Applying the Model for Relational Growth
The last eight years of my life have been a relational overhaul! There have been some significant shifts in my personal thinking and ways of responding that have brought on major changes in the way that I relate to my close friends and family members. I have also gained some insights from these changes that are helping my clients learn and apply the same principles in their relationships. As I write this blog, I just returned from a small group retreat with four other therapists who have been working on their relational growth journeys alongside me for the past eight years. We have been each other’s testing ground for learning and applying new relational skills. Our practice with one another has affected this five-person group in amazing ways, and now I can see the benefits play out in my personal relationships as well as with my clients. The key to my transformation has been the Life Model, a neurotheology approach to relationships with ourselves, God and others.
Furthermore, as I have been observing the deep changes in my own life relationally, I can also see a transformation in the lives of those with whom I have been working. Whether it is my client, a close friend or a family member, I can now see people’s lives changing the more I delve into the Life Model. Marriages are healing, mental health issues are resolving, and children are experiencing parents who are present and connected (which prevents mental health issues and addiction from occurring in their lives)! This may read as too good to be true, and I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t experiencing it myself. Yet, the Life Model has some keys to unlock relationship satisfaction that I never experienced until I found this approach. Please do not misunderstand: I am not saying that the Life Model methodology is simple. I do not believe relational growth is simple at all. However, the Life Model does offer an effective and lasting approach. My position is that, if we choose to take on the Life Model within our relationships, we will be challenged to grow personally so that our interactions can grow beyond what we could imagine possible. It takes hard work, but the effort is more than worth the results you may receive.
You may have noticed I speak boldly about the Life Model. Like those whom Jesus healed in the Bible, I cannot help but shout to all who will listen about my transformative experience! So I began writing about the Life Model a few weeks ago to get it onto paper. Today, I present this fourth in a series of five articles which will focus on the information and application of healing and growth of relationships. The first article in this series focused on my personal experience with the model, the second article focused on the basics of the Life Model, the third article discussed the Life Model as a system for personal growth, and the final article will give an overview of the Life Model for spiritual growth. It is important to note that our counseling practice, The Center for Family Transformation, is considered a Life Model practice. All of our therapists are well studied in the model, and we are seeking ways to implement it in our personal lives and therapy sessions. We are considering how we can best offer the essence of this model to other therapists so that they can personally and professionally benefit from the wisdom of the Life Model.
The relational aspect of the Life Model can really be broken down into one concept: JOY! Dr Jim Wilder explains, “from the human brain perspective, joy is more of a dynamic relational experience. Joy is a ‘glad to be together’ state amplified between two minds that are glad to be together at that moment” (Wilder, 2014b, p. 47). As a result of the 1990’s research on the live brain (officially termed the “Decade of the Brain”), Allen Schore, was able to help us understand that feeling of joy is a relational state of mind characterized by the idea that we are the “sparkle is someone’s eye” (Friesen et al., 2022, p. 37).
All of this leads to the concept that relational joy initiates bonding or attachment with another person. The idea of attachment or bonding is discussed further in my past blog series entitled the Marital Bond: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, as well as Kyle Ferlic’s past blog entitled Counseling Reflections on Attachment, Spirituality and Trauma. There are two types of bonds: a two-way bond (between you and another person), or a family bond (involving relationship groups between three or more people). The family bond is actually the strongest bond that exists according to one Life Model founder’s research (Coursey, 2016)!
These bonds lead to a feeling of belonging. To experience belonging with others, it means that we have created a joyful place for others to be their true selves with us (Wilder, 2014a, p. 13). In my opinion, this is one of the most vital experiences a human can have. This feeling of belonging leads to a unified mind state which is only shared at the highest level of human connection (Wilder, 2014a). Said another way, we experience a dopamine release in our brains that truly satiates our soul when we experience joyful belonging with others. When we experience this way of connecting with others, we know we are not alone and that our lives have deeply significant meaning to those around us.
All of the above concepts are impractical until they are applied. Digging deeper into the application of The Life Model, we find that the 19 Brain Relational Skills can guide our learning how to experience joy, bonding, and belonging. The 19 Brain Relationship Skills are “ a set of abilities that help us coordinate our lives, understanding, motivation, timing, moods, values, attitudes and actions with whatever is going on in the hearts and minds around us” (Coursey, 2016, p. 12). These skills were first conceptualized by the therapists at Shepherd’s House (where the Life Model was founded) and further developed by Chris and Jen Coursey (Friesen et al., 2022, p. ix). These skills can be learned and practiced in a variety of ways that I will not be able to fully explore in this article. However, if you are interested in learning more, I would suggest taking a look at the book Transforming Fellowship by Chris Coursey or checking out the Thriving Today website which is dedicated to the education and practice of the 19 Brain Relational Skills. You will find many helpful resources, such as articles and links to videos and podcasts, on the Thriving Today website.
To sum it all up, I believe that relationships will reflect the effort and skills that we put into them! Before I knew about the Life Model, I did not understand what kind of effort/tools relationships needed. I was willing to do the work, but I did not know what to do or how to do it. I was trying my best, but I was frustrated with the lack of results I was experiencing. Although I was reading books and learning concepts, it wasn’t until I learned and applied the Life Model concepts that I began to have a next level understanding of what it takes to experience deeply connected and life-giving satisfaction in relationships. Please consider this series of articles an invitation to a new way of experiencing life and relationships! You are invited because you matter…you are worthy of belonging…and you are capable of creating joyful and satisfying belonging with others!