Selected Intervention Techniques
teaching techniques are useful with most client families. Use them strategically
to augment other interventions:
This technique is useful with (a)
consistently neglects their
and with (b) conflicted mates whose ruling subselves chronically rank their
relationship too low. It prepares such couples to admit and resolve major
Grown Wounded Children
and progressing on
most typical GWCs (survivors of childhood neglect) habitually
health, needs, and welfare. They may or may not admit this to themselves or
other people, and/or they rationalize it or say "I can't help it."
This clinical technique will not correct the client's self neglect
but can help them break some denial about it and its
implications - like admitting the reality of their
and related psychological
and the value of personal wound recovery.
- a client adult and the clinician
Best time to do this - before
the GWC on his/her psychological wounds, or soon afterwards.
Preparations - agree with
the client on definitions of needs, wholistic heath,
and neglect. Option - first review this Bill
of Personal Rights with the client, and ask him or her to identify which of
them s/he currently lives by.
Technique - at an appropriate
point in the work flow, ask the client something like
"Help me understand what your top
4 or 5 life priorities have been in - say - the last x months. There's
no right or wrong answer." Use
to acknowledge the client's answer without judgment or comment.
If s/he includes "my wholistic health" or equivalent, decide whether this
matches your perception of the client's recent behaviors. If so, affirm that and
congratulate the client. If not, factually confront him or her on examples of
behavior that indicate self abandonment and neglect - e.g. "You've taught me
that you often skip breakfast, use cigarettes and anti-depression medication,
and work 60 or more hours each week - is that so?"
If the client doesn't include some version of "my health or welfare" in
describing recent priorities, point that out objectively - "I notice you
don't include your own welfare and health in your priorities. Are you aware of
that?" Options - ask (a) "What do you feel your self-neglect is
teaching your kids about valuing and caring for themselves?", and/or (b) "How
would you describe each of your childhood caregivers' attitudes about self-love
and self-care?" This technique can lead to a range of strategic Lesson-1
interventions about subselves, psychological wounds,
and wound-recovery if the client is receptive.
Premise: to maintain a stable, mutually-satisfying primary relationship
and high-nurturance family, each mate must want to (a) adopt a long-range
view (e.g. the next 25-35 years), and to (b) put their
wholistic health and first, their relationship second, and all else third -
except in emergencies. Typical troubled couples are (a) unaware of their recent
life priorities, and/or may be (b)
them and their implications. Mates who are ruled by a well-meaning
will often say "the right thing" about their recent priorities, while their
actions show something different. If confronted on this
they'll typically deny, discount, and/or rationalize it.
When bioparents actions
consistently demonstrate that their job, their kids' welfare, or something else
is more important than their primary relationship, marital and family stresses
bloom. Typical courting co-parents do rank their thrilling
new relationship first or second. Stepfamily mergers inexorably force bioparents
to choose - repeatedly - between their re/marriage and their kids, for years.
mates don't have honest, focused discussions about their priorities after they
commit and cohabit. One or both mates not steadily valuing their relationship
highly usually indicates (a) significant false-self
about marital or parental "failure" and kids' pain, and/or (c) making up to
Goals of this technique are:
propose and explain the priority scheme above,
and learn clients' receptivity to it;
raise partners' awareness of their recent
promote clients learning to discuss their
identify skewed priorities, and discuss
implications and options constructively.
- the clinician and a client couple
to do this - after learning and affirming each mate's presenting problems
and relationship needs, affirming their major relationship strengths, starting
to build foundations of effective communication and problem-solving, and
learning their impressions of what hinders their relationship. You can try the
technique before or after the couple admits they have significant relationship
problems. This technique is specially
helpful in exposing one surface cause of a stepfamily couple's trouble
Preparations - (a)
confirm you agree with this priority scheme. If you don't, or are ambivalent,
don't use it; (b) wait until the couple's shared focus is on a significant
relationship problem, their
"below their ears," and (ideally), their true Selves are
their respective personalities.
Technique - Say something like "Would you each be willing to spend
about 15" doing an interesting, safe exercise that will shed some light on (one
or more relationship or other family) problems?" Framing it this way usually
will get a "Yes."
"I'd like to learn how you each see an important factor in your partner."
Pick one partner to go first ("A") , and ask "(Name), would you
describe what you observe your partner's top 3 to 5 life priorities are in the
last x months, as judged by her/his actions vs. their words? There is no right
or wrong here - just observe as though you were an objective scientist or news
Let partner "B" know s/hell soon have a chance to describe her or his own
opinion, and to summarize on their partner's recent top priorities.
"A's" answers, and nonjudgmentally affirm them with
("hearing checks.") If an answer is too general or vague, ask "A" to be more
specific - e.g. if s/he says "To have a happy family," ask "A" to explain what
that means ("How would your partner judge if you all had a 'happy family'?").
