Help clients understand and break the lethal [wounds
+ unawareness] cycle!
- p. 1 of 4
By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council
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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
+ + +
is one of a series on effective clinical interventions with low-nurturance
A "low nurturance family" is one in which members seldom get their
met in wholistically-healthy ways.
An effective intervention is behavior of the clinician which significantly
raises the family's nurturance level in the opinion of all involved. Interventions summarized
below are usually a series of sub-interventions. Each clinician
will evolve a personal style on designing and delivering strategic
behaviors like these. Over time, many become habitual and require no conscious thought.
This two-page article covers...
useful background readings,
a summary of why Lesson 2
intervention options for each of the
seven Lesson-2 skills
the most from this article, choose the curious, nonjudgmental attitude of a student, and read...
Why Does Lesson 2
for professional clinicians and clinical educators,
this slide presentation on the [wounds + unawareness]
cycle that is a root stressor with
typical low-nurturance families. If you have trouble viewing these slides, see
this overview of the clinical model on which
these articles are based;
this summary of
for effective professional service with
low-nurturance clients; and...
this overview of
effective clinical assessment
client families covered by this model; and read...
this introduction to effective interventions with
low-nurturance families and persons recovering from psychological
these slide presentations
summarizing effective communication and
scan these Lesson-2
articles and resources, and note this
that integrates the key Web pages in the Project.
all infants, kids, and adults
communicate to try
and reduce current discomforts (fill their needs), and...
the high majority of
clients and many professionals don't know how to communicate
or how to improve that.
This unawareness or causes promotes most
personal, family, and social "problems."
See how you feel about these
basic premises - A = "I agree; D
= "I disagree;" and ? = "I'm not sure" or "It depends" (on
communication means one or more people did not get their current
met well enough locally and/or chronically. (A D ?)
The nurturance level ("functionality")
of any relationship and family is directly proportional to how effectively the
(A D ?)
Most adults don't know what they don't
know about effective communication, so they accept the
communication as "normal." (A D ?)
People in a "troubled" (stressful, toxic, unsatisfying) relationships
and families (a) are usually wounded
who (b) usually have difficulty
thinking and communicating effectively
- specially in conflicts and crises.
(A D ?)
Any motivated adult or child can learn
to apply the seven effective-communication
in Lesson 2 and
see improved outcomes (more mutual needs met more often). (A D
Even if a person is fluent
with these vital skills, s/he can still
think and communicate ineffectively if s/he is dominated by a
(A D ?)
Lesson-1 interventions aim to replace such
unseen dominance by true-Self
Effective clinicians will...
guided by their
be fluent in and model the seven
will know how to (a)
assess clients' communication
(b) motivate clients to improve theirs. (A D
A priceless long-range benefit to
helping adults improve their communication effectiveness is raising the odds they'll help their descendents
and others they care about learn these vital skills and live more
satisfying, healthy, productive lives. (A D ?)
Key Implications of these premises:
There are many benefits to helping any individual or family client to...
become aware of the unseen [wounds + unawareness]
and its common personal and family effects; and to
progress at Lesson 1 (reduce psychological wounds)
and Lesson 2 (build effective communication and problem-solving abilities)
Achieving lasting progress at these interrelated clinical goals is long-term work.
If case conditions limit client contact, the best
intervention goal is to "plant seeds;" and...
supporters will not know what you just read. So average clients -
and many supervisors, case managers, and clinical consultants - will not
Lesson-1 and 2 goals and interventions in the work. Effective clinicians
will be proactive in explaining and providing them.
Perspective on These
The effectiveness of Lesson-2 interventions depends on...
the clinician and any supervisor, case manager,
or consultant is, including knowledge and fluency in communication
basics and skills;
accurately the clinician assesses specific communication
deficits in the
attending clients and their family system;
clinician's style of teaching and modeling
effective-communication and problem-solving skills and techniques;
where each attending client adult is currently focused, relative to Maslow's
are ruled by a
and/or feel they are in a
they will probably not be able to
experience the benefits of Lesson-2 basics and skills.
As with all teaching interventions, the clinician needs to stay
aware of the dynamic balance between theory and practice (experiential
Over time, effective Lesson-2 interventions should
cause the clients to spontaneously report less family stress, more
cooperation and satisfaction, increasing self-confidence, and a firm commitment to
expanding their skills.
Note that these interventions apply to all
conflicts among (a) personality
and (b) social
learning to apply to communicate effectively reduce one of several basic
typical low-nurturance families and relationships.
illustrative Lesson-2 interventions are grouped as (a) basics, (b)
skill-building, and (c) application (effective problem-solving).
