Four Phases of Stepfamily Therapy

        Clinical work with typical divorcing-family and stepfamily client systems usually moves through three or four sequential phases:

    1) Co-parents have no problems and seek to "learn what we need to know about stepfamilies, stepparenting, and/or stepchildren." Typical courting couples don't know they need to learn stepfamily basics, implications, hazards, and protections.

    2) The presenting (surface) problems focus on (a) a troubled child or relative (in-cluding ex mates and their kin) or (b) a non-family stressor (e.g. co-workers, neigh-bors, or church members). Adult clients want to cause second-order (lasting) changes in other people. Or - depending on many factors, married or committed clients may...

    3) Agree that their "real" problem is unmet primary-relationship needs. They focus on filling these needs while stabilizing other distracting needs. Without empathic encouragement, wounded, weary clients are apt to leave therapy before this hap-pens. If they invest time and money on this phase, some shame-based partners fixate on blaming and trying to change their partner, who may leave therapy. If mates approach relationship-building as true teammates, they may accept that...

    4) Their primary problems are personal: false-self wounds + unawarenesses + ignorances. Because this requires self-awareness, honesty, and self-accountability, many client co-parents quit therapy before this phase. Those that commit to person-al growth and wound recovery usually are in their late 30s to middle 50s, and have "hit true bottom."

     Most work with typical divorcing-family and stepfamily clients starts in phases 2 and (less often) in 1 or 3.

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