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Parrot Phrasing vs Paraphrasing; Using Clean Language in Your EFT Sessions

Clean language is a concept that originated in the field of psychotherapy. It has been integrated and adopted in various fields including coaching, education, and business. At its core, clean language is a communication technique that involves asking questions and using language in a way that is neutral, non-judgmental, and free of assumptions.

The idea behind clean language is to create a safe space for the person being communicated with, so that they can more freely explore their own thoughts and feelings without being influenced by the biases, assumptions, or beliefs of the person who they are communicating with. Clean language can be especially helpful in situations where there may be a power dynamic at play, such as in an EFT session, where a person receiving guidance and direction from the practitioner may feel vulnerable or exposed.

The term “clean language” was first coined by psychotherapist David Grove. Grove observed that language can have a powerful impact on a person’s thoughts and feelings, and that the language used by therapists can often influence the outcome of a therapeutic session. When our clients are free to explore their own thoughts and feelings in a way that is free from perceived judgment or interpretation by another, then rapport happens very quickly. By asking open-ended questions and using the person’s own language/verbiage, an EFT practitioner can help the person gain a deeper understanding of their own thoughts and feelings, leading to a more effective therapeutic outcome. When EFT is done skillfully, using the client’s exact words, practitioners can help their clients more easily identify goals and create a plan for achieving them, without imposing their own biases or beliefs.

In the first day of our EFT trainings we teach students about how common it is to paraphrase another person or client’s expression as opposed to repeating the client’s chosen words to describe an experience or memory. We have a module that focuses on “parrot phrasing” versus paraphrasing. Parrot phrasing involves repeating back the exact words that the client has used, while paraphrasing involves restating the client’s words in your own words or your own perception or take on what they just said.

By repeating the speaker’s words, as we do when having the client repeat the setup statement, the listener can help the speaker clarify their own thinking and gain deeper insights into their own experiences. For example, if a client says, “When I think about that meeting I feel like I’m drowning,” the practitioner might respond with parrot phrasing using the setup statement” Even though thinking about that meeting I feel like I’m drowning.” By using the same words as the client, the practitioner avoids adding any new ideas or interpretations to the speaker’s statement, allowing the client to explore their own experience more deeply.

Another way to describe this process of being skillfull and safety-informed in your interactions with clients is the concept of creating “contingent communication.” Contingent communication means a reciprocal give-and-take of signals. The signals that you send are directly perceived, understood, and responded to by another in a dance of communication that involves mutual collaboration. This occurs successfully when a person feels “gotten.”

As humans with a nervous system wired for alerting us to dangers in our environment, a sense of safety is evoked when someone “speaks our language”. Imagine tribal living thousands of years ago and one day you are far from your village gathering berries. You encounter someone on your path. You say hello in the way you are accustomed to in your tribe, “Ba’ax ka wa’alik” and this person replies, “Quen tinemi” immediately and without your conscious awareness your amygdala likely goes on high alert, sending signals to your body that this is a stranger and that you might be in some kind of danger. If however, they greet you using the same words, you are much more likely relax and feel safe.

Paraphrasing involves restating the speaker’s words in your own words. We often get feedback from counselors and therapists that breaking this habit can be quite difficult for them. For example, if a client says “I’m really angry at my boss,” the practitioner might paraphrase by saying, “It sounds like you’re holding on to a lot of resentment towards your boss.” A good EFT practitioner will not only refrain from changing the words a client states but will also know how to balance parrot phrasing with open ended questions to get to specific events. This will help move a practitioner towards mastery in EFT. In this example the open-ended question could be, “I hear you saying that you are really angry at your boss. Can you give me an example of when they made you feel that way recently?”

These concepts may appear simple to apply but in western society we commonly listen in such a way that we are simultaneously preparing our response, we often fail to allow the speaker the spaciousness to feel things out. We are trained in many healing arts to extrapolate words to come up with a diagnosis or to identify and name the pattern that appears to be showing up. Sometimes we just feel like we are being helpful by putting our take on things and offering what we think a person may be feeling or attempting to express.

In our trainings we often start practicing this deep listening by putting students into groups of three where one person is the client, one is the observer and the third is the practitioner. The client’s job is to allow the practitioner to guide them with EFT. The practitioner’s job is to find specific events and lead the client in a round of Basic Shortcut EFT. The observer’s role is to gently point out whenever the practitioner fails to use the client’s words. After 10 minutes they reverse their roles and repeat the process until all three participants have experienced each role. To say this is an eye-opening experience is an understatement for all involved!

One way you can practice mastering this to start noticing in your daily interactions. Try to notice how often someone listening to you changes or paraphrases what you have said and then catch yourself whenever you do the same. You owe it to your clients to honor, that if given the chance, they will know exactly what they are experiencing without your assistance or interpretation. You might be amazed to see that those that initially felt challenged naming things like emotions will grow in their emotional intelligence organically with EFT.