A) Basic Lesson-2 Interventions with all clients:
Tho each intervention can stand alone, the order shown below provides an
way of helping clients learn and experience effective-communication
fundamentals. Effective clinicians will watch for chances in every
client and collegial contact to make these interventions. The best way to present these basics
is in a seminar or class for a group of family adults or
The steps comprising each intervention, and key related
options, are outlined below. The
symbol below indicates a printable handout in this site that can
augment verbal instruction. Follow the numeral links for more detail on each intervention.
Stay aware that Lesson 2 is one of up to
that can raise the nurturance-level of any client
family or other
2-1) Ask clients
to define "communication," and propose a new definition if
2-2) Propose that
communication occurs to fill local needs - i. e. to
reduce current discomforts.
(a) Note the
difference between surface needs (symptoms) and underlying primary needs, and
(b) explain why awareness of this is important for
effective problem solving.
Describe, illustrate, and discuss communi-cation
needs and need-conflicts
illustrate, and discuss "effective communication,"
assess the client for
illustrate, and model communication sequences, patterns,
and affirm client's current com- munication strengths
Refresh clients on
personality subselves and psychological wounds as needed, and
relate them to
Define, illustrate, and model
E(motion)-levels and hearing-checks
2-11) Define, illustrate, and
model "awareness bubbles," and when and how to use them.
2-12) Define, illustrate,
and model "R(espect) messages," and propose why
2-13) If/when appropriate, describe and illustrate
mapping communication sequences to help assess local or
2-14) Follow up on and
reinforce each of these items in future sessions
Ask participating clients to
define communication, and edit or propose a new definition if
Why? If client adults can't meaningfully define communication,
they're much less likely to (a) learn how to discern
(b) spot, discuss, and resolve communication
and (c) want to learn and use all seven Lesson-2
Success at all
six other client
and creating a high-nurturance family depend on clients'
Ask each participating
client to say their present definition of "communication" out loud.
Propose that shared clarity on this vital definition among family
members promotes more effective thinking and communication. Expect typical clients to give vague, general answers, and or to say
something like "I've never thought about it."
Propose something like
behavior in one person that causes a significant physical,
emotional, spiritual, and/or mental reaction (change) in another
person is 'communication' - not just 'talking and
listening'." Note client reactions to this (new?) idea.
This definition implies that it's impossible
for people to "not communicate" - e.g. "silence"
and "no reaction" generate meanings ("messages")
in the receiving
person. ("Your silence means you don't really respect or care about
me.") Expect this to be a new idea to typical clients, and
reinforce it as appropriate as the work proceeds.
Propose that communication
occurs instinctively in most/all living things, to fill local needs.
Why? To clarify and strengthen clients' awareness of their
communication needs, behaviors, and habits, and expand their metatalk
creatures have current dynamic needs - i.e. emotional,
mental, physical, and spiritual discomforts, and that...
behaviors are instinctive attempts to reduce (fill) these needs.
Implication - being
"needy" is normal, not shameful, selfish, or weak.
Option - if a client
associates "being needy" with being weak, wrong, or bad, ask if s/he
would say that digesting food, urinating, sleeping, yawning, or sneezing is weak,
wrong, or bad.
Ask each client what
they were taught about ranking their (a) personal
& and (b) current needs against other
people's needs. ("Who's needs do you usually attend first in
non-emergencies?"). Propose that chronically
ignoring or discounting your
own needs and rights is
which always indicates
unawareness and false-self
(a) Propose, illustrate, and discuss the difference between
surface needs (symptoms) and primary
(b) why this distinction is vital for effective communication.
Why? To motivate clients to (a) focus on helping each other
identify and fill primary needs, and reduce frustrations and guilts from
focusing on surface needs, and (b) pass this vital concept on to
dependent kids and important others.
difference between surface needs (symptoms) and primary needs, and
seek client understanding and acceptance of the concept. Note that habitually trying to fill surface needs
suggests that the person (a) may be controlled by a false self,
which (b) lacks inner and environmental
skill # 1).
Propose that typical unaware
adults and all kids are used to trying to fill surface needs
(symptoms), so often their and any partner's
remain unfilled - causing frustrations
and weakening relationships and self confidence. Identify client examples of
this and its outcomes - i.e. primary needs met or not?
Option - ask
clients to read and discuss this article
& and pass it on to other family members
& as an
effective way of discerning primary
needs from surface needs.
