A Weekend with Terry Real
Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend a weekend observing Terry Real, an internationally recognized family therapist, speaker and author. He was in town conducting his Relational Life Therapy (RLT) workshop and I was one of 30-35 therapists observing his work.
The RLT workshop is a two day, experiential program for couples that are on the brink of collapse. This works like a skills guide for couples to work through their conflict and build a loving, connecting relationship. There were six couples that sat in an inner circle, with Terry, while the outer ring consisted of the observing therapists. We were “invisible” and did not talk nor contribute in any way.
Terry’s focus was building the skills of awareness, empathy, and listening. The key being to remember that the person they are in conflict with is the person they have chosen to love and nurture and that person has chosen to love and nurture them.
Being Direct with Compassion is the Key to Being Heard
It was a dramatic, inspirational, and humbling experience to witness. It was also reassuring to my own style: compassionate yet direct. When I’m counseling, I’m speaking on behalf of the relationship and I do not take that responsibility lightly. A phrase I like to say is: “It might be difficult to hear, but that’s ok.” I don’t sugar coat what I tell my clients, even though I am compassionate. I am direct with what I hear and see. Terry is the same and it was nice to see that in action.
If the goal is direct, open, honest, and transparent communication, the key is to do it with compassion. Clients see this modeled with how I communicate with them, and then are able to do it with their partner.
Joining Through the Truth
One of the most difficult things in couples therapy is turning the camera on themselves. Each participant is very good about knowing what the other person does wrong but NOT good about identifying their contribution to the conflict. Turning the camera around to evaluate yourself is key to conflict resolution because the only thing you can change is you and your behavior.
Therapy is not easy and witnessing this intensive two-day program firsthand verified just how much work goes into repairing hurt relationships. But if you are able to be compassionately direct and remember to look at yourself and your actions, you are on the right path towards repair.