don't know
what to do when he talks so deeply of his 'fear.' ”
“My fear is just so big,” the husband continued.
Change rapped even more loudly on the door, now demanding to be let in.
The husband took a deep breath and sighed.
The therapist had read the theories and the research studies many times, but
though these gave an overview, he desperately needed a more detailed map. The
therapist was stuck, paralyzed.
“But I just can't talk about it,” the husband declared in defeat. “It's just too
The room fell awkwardly silent. The opportunity for Change was missed.
Therapists face similar situations on a daily basis. After learning about a new theory or intervention, or reading a research study, a therapist may think, “This makes sense. I am going to start doing this.” But in sessions with clients, things often don't go as smoothly as they are presented in the abstract pages of a manual or lists of interventions in a research study.
Mountains of research support and charismatic presenters matter little when clinicians are unable to translate application into the moment-to-moment process of a key