Toward effective service to persons, couples, and stepfamilies

 Overview: the Assessment-Intervention Model

Outline of Clinical Interventions With 

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW


        This page continues outlining key custom-education interventions for unconflicted courting stepfamilies.  Prior pages suggest ways of motivating courting co-parents toward ongoing stepfamily education, and several assessment-interventions. This page outlines more intervention options with unmarried stepfamily couples. Note that these interventions aim to assess for potential problems, and seed motivation and resources to reduce each of the five combined stressors that courting-stepfamily members will probably face.

        "Custom education" means learning the unique history, structure, and needs of a pre-wedding nuclear stepfamily, and tailoring an appropriate series of educational interventions for the courting co-parents and other family members. Custom education interventions usually span several meetings with co-parent couples, to initially assess and seed information about up to 13 pre-re/marriage topics

The ultimate clinical objective here is to motivate and prepare the couple to do Project 7: : honestly assess the three-level viability of their re/marrying to form a complex, re/divorce- prone stepfamily.

Custom-education Interventions -
part 3

Courtship intervention 8) One of the five common stressors in typical divorced-family and stepfamily adults and kids is blocked grief. Typical courting couples _ aren't aware of this, _ don't know healthy-grieving basics, and don't know they don't know; and _ are often reluctant to focus on this topic. This assessment-intervention aims to ...

  • motivate the co-parents to do co-parent Lesson 3 together: i.e. assess themselves and other nuclear-family members for blocked grief, and intentionally free it  up; and also...
  • initially assess the extended stepfamily for any gross symptoms of blocked grief. Blocked ancestral grief often signals significant false-self dominance, and unintended and unseen bequests of low family nurturance.

This three-part intervention requires the clinician to be familiar with _ attachment and grieving dynamics and norms, _ symptoms of blocked grief, and to _ have strategies and confidence about promoting healthy mourning - including the spiritual level. 

        Begin by ... 

_ Alerting and motivating: Offer some initial comments like these: "Like yours, all stepfamilies are founded on two or three sets of major losses - i.e. broken emotional bonds, or attachments - for adults and kids. The groups of losses are from _ childhood, _ first-family breakup from death or divorce, and _ stepfamily co-habiting and biofamily merger. The latter implies "breaking up" (reorganizing) a single-parent family.

        Option: Give attending clients copies of this loss-inventory worksheet, to illustrate how many things they and their kids and key relatives potentially need to grieve. Discussing this can easily take a whole session. Watch for, and correct, the common illusion that "grieving" relates only to the death of a loved person or pet.

        "Nature's remedy for broken bonds is normal three-level mourning, or "good grief." The levels are mental, emotional and physical. When people grieve well, over time, they're able to form selective new attachments - such as new stepfamily relationship bonds. The problem is that grief can be unintentionally blocked, under some circumstances.

        "People who come from low-nurturance childhoods often have trouble grieving well, because of psychological wounds and ignorance. A high percentage of divorced and re/marrying co-parents and their kids are dominated by a false self and are blocked in grieving without knowing it. That promotes emotional, physical, and relationship problems, until grieving is freed up by the mourner to resume.

        Ask "Did you know this?" The way the clients respond can yield key clues about _ possible false-self dominance and _ the co-parents' priorities and degrees of awareness and empathy. Couples' receptivity to the rest of this intervention will vary with these factors. If receptivity seems low, aim for seeding, vs. discussion and action. 

_ Assessing/seeding: choose among these options, depending on the clinician's style and the client-family's attributes and receptivity:

  • Note that some adults or kids who are seen as "depressed" or addicted may really be stuck in some phase of grieving major losses;

  • Summarize the symptoms of blocked grief (option: one-page handout), and ask "If some adults or kids in your stepfamily are stuck in mourning their losses, who would it be? How is that blockage affecting the rest of the family?"

  • Ask "How would you each describe your birth-family's policy (shoulds, oughts and musts) about grieving? What is your personal policy about mourning your losses?" Options:
    • Use this grief values-clarification worksheet to help co-parents answer;

    • Explain the concept of inner and outer permissions to grieve, relate that to their family grief policies, and ask if co-parents' inner and physical families give or withhold such permissions.

  • Ask "What have your kids learned about how to react to important life-losses from the behaviors of their main male and female role models?"

  • Ask "What or who might hinder you from doing Lesson 3 (assessing your nuclear- stepfamily members for blocked grief) before you decide whether to re/marry?"

  • Depending on the situation, inform the co-parents of grieving resources like local Rainbows or similar programs, books, and local grief counselors. Note - typical co-parents aren't aware that some clinicians specialize in facilitating healthy mourning.

_ Summarize the Intervention

  • Recap that _ a common adjustment task for stepfamily members is to grieve many tangible and abstract losses to prepare for new relationship bonds, and _ blocked grief is a common major stressor in typical divorced and stepfamilies because of psychological wounds and not knowing about healthy three-level grief.
  • Note that if an ex mate is psychologically wounded and blocked in grieving their losses, it's very likely that will cause significant ongoing relationship problems in their nuclear stepfamily until the blocked person decides to free up their mourning. Other co-parents can make a pro-grief family environment, but can't make the blocked person resume mourning.
  • Ask if the couple has any questions about _ what Lesson 3 is, _ why it's vital to them and their kids, and _ how to do it.

  • Ask if the couple wants to meeting again to help them and their kids and other co-parents do Lesson 3 well, together.

  • Give the couple copies* of appropriate "Good Grief" articles or worksheets linked above.

  • Ask how the co-parents are doing with the custom-education process so far, and if they're ready for more. If so, continue with ...

  Courtship Intervention 9) - Raise co-parents' awareness of stepfamily uniquenesses and realities. Premise: most courting pairs of co-parents have little or no knowledge of how different and complex stepfamily relationships are. Therefore, they under-appreciate the high need for co-parent teamwork, for long term success.

Continue this overview of the four-part clinical model with more "custom-education" interventions for typical courting-stepfamily (type 2) clients. 

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Updated May 07, 2014