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This article is one of a series on
professional counseling, coaching, and therapy with (a) low-nurturance
(dysfunctional) families and with (b) typical
and trauma. These articles for
professionals are under construction.
This series assumes you're familiar with:
Before continuing, pause and reflect - why are you reading this article?
What do you
+ + +
the effectiveness of your professional work will be
affected by the clarity and coherence of your concepts, thinking (information
processing), vocabulary, and speech. Do you agree? Do you ever
examine these in meditation, supervision, and/or personal therapy?
article adds key clinical definitions to these
grieving, communication, and inner-family
glossaries. If you haven't reviewed them recently, scan them now and return.
These definitions are offered toward reducing fuzzy thinking and
misunderstandings, not to decree absolute truth.
Some of these lay and
professional definitions will probably differ from yours because our training,
experience, and personalities are unique, so we have unique core
For example, by training and preference, I am a communication and grief-oriented
"inner-family systems" therapist who educates and intervenes with
clients intrapsychically, maritally,
and socially. I'd be pleasantly startled if this describes you!
Premise: the more of the terms
above and below you're clear on and fluent with, the
more effective your professional work will be, and the higher your satisfaction.
Try speaking your current definition of any term out loud before
you compare it to this definition.
the following to form, clarify, or refine your definitions...
blocked grief grief
(true-Self disabling); see Dissociation
Clinical intervention (Tx)
(to primary needs)
("splitting") see Blending
three phases of a
High-nurturance relationship, family, and stepfamily
Inner family system - see personality
Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)
Role strain and confusion
"Self talk" ( inner dialog)
(low self esteem)
see also metasystem
- Here therapy means a temporary, intentional, multi-level,
goal-directed communication process between a "therapist"
and one or more clients. The process aims to respectfully
clarify and fill one or more important
(vs. surface) needs in the client/s, which they're
currently unable to fill well enough on their own.
intentionally adds the dimension of the unconscious, emotions,
and spirituality to the alternative processes of education and
counseling. Legal or informal relationship mediation is (usually)
education and skill-building, not therapy. The process of therapy can
include marital mediation.
Some therapy aims to respectfully empower each client to become
self-sufficient in filling their own needs adequately and to grow toward
their full potential as unique,
persons. Other (problem centered or brief) therapy aims to "fix" a
local problem of the client's without deeper empowering. Both can be useful
to all parties.
this dialectic mental-emotional-spiritual (and sometime physical)
interpersonal process, therapists work un/consciously to also fill their
own true current needs for purpose, respect, worth, dignity, effectiveness,
integrity, growth, safety, and creativity.
typical stepfamily therapy, ancillary people's needs must be included
in the process too, like lawyers and judges, concerned relatives,
custodial and absent minor and adult kids, and clinical supervisors and consultants, program
directors, administrators, and funders. Occasionally, media people's
needs will be included also.
terms - top
Therapy - premise: to be fully
effective, (vs. good), the multi-level impacts of client -
therapist interactions must be clearly judged as
"useful" or "successful"
by all people affected, vs. those directly involved. Sometimes many months must elapse after termination
before affected people can form stable judgments. Symptom
relief can appear more quickly than real problem-resolution.
clinical stepfamilies are usually multi-problem
complexity. Presenting problems can be broken down into concurrent,
interrelated (a) intrapsychic
dyadic conflicts, (c) household conflicts, and (d) inter-home
conflicts. This suggests that to judge therapeutic goals and effectiveness,
clients and therapists benefit at the beginning from intentionally defining,
ranking, and focusing on a few problems at a time, while trying to stabilize
other problems. Doing so allows evaluating whether the therapy process is effective
with each component problem - e.g. "Our
seems to be
really shrinking, but our legal fights with Jack's ex over child custody are
merit a judgment of "fully effective," I propose that each person
affected by the therapeutic process must spontaneously agree that
needs of theirs are
consistently being better filled because
of the process. That implies that each
such person must be at least aware of how they feel, if
they're not clear on what they (really) need. Some
and kids can't do that reliably, at time "x."