Describe, illustrate, and model
needs and need-conflicts
Why? To empower clients to learn effective metatalk, and to
identify and negotiate win-win compromises to communication-need
conflicts - i.e. to raise their communication effectiveness.
(a) a need is a normal mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical
discomfort; and (b) all
creatures instinctively communicate to lower current discomforts
(fill current needs). Discuss and reframe as needed, and sense
if clients agree or not. Typical clients may agree, and are not
used to thinking in terms of "filling needs." They will need repeated
coaching, modeling, and encouragement to integrate this core concept.
Explain and illustrate the six primary
all people try to fill by communicating, and differentiate them from
other current needs.
Discuss this as necessary, and sense if client adults agree
or not. Options - (a) ask clients to identify their respective needs in recent
effective and ineffective communication sequences; and/or (b)
identify each person's communication needs in current session
Describe and illustrate (a) the communication
with any two people, and
(b) the concept of partners' communication needs
meshing or conflicting. Ask clients for recent examples of both situations, how they usually handle conflicting communication
needs, and what usually results.
Illustrate using process-
to describe a communication-needs
("So I need to vent, and you need
to problem-solve."). Option - illustrate using the other
communication skills to find a mutually-acceptable compromise to needs-conflicts.
Define, illustrate, model, and coach
Why? People need a clear, conscious definition to judge the
effectiveness of their situational and chronic communication behaviors
Ask each attending
client (a) to define "effective communication," and
(b) whether their family
adults share a common definition. Option - ask each
participating adult and child to
the last time they experienced "effective communication,"
"What made it effective?",
Do the same for "ineffective
Ask each client
identify someone they feel is
or was a consistently-effective
say specifically why they say so;
ask clients to...
identify someone who is or was an unusually
say specifically why they say so.
communication occurs when each participant (a) gets their main
met well enough (by their definition),
(b) in a way that feels "good
enough." Then discuss clients' reaction to this idea.
All Lesson-2 assessments and interventions are based on this fundamental idea.
definition by asking clients to describe recent experiences where
their communication "went well," and didn't go well.
building triggers or anchors (reminders) to help family members stay aware of...
their communication effectiveness in important situations (specially
conflicts), and of
(outcomes) of effective and ineffective
communication - i.e. who, if anyone, gets their primary needs
(a) met well enough (b) in an acceptable-enough way?
More basic Lesson-2 interventions...
Explain, illustrate, and
clients for significant
Why? to (a) expand clients' process awareness, (b) expand their
(c) strengthen adults' ability to spot and reduce local and habitual
blocks and increase communication effectiveness, and (d) motivate and
empower co-parents to teach their descendents about these blocks and how
to avoid and reduce them.
Propose that a
"communication block" is any individual or joint ability, attitude,
priority, knowledge, or behavior that usually hinders or prevents
effective thinking, communication, and problem-solving. Emphasize
that blocks are normal and common, and come from personal and mutual
unawareness of communication dynamics and basics + psychological wounds.
Their occurrence does not
mean anyone is bad, stupid, or wrong!
(a) Review communication
(2-7 below) and
(b) confirm that clients understand each concept. Then (b)
Illustrate them in general, or with client dynamics
of common communication blocks, and invite initial
reactions from participating clients. Note that unawareness of these
blocks is part of the "unawareness hazard" that stresses most
typical families and relationships. Option - ask "As
children, did any of you hear your senior family adults discussing
"communication blocks" and see them help each other to reduce
Review (or introduce) the
Lesson-2 skills of
and check to see that all clients understand the concepts
("Pat, how would you describe 'Metatalk' to an average 12 year
old?"). When they do, propose that one of many benefits to using
these and the
is intentionally and permanently
reducing major marital and family communication blocks
Encourage client adults
to (a) intentionally expand their vocabularies with these metatalk
to (b) teach the terms to other family members. This will
improve family members' abilities to describe what's "going on
now" in and between their subselves, people, and related homes.
Option - have the clients
describe a significant communication block in their home or
relationship/s, and illustrate how they could effectively discuss
and reduce the block with these skills.
Option - follow up over the next
several sessions to see if clients are noticing and beginning to
talk cooperatively about their communication blocks and how to
resolve them. If they don't, that probably indicates one or more
adults are significantly wounded.
As the work proceeds,
watch for chances to (a) spot and discuss blocks
among client family members ("Sounds like Marty's used to
interrupting other people.") and (b) explore their effects in session and in the clients' homes
+ + +
more basic, communication skill-building, and problem-solving interventions
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April 30, 2013