The Munhall Mirror Reflection Technique

Dr. Patricia Munhall, N.C. PsyA, CHt

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I have had the honor and privilege to be brought into the lives of people, couples and families, who come to me with the hope of improving their relationships. Some couples unfortunately are further along in conflict, pain and suffering and want to know if their relationship can even be saved. Sometimes couples come to my office in a friendly mood and other times in an explosive mood. It is never dull!

When I started doing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis about twenty-five years ago, I treated individuals and still do, but also couples and families. At that time therapists did not have technology. When technology became available, most therapists balked. The relationship between the therapist and client means everything. While I still believe this, there happens to be more than one relationship in couple, family and group counseling. This is when I began to use what I believe is a �magical� tool to improve counseling dramatically and illuminate dynamics in relationships. I began to research this technique of video technology and found that a lens goes way beyond the spoken word, and my clients had wonderful results though this technique.. There were insights gained that had not always been possible. Often �recognition� gave way to comic relief. �Is that me?� many asked in disbelief.

Before I tell you about the Munhall Mirror Reflection Technique (MRRT), let me relate what couple counseling used to be like. I will use a couple as an example, though families and other groups benefit enormously from this technique as well. The couple came in and we usually went through a few minutes of calm. I would ask a question, and one would answer. Often before the answer was completed the speaker was interrupted and disagreed with, and then the communication became cyclical. Once in awhile, a client would look at me and say, �See what I mean�?

Since I had no investment in one person over the other, and my goal was to assist this couple if possible, I used to think if only they could see themselves, if only could they hear themselves, if only they could remember what they said, the names they called each other and the accusations. On a personal note, I am no exception nor is my husband!

What would usually happen is that disagreement or arguing would take up the session, another appointment would be made and a week would elapse. The following week the scenario was often repeated with different topics. Therapy at that time would be to assist the couple to see the way they communicate, or to recognize they have different values; they needed to know how to resolve these conflicts and, most important, to stop hurting and causing pain for the other.

This was a huge challenge because while each could see the other, gather up more dust, they could not see themselves as a separate person, saying the things that they did, using body language and facial expressions toward their partner that were condescending and often fuming! Furthermore they could not see themselves as a couple with horns locked, the speaking over each other, the lack of listening and the main goal which can never be obtained, that one of them is right and the other wrong. They could not see that cyclical arguing is a no win situation.This is when I would have that thought, �if only they could see their interactions� it would be such an advantage. Actually advantage is an understatement. So what I do now, with their permission, is to video their sessions or parts, create a CD and we then sit and analyze what is on the screen. We see the interactions! Clients ask, �Won't videotaping change the way we talk?� Actually I have found that, in about two to three minutes, the camera is been forgotten. We then repeat this process as the counseling progresses. Actually, clients seem to have a much more heightened response to this technique and often tell me it is fascinating to them, as well as so very enlightening.

In therapy we are not looking for the good guy or bad guy (unless that is evident) but instead we are looking to understand how couples communicate. The foundation for a good marriage is the art of communication and acceptance. Acceptance of another's perception, rather than negating or arguing it is critical. What is seen most is what I call �perceptual disparity.�

Perceptual Disparity

This is where two people perceive some event or even their whole relationship from two different perceptions. When two people's interactions are being visually and verbally recorded we are able to see and record the words so that the �perceptual disparity� is right there, we catch it on camera so to speak. This provides all of us with active and immediate dynamics to discuss and begin to understand. Couples often are living in two very different perceptual realities. Couples are then encouraged to use a specific listening technique called uncontaminated listening which is taught and practiced.

�I don't want to be like that,� is often heard�. or �That is how my mother was and I don't want that� and insights flow. There is nothing staid or slow about this process. It is dynamic in every way. The beauty is that nothing is lost... it is all there. The relationship started with beauty and now we attempt to recapture that beauty and love in its wholeness.



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