Help clients understand and break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle

A Sample Client-family Assessment Profile

Use This to Plan Effective Interventions

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is

        Clicking links here will open a new window or an informational popup, so turn off your browser's popup blocker or accept popups from this nonprofit, ad-free site . If the windows distract you, read the article before following any links.

        This article is one of a series on effective professional counseling, coaching, and therapy with (a) low-nurturance (dysfunctional) families and with (b) typical survivors of childhood neglect 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 need?

+ + +

        Many factors shape the nurturance level (functionality) of typical divorcing families and stepfamilies. This sample stepfamily-assessment profile allows clinicians to summarize key factors to help form intervention goals, strategies, and priorities. It can also guide co-parents in managing their merger and team-building goals along the way.

        See the related clinical-assessment overview and stressor summary for background  and perspec-tive. A basic premise underlying this profile is that typical client presenting problems are symptoms of the primary problems shown here. Another premise is that the primary client is the multi-home nuclear stepfamily - i.e. all adults and kids who call each minor child's one or two dwellings "home."

Directions: write a first name or initials above the columns to the right to denote a client adult or child. Then check or "x" the column if s/he seems to have or be affected by the stressor on the left. If you're not sure, use "?" or an asterisk and separate note. If a stressor involves two or more people check each one. Options for using this profile are at the end.


Client name: ___________________________     Primary therapist: ___________________________

Case # ________________                                 Initial contact date: ______________




Significant Stressors

Nuclear-family members (first name or initials)

1) Unaware of personality subselves                
2) Significant false-self wounds                
3) low or no spiritual faith and unity                
4) Lacks stepfamily knowledge                
5) Unrealistic stepfamily expectations                
6) Discounts stepfamily identity
 and/or what it means
7) Unclear on stepfamily purpose                
8) Conflictual/inappropriate priorities                
9) Stepfamily membership conflicts                
10) Unaware of healthy grieving basics                
11) Apparent family anti-grief policy                
12) Probable blocked grief                
13) Weak or pseudo relationship bonds                
14) Doesn't know/assert primary needs                
15) Ineffective at problem solving                
16) Unclear on stepfamily roles                
17) Significant role conflicts or overload                
18) Ineffective/inappropriate boundaries                
19) Can't resolve values conflicts                
20) Can't resolve loyalty conflicts                
21) Can't resolve relationship triangles                
22) Discounts major re/marital problems                
23) Unresolved prior-divorce issues                
24) Made wrong re/marital choices                
25) Too little stable co-parent teamwork                
26) Inappropriate sexual behavior                
27) Active addiction/s, including sugar, fat, and codependence                
28) Significant physical illness                
29) Lacks co-parenting skills                
30) Unaware of step/child develop- mental and/or family-adjustment needs                
31) Unable to fill step/child needs                
32) No effective biofamily-merger plan                
33) Inadequate support network                
34) Work - play - rest  imbalance                
overall nurturance level (1 to 10)  

        Most of these common stepfamily stressors have several underlying primary problems that need additional assessment and strategic interventions. Generally, reducing or eliminating a major stressor requires identifying and reducing or eliminating each secondary stressor.

        For example, "Ineffective at problem solving" usually results from false-self wounds+ unawareness of communication basics, skills, and blocks. Each of these can be improved with patient teamwork and informed education and support. The first step is for relevant co-parents to become aware of (a) each stressor and (b) its family-system impacts without blame or guilt.


Edit this profile to better fit your paradigm, personality, style, and work situation.

Consider adapting a profile like this to help prevent divorced-family and stepfamily stress from these hazards.

Use additional pages for notes about selected and combined stressors - e.g. identify underlying problems (unmet primary needs) and who's responsible for resolving each of them.

Work backwards: rank the stressors according to their impact on the client family's nurturance level (most > least). Then develop and implement intervention strategies in that order. This must be organic vs. linear, because most stressors affect each other and the family system's functioning as a whole. Nonetheless, a structured intervention plan is more likely to yield satisfactions than random interventions.

Periodically review and update each client's profile with any assessment changes, and note systemic improvements (or lack of them). Option: relative to the prior version of the profile, add a "+" (less family stress) or " - " (more stress) to show significant systemic changes. Discuss this with the client.

Use a profile like this to help (a) assess and (b) teach client co-parents. Option: ask them to discuss a copy of this with family members who aren't participating in the clinical process.

Use copies of a profile like this to enhance supervision and/or consultation dialogs.

Use a profile like this to remind yourself of the range and complexity of common stressors typical divorced-family and stepfamily members frequently encounter.

Show this profile to other professionals who work with these clients, and alert them to this non-profit website (, the five-part clinical model, and the related guidebooks.





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Updated May 22, 2013