therapy-process outcome will fall on a subjective continuum of totally
ineffective to fully effective. Ineffective includes
those times when the client/s' presenting and underlying problems
"got worse." Because stepfamily therapy is highly complex,
and often lengthy, participants and supporters will
often disagree on the "effectiveness" of the process because they
don't (or can't) truly discern or empathize with all the true current needs
of each affected person - and/or they rank them differently.
service-providers benefit from being intentionally
of (a) the current primary needs of all people involved in the therapy
process, (b) when and how these needs conflict, (c) according to whom, (d) how the
professional ranks these needs, and (e) his/her conflict resolution options,
(f) strategies, and (g) outcomes; as the process unfolds, and (h) well after
Distinguishing between people's surface needs vs. underlying
needs is specially relevant here. Because subjectivity,
and other psychological
will always cause conflict in this balancing, providers will make
conscious or unconscious decisions about whose needs rank highest with
A superficial way of measuring the effectiveness of service to
stepfamily clients is for all actively-involved clients, therapist/s, and others to
clearly 'functioning' better now." That implies that (a) all people have a
clear idea of what "family functioning" means, and (b) (ideally) agree
together on this. Another way is for all clients and professionals to
judge whether clinical service has clearly raised the client-family's
See these high-nurturance family factors, and
checklist of stepfamily strengths for
perspective on how to assess stepfamily "functionality."
These will make more sense if you've studied these five common
vs. Education - If you feel that counseling
differs from therapy, can you describe how? Do you see any value in doing so at times?
In this site, family counseling
client co-parents and supporters, and then perhaps ...
offering personal advice on how
to act on the information - e.g. "As a comitted
couple, you'll probab-ly encounter five major relationship stressors."
(education) "I recommend that you each read this
Web page and these books to
build your understanding and motivation to do these
together, over time" (advice).
stepfamily teacher primarily offers helpful information. A counselor
educates and advises, but doesn't assume responsibility for helping a
troubled client assess and make desired second-
or stepfamily systemic changes. A therapist does all
a client confuses counseling or education with therapy,
they may not get the service they need or expect for themselves or a child. I've often experienced co-parents attending my
educational classes semi-consciously hoping for therapy -
and being disgruntled that the information and advice they got
from me and other students didn't "solve their problems."
The same unconscious confusion and disappointment can also be true for needy
co-parents who form or join co-parent
groups and online chat
groups. The complexity of typical stepfamily sys-tems and situations can make this
semantic distinction more important than with other client populations.
terms - top
Client - I've encountered lots of
professional confusion about this
term since I began my private practice in 1981. It stems from (a) lack of conceptual
(b) the reality that
system is composed of all the residents in
two or more co-parenting
homes, and from (c) service-providers focusing on
persons attending therapy sessions vs. the larger
those people belong to.
Premise: your odds for lasting
higher if you define your client as
all people in (at least) the
therapy-participants' nuclear stepfamily,
whether they attend therapy or not. So if a
co-parent requests therapy for a troubled stepchild, I propose the true
client is the multi-home nuclear stepfamily the child is a member of. How
do you feel about this?
Many co-parent clients (and clinicians) resist this, because they don't want
stepchildren's other bioparent as
"part of the family." (Their kids do!) Minor
stepkids are greatly affected by the web of relationships in and between
their two co-parenting homes. In blended stepfamilies (where both
remarried mates have prior kids and their ex mates are alive), the nuclear
stepfamily system includes all psychological (vs. physical) members of three
or more co-parenting homes.
A powerful implication: psychological members of
nuclear-stepfamily clients can include ...
dead adults and kids,
who aren't fully
by everyone in all co-parenting homes; and
physically absent people - e.g. a
detached or disabled bioparent, an active grandparent or other relative, or a
minor or grown child living elsewhere, and...
family members like a nanny or baby sitter, home
nurse, or tutor; and ...
people who haven't
"arrived," like biokids shifting physical custody and a
Who you include in defining your stepfamily client has powerful
implications for effective
service outcomes. Stepfamily clients with several professionals
supporting them (e.g. an attorney, therapist, clinical supervisor and/or case
manager, case worker, school counselor, and insurance consultant), need all professionals
to clearly agree on "Who is our client?" Disagreement inside you and
among the provider metasystem may (a) distract you all from intervening
effectively and (b) raise the attending clients' anxieties and confusions.