Collect and paraphrase at least three priorities - five is better. Thank partner
"A," and say "We'll learn your mate's opinion of her/his priorities in a
moment, but first let's balance the scales. Before we do, each of you take a
moment to breathe, focus, and notice what you're aware of now. there is no right
or wrong..." Note each client's body language, breathing, and eye focus.
client "B" to thoughtfully describe "A's" recent life priorities as judged by
actions, not words. Block any attempt to judge, generalize, or evaluate, and
keep "B" focused on the exercise. Affirm each answer with a hearing check, and
take notes so you can review the answers in a moment.
After both people have described their partner's apparent recent priorities,
then ask each to describe their own priorities in the chosen time
frame. Record answers in a table like this, and invite clients to make their
own tables to refer to later.
priorities (1 - 5)
||A's priorities (1 - 5)
priorities (1 - 5)
||B's own priorities (1 -
When you're done, ask "What are you aware of now?" and/or "What do
you learn from this exercise?" Option - confirm that the couple
has never done this exercise before. After they respond, discuss (a) how
well the partners agreed on assessing each other's priorities, and (b) if
and where their primary relationship ranks in each quadrant of the table. If
it ranks high for both mates, affirm that and congratulate them on this
strength. If not, discuss the implications, without judgment.
families and/or significantly conflictual or unbalanced partnerships, the
relationship will often rank low for one or both people or will not appear
on the list at all. This raises the odds that (a) one or both are
and may be unable to genuinely
and/or (b) one or both re/married for the
Next - select among these
other Project 8 interventions, focus on
strengthening couple communication effectiveness
(Lesson 2), or pick another clinical target.
Having clients do something physical in a session
can be more effective
than talking to provide strategic experiential learning. "Sculpting" is one way
of doing this with two or more people. Four of many possibilities are (a) the
"I'm right!" exercise for chronic arguers; demonstrations of (b) a family
and (c) a relationship triangle
with adults and kids, demo, and (d) inner and outer family sculpting.
"No, I'm Right!"
Chronic arguing or fighting between adults or adults and kids is a common
stressor in many families. It is usually a symptom of deeper issues
incomplete grief, and ignorance of
effective-communication basics and
- this technique promotes two arguers experience the
lose-lose futility and silliness of each seeking to "win" a dispute. This
experience can raise client receptivity to learning the win-win problem solving
- the clinician and two adult or child clients, alone, or in a group.
to do this - when (a) all clients in the session are undistracted and
and (b) the common focus is on replacing specific or chronic arguing or
fighting with win-win
have both people admit without guilt or shame that they
often get into mutually-frustrating power struggles or frustrating arguments in which
neither of them
gets their main needs met.
Identify a safe-enough example (one which will not
raise any clients'
"above their ears") of something that triggers a chronic argument.
It may help
to (a) define win-win and lose-lose communication
(b) discuss the "payoffs" of habitual power struggles or arguments, before using this
- Ask if clients are willing to try a brief, safe, interesting, exercise to lay
the groundwork for reducing chronic arguing. If more than two clients are
present, ask the "non-arguers" to be students and observers. Stand up, and ask
the arguers to stand in front of you and face each other about a foot apart,
with adequate space around them. Ask each to extend their dominant (usually
right) arms with their forearms pointed up, and to clasp hands comfortably. Then
ask the two to maintain comfortable eye contact throughout the exercise.
Option - ask "How does this feel, so far?"
Explain that this exercise is not about physical strength or force, but about
learning. Coach each person to maintain eye contact as you talk, and
expect some discomfort at this. Ask the people to mentally focus on the selected
dispute, and be open to noticing their thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Then ask one person to start the exercise by firmly moving their partner's hand
90 degrees (usually counterclockwise) to be parallel to the floor, and say with
some firmness "I'm right!"
ask the other partner - keeping good eye contact - to rotate the other person's
arm 180 degrees in the other direction (parallel to the floor), and say firmly
"No, I'm right!" Then ask both people to repeat this cycle over and over
again, with increasing intensity and vocal volume - keeping good eye contract.
If clients stop or deflect, ask them to stay focused and keep doing the cycle.
Options - suggests that clients use spontaneous variations like "You
know I'm right!" or "I'm always right," "I am smarter / wiser /
superior to you," or "You're totally wrong here." Invite the people
to get some real emotion into their statements, without clowning or burlesquing.
Then say calmly "Now keep this up for the rest of your life," and possibly sit
down. A common result is that one or both start to grin or laugh as they
experience the lesson.
- Begin or continue teaching clients effective-communication basics and skills (Project
2), and encourage them to practice. See role-playing.
experientially using this exercise with three clients like a stepparent, bioparent, and
- to help clients...
understand and feel what it's like for each person in the conflict,
what a better alternative looks and feels like,
experience how to talk cooperatively about loyalty conflicts, and...
give clients an exercise they can use with other family members and
supporters to promote common understanding and useful problems solving.
Participants - two or more clients family members, alone or in a
to do this - in a family session, immediately after an adult or child
complains about being "caught in the middle," or when the discussion focuses on
family members "taking sides." With courting couples, initiate the exercise
without waiting for such an opportunity, for typical couples are on "good
behavior" and will usually discount or deny serious loyalty conflicts. All
participants should be physically and emotionally undistracted, and
- (a) do the priority exercise first, to sensitize
couples to the core issue of who really comes first with each of them.
