Help clients break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle!

Effective Clinical Work with Clients
Focusing on Relationship Problems

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council


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        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?

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       This article continues a series of intervention-summaries with six types of low-nurturance family-system clients. It focuses on effective interventions with stepfamilies with a couple seeking clinical help for primary-relationship (and other) "problems" (unfilled needs). The series is modular, so expect some redundancies. This article covers...

  • How to get the most from this article;

  • Definitions of key concepts;

  • Perspective on these client families and their primary needs;

  • Outlines of primary systemic interventions with these complex clients;


        This clinical model and its interventions (below) are based on a family-systems paradigm. A typical  nuclear-stepfamily metasystem is composed of...

  • each family member's inner family of personality subselves, and...

  • one or more committed-adult couple subsystems, and...

  • the subsystem of (usually) three or more active co-parents (bioparents and stepparents), living in two or more homes; and...

  • one or more subsystems of separated, divorcing, and/or dead biological parents and kids; and

  • a subsystem of one or more stepkids and stepsiblings, and perhaps half-siblings; and...

  • the interrelated subsystems of genetic and legal relatives of each client co-parent and stepchild.

From this perspective, doing "effective couples work" with stepfamily co-parents requires (a) maintaining a clear view of multiple interactive systemic stressors, (b) prioritizing them with the clients' agreement, and (c) staying focused primarily on improving the couple's system while stabilizing and maintaining other dynamic systemic problems.

  • teaching couples how to improve and keep the quality of their relationship (filling their respective primary needs), and concurrently encouraging them to understand, accept, learn, and work at Lessons 1 thru 7.


        Effective clinical work with typical stepfamily couples requires knowledge of - and experience with (a) working systemically with couples in general, (b) stepfamily-system basics, and (c) typical (surface) and primary co-parent couple stressors.

        To get the most from this article, first scan or read these if you haven't recently...

Perspective on these Clients

        Paradox - doing "effective couples work" with committed stepfamily mates is no different than in any other family system, and at the same time it presents many unique environmental, structural, and dynamic differences that require clinical awareness, focus, and skillful dynamic triage to stay balanced, and promote systemic progress over many sessions..

Primary Systemic interventions



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Created September 30, 2015