A key implication: stepfamily clients depend on professional
resolving major paradigm and
over defining "the client." Motivation to learn
stepfamily basics and the seven
can promote this.
Another implication: it's useful to distinguish between attending
clients (those who make direct contact with the service provider/s)
and proxy clients - stepfamily members who never
make direct verbal or written contact.
this assessment - intervention model distinguishes
of stepfamily client, depending on their stage of the
stepfamily life cycle.
- In my experience, people commonly associate this word with the
attorney-client drama leading to legal courtroom dissolution of a marriage. Catholic
couples and relatives also associate divorce with a lengthy, painful
church-annulment process. Media
and clinical articles focus on "the impact of divorce" - i.e. this
[legal + emotional + financial] process - on adults and kids. This
is often significantly misleading, for the legal process is
only one third of the full multi-year divorce process.
The process starts months or years before a lawyer's phone
rings, when one or both mates' bond and commitment start to wither because
filled well enough (psychological divorce). The
cumulative effects of this silent withering inexorably degrades the
residents and regular visitors, not
just the couple's relationship.
The "end" of a family's physical
+ spiritual + emotional + structural
divorce-process occurs when in family members' and objective outsiders'
opinions, all members have (a) grieved and mastered a set of adjustment tasks,
(b) stabilized their inner and outer lives, and (c) have clearly resumed their
normal developmental growth and life goals and activities. General wisdom and research
suggests that this "ending" can take typical kids and adults years
after a divorce decree is signed. The
full three-phase divorce process often spans a decade or
more for average kids and co-parents:
[ (psychological-divorce period)
[< - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - 10 or more years - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Realistically, the "impacts of divorce" must include how the months
or years of psychological-divorce stress affected the
of each extended-family member. This effect can be
generalized as: (a) it promotes or amplifies
in some or all family members, which
(b) lowers the
nurturance level of the divorcing family a little to a lot.
For optimal professional service to typical divorced-family and stepfamily clients, I suggest
professionals need to (a) clarify their own association with the term and
concept of divorce and "divorce adjustment,"
(b) learn each client
adult's definitions, and
(c) where helpful, coach clients and colleagues to consciously accept
some version of this three-phase, multi-year concept. Do you agree?
Human Behavior -
here, behavior means any change in a person's
mental. emotional, physical, or spiritual state that (a) the person or (b) an
observer judges to be "significant" (c) at some point in time,
in (d) a certain context. See how these premises about human behavior
compare to what you believe:
All human behavior is caused by an
unknowable mix of (a) autonomous nervous
reflexes (e.g. to breathe, swallow, digest, eliminate, sleep, reduce pain, avoid injury, and survive)
and (b) current needs - dynamic
sensory discomforts occurring from ceaseless organic, social, and environmental
changes. Sensory decoding ranges from "accurate and sensitive" to
distorted and vague." This can cause needs to range from "appropriate and
valid" to "inappropriate and unwarranted" depending on who is judging.
Behaviors can be observed and assessed
(a) in the
past or the present, (b) individually or in patterns across time. Behaviors are
not intrinsically good (positive) or bad (negative). People
affected by a person's behaviors can judge them as good or bad
depending on the
morality, and beliefs of the
"Toxic" behavior is
anything that "significantly" inhibits or reduces one or more persons' normal
functioning, growth, and/or
- in someone's opinion.
The needs and drives underlying human
behavior are reflexively (unconsciously) ranked in five instinctual
(per Abraham Maslow)
Human needs can be judged as surface
or secondary (symptoms), and
Most adults and kids focus on vague or clear conscious
perceptions of surface needs. Undistracted, aware adults can learn to
their primary needs, and seek to fill them
Typical people (i.e. their ruling subselves) frequently
(a) want to
change some behaviors, and other subselves concurrently (b) resist such changes.
This produces mixes of ambivalence, double messages, confusion, frustration,
denials, and personal
and social stress. Such
and "relapses." People often seek clinical help to reduce or eliminate inner
conflicts and impasses.
("parts work") can teach people to recognize and resolve conflicts among
their subselves, which can promote permanent (non-biogenic) behavioral changes.
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August 17, 2015