Group Psychotherapy to Learn Essential Skills of Emotional Intimacy

My comment on a useful post on the Strong couples therapy site  – Another equally important variable in closer communication with anyone is being open – revealing your own imperfections, uncertainties and unsuccessful attempts at whatever, especially in intra- and inter-personal relationships. My working definition of emotional intimacy centers on being open [these are my private thoughts and feelings], honest [deceiving neither by commission or omission] and direct [asking specifically for what you want and saying/showing clearly what you don’t want].

Open ended questions are quite useful for intimacy with both yourself and with someone else, certainly not limited to partners or lovers. Open-ended questions open the way for the other to share as much of their subjective experience as they choose. Sharing your own subjective reality is equally necessary to show/ lead the way and signal your willingness and receptiveness to be much closer to someone else. When two people each practice this kind of openness, honesty and directness, the result is a powerful kind of animal            magnetism that usually draws them much closer together. The “grammar” of interpersonal intimacy is quite challenging – what you say, how you say it and timing/when you say it are incredibly and inextricably complicated and intertwined.

The Gottman materials comprise the best outlines I know for conversational intimacy leading, we hope, to genuine emotional intimacy – which enriches any life and is the goal and gold standard of their extensive valid and reliable research-supported system for a Happy Home. We don’t want to communicate this way to everyone all the time – that would be naive, dangerous, exhausting and would frighten many folks away. We save our deepest and most genuine sharing for the few, hopefully trustworthy others we want to be really Close to.

Unfortunately most of our original families/parents couldn’t model and teach these intimacy skills because they didn’t/couldn’t learn them in their primary families – because their parents didn’t and couldn’t teach these rare interpersonal skills which they’d not had the opportunity to learn from their own original families. These intimacy skills are definitely teachable and learnable, and the best way I’ve found for absorbing them is in weekly eclectic/integrative group therapy, with a strong component of the Interpersonal approach [see Irvin Yalom] – slow, expensive and unfamiliar/scary for those of us who fear the sometimes devastating childhood consequences of opening one’s self to untrustworthy and/or hurtful adults.

Very few clinicians are actually trained effectively to understand and lead this kind of group therapy. And the current “evidence-based” Cognitive-Behavioral style of psychotherapy is often technique centered rather than relationship centered, and doesn’t strongly encourage therapists to have their own extensive personal therapy – without which clinicians can’t usually know and heal themselves deeply enough, experientially to model and teach these intimacy skills to clients. Anyone who wants to heal others usually needs a great deal of healing themselves. And the whole model/idea of mental “illness” and medical insurance is, by definition, self-limiting in Many ways , as opposed to simply acknowledging and strengthening most people’s deficits in interpersonal intimacy skills.

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