(b) Optionally, use Lesson 7 interventions first to
help clients accept their
as a normal
, and what that
One meaning is that they will be continually confronted with values and loyalty
conflicts and associated triangles for years. (c) Clinicians may explain
and illustrate the concept of loyalty conflicts befor or after the exercise.
Arrange the furniture to provide a clear space perhaps 12 feet by 5 feet. Allow
at least 30" to do this exercise.
- Ask if clients are willing to try a safe interesting exercise that will help
them understand and resolve various family members feeling "stuck in the middle"
between two or more other members. If more than three clients are present, ask
the non-participants to act as observers and reporters.
the three clients to stand side by side facing you, and appoint or select one
person to be "in the middle." Have them move apart, and ask the middle person to
extend their arms straight out on either side. Then ask each "outside" person to
face the middle person and grasp her or his outstretched hand or wrist firmly
with both their hands. Option - ask "What does this feel like, so far?"
ask each of the outside people to tug on the middle person's arm, and demand "Be
with me!" / "Side with me!" / "Choose me!" Encourage the middle person to
say anything they want to, as the others tug and demand on them. Options
- ask the middle person to say something like (a) "Please stop pulling on me - I
feel stuck in the middle between you two!"; (b) "Hey - we have another loyalty
conflict going. Let's do some win-win problem-solving instead, OK?"; and/or (c)
"I hate having to choose between you two!"
Keep this up for several minutes, asking clients
to improvise in what they ask or say, and to escalate their tugging and
demanding. Note their body posture and voice dynamics as the exercise
progresses. If anyone's
goes "above their ears" or (more commonly) someone start laughing, stop the
the clients still standing, ask each person to pause, breathe, and and describe
what they're aware of. Ask "is this what it feels like for each of you at home
sometimes?" Then say something like
"This is a common, unavoidable dilemma in all divorcing families and
stepfamilies. It can be called a 'loyalty conflict' because
each outside person demands that the middle person be loyal to (support) them
over one or more other people. Often there are
involved, and several loyalty conflicts can occur at once (along with
relationship triangles). Option - repeat the exercise until all three
people have been in the middle. If there are observers, ask what they're aware
time and stamina allow, ask "Please
show me (vs. tell me) how each of you would like this tug of war to go."
ask the three to remember and sketch
a real recent loyalty conflict involving them, and stand in a circle
facing each other with comfortable eye contact. Ask each of them to say
something like "Right now, what I need from each of you is..." Direct the
to affirm they hear the speaker clearly. Reiterate that needs -
physical, emotional, and spiritual discomforts - are normal, and that
win-win problem-solving aims to fill everyone's current needs well enough.
ask mates to define their current
long-term priorities, and propose that by putting their marriage
second (below personal health and integrity) in loyalty conflicts without
acceptable compromises, they're really putting the kids' needs first long-term
by avoiding possible redivorce trauma.
summarize useful terminology for
members to adopt and teach other family members, to help everyone
validate, discuss, and resolve (or avoid) loyalty conflicts effectively -
e.g. loyalty (or inclusion) conflict or equivalent, in the middle,
assert, hearing check, and
"who in your home and family is responsible for avoiding - or spotting and
resolving - loyalty conflicts? (Best answer - "all of our adults.")
everyone sit down and ask (a) their
reactions to this exercise, and (b) what they learned from it. Then ask what they
do the next time a loyalty conflict occurs in or between their homes.
Invite the family to
(a) discuss loyalty conflicts in a family meeting, and/or (b) choose a "loyalty conflict 'scout,' to
spot and alert other members to this kind of conflict; and/or (c) teach other
family members and supporters about this concept;
explain and illustrate
and how they relate to typical loyalty conflicts and each other.
introduce the idea of a family strategy (plan) to (a) avoid and (m)
spot and resolve situational or chronic loyalty conflicts. If useful,
discuss mates' current priorities, and/or do (or recall) this
priority exercise. Use priorities to overcome
loyalty-conflict impasses when viable compromises can't be found.
choose relevant Lesson-2 (communication),
3 (stepfamily identity and membership),
4 (realistic expectations),
7 (wise courtship choices),
8 (remarital), 9
(merging biofamilies), or 10 (forging a
co-parenting team) interventions;
focus on identifying and resolving excessive guilts (a) in stepparents
"forcing" their mates to choose between them and a biochild (or someone),
and/or (b) in bioparents for honestly ranking their kids ahead of their
adult partner "too often." The latter may be a symptom of
incomplete or blocked grief of prior
(broken bonds), and/or re/marrying
follow up in future session to learn if client adults (a) have discussed and
(b) told other members of these loyalty conflicts, and (c) are helping
other family adults and kids avoid or manage loyalty conflicts more effectively.
+ + +
to the techniques index, or
with sculpting techniques to illustrate (a) relationship triangles, and (b)
present and desired external and internal family dynamics.
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