- the clinician and one or more client adults and/or kids.
Best time to do this
Compose a Story, Poem, or Play
Often clients and clinicians limit themselves to "logical" real-world
conceptualizations of presenting problems and solution-options. The unconscious
mind can bypass practical limitations and suggest helpful new ways to frame a
problem and it's solution. This exercise offers the client a way to use their
unconscious mind (i.e. some subselves, often inner children) as a wise ally in
filling key needs. It uses the reality that all folktales, parables, real-life
stories, and dramas are ultimately about hero/ines overcoming obstacles to gain
a significant reward or prize - e.g. the solution to a dilemma or stressful
Goals - To have the client/s experience a presenting problem or
situation and potential solution metaphorically, and possibly discover a new
- the clinician and one or more client adults or school-aged kids.
- have the client (a) restate a presenting (surface) problem and (b) summarize
how they've tried to solve it so far, before and during clinical work. Ask them
to affirm without blame that these attempts have not filled their
needs well enough so far. Options:
review these ideas about how and why people
change or don't change their attitudes,
beliefs, and behaviors, and compare them to ideas.
Mention that one reason therapy / coaching /
counseling helps to solve problems is by offering clients safe, interesting
ask if the client has any ideas why this problem
remains, and/or what s/he thinks will need to change in order to solve the
problem. be prepared for "I don't know."
ask them to describe how their life will be
better when they're ready to choose an effective solution. Notice the
implied suggestions in this wording.
Best time to do this
- when other attempts to solve a particular presenting problem haven't worked.
Ask if the client is willing to try a new way of discovering a solution to the
presenting problem. Most clients will say "yes." Then ask if s/he or they have a
favorite folktale, cartoon, or fictional story, and why that particular tale
appeals to them. Then ask if s/he has ever composed a story or a play, or
written the description of a real event before.
If the client says "Yes," ask what the process of creating the story was like
for them and how they felt about doing it. If the client says "No," or something
like "I can't write," or "I have no imagination," ask if s/he ever fantasizes or
daydreams. If so (which is likely), frame that as their mind's creative way of
composing an absorbing story or drama. "So like the rest of us, you actually
compose stories all the time, don't you?"
Options - if appropriate...
Review the basic elements of most stories,
parables, or plays:
one or more human, animal, or fantasy
characters ("the hero/ine"),
some threat or problem or quest the
character/s need to solve or overcome,
often a conflict between good and "evil," in
various barriers and/or adventures that
some resolution to the situation.
Illustrate this with a story you both know.
Note the enormous power of Holy Books like the
Bible (and Torah and Koran?), which are filled with teaching parables
(stories) that have and do influence the lives of millions of people.
If their are two or more clients, note the
possibility of them verbally composing a group story together. Illustrate
this briefly by saying "Once upon a time there was a family / person /
couple boy / girl who..." Then ask a client to add something to that. Then
ask another client to build on that by adding part or all of a sentence or
paragraph, like "...lived in a far-off land." Go back and forth or around
the circle building a story a piece at a time, stressing that there is no
right or wrong way to do this, and inviting clients not to be "logical" but
trust their "Inner Story teller" to choose what comes next.
Reassure the client that if s/he composes
something, she doesn't have to show it to anyone, including you.
Note that the process of creating the story is
just as instructive as is the resulting tale, poem, or drama.
Suggest that the client's unconscious mind (or
"Higher Self") already knows the best thing for him or her to do;
If you have a vignette that illustrates how this
technique helped another client, describe that briefly.
creating a context of permission, openness, and expectancy ("We can both wonder
what creative suggestions your wise unconscious mind can offer."), ask if the
client is willing to compose a fantasy or real-life story or play that at home
that is similar in some way to the presenting problem s/he needs to solve.
Option: add a time frame ("...in, say, the next two weeks.") or leave it
Use the client's observed reactions to this intervention to refine your opinion
of whether s/he is governed by a false self in and out of the session. Option
- discuss this with the client, if s/he is open to the idea of personality
subselves. If s/he is, another option is to say something like "I'm really
interested to learn which of your talented subselves decide to provide you with
a story, and maybe even which subselves don't want you to do this."
Create a Family-structure Map
From a systems viewpoint, all families have a structure, which can be
represented in simple graphic form. Family structures range from low-nurturance
(dysfunctional) to high nurturance (functional). Often, adults and kids in
multi-home divorcing families and stepfamilies are confused and/or conflicted
about their family's composition and structure, but have no concepts or language
to discuss this. This visual technique helps clients understand their family's
structure, appreciate their strengths, and become more aware of needed
Goals - to help client adults and kids (a) learn the concept and
vocabulary to discuss a baseline healthy-family structure, and (b) to
see their current family-membership inclusions and exclusions, alliances and
cutoffs, relationship rankings, boundaries, authority levels, and communication
barriers in their related homes. An indirect goal is to add evidence where
appropriate that one or more client co-parents are denying significant
psychological wounds, and need to commit to personal wound recovery.
- the clinician and one or more client adults and/or older kids kids -
particularly visual clients. This technique is most useful with
divorcing, courting, and cohabiting-stepfamily clients who seem confused or
conflicted about family membership, roles, and boundaries..
It can also be useful in diagramming the
structure of an individual's
- Study this 5-page article to learn the
concept. Then with your
map your own (a) childhood and (b) current families, and (c) one or more client
families you know well enough. Option - also try diagramming your inner
family. Pay attention to the diagramming process (your thoughts,
feelings, and awarenesses), as well as the diagrams you create. Then experience
discussing the process and the diagrams with a supervisor or co-worker, and note
any personal and clinical learnings. Create a sample diagram to use in
illustrating the concept to clients.
Best time to do this
- when working with a low-nurturance client family who is generally unresponsive
or "resistant" to verbal interventions, and not in a crisis. Option -
also use this with (a) a high-nurturance family to teach the clients the concept
and affirm their present strengths, or (b) to help an individual client image
how his or her personality subselves are organized.
It may be useful to do this intervention after the client adults have created a
and discussed a family genogram, and identified
any conflicts over family membership ("Max, Jack's biomom is not a part
of our family!"). It may also be useful to do this after encouraging
client-adults to draft and discuss their family's
- there are two halves to this: (a) diagram the family, and (b) use the diagram
to promote beneficial changes.
Create the Structural Diagram
If other problems don't distract
the client adults, ask if they're familiar with "organization charts."
Assuming they are, ask if they'd like to learn what their family's organization
chart would disclose. Get the adults' agreement that (a) "some organizations
function better than others," and that (b) their family's overall
function is to nurture (help each other fill all their members'
needs) well enough in a ever-changing world. Option - ask each
participating client (including older kids) to estimate from 1 (very low
nurturance) to 10 (very high nurturance) how well their current family has been
Explain the general structural
mapping technique and what it can show, using a sample diagram of a
high-nurturance family structure
with several kids who live alternately in two co-parental homes. If the client
family has such a family, propose that their multi-home family has two
structures: "kids home," and "kids away."
Next, describe, illustrate, and discuss typical low-nurturance family structures
per these (or your own)
examples. When you feel the client adults are ready, ask if they're willing
to make a structral map of their family together. Review their options for doing
so - e.g. (a) whether to involve older kids, ex mates, and key relatives or not,
and/or (b) what things might sabotage their doing this honestly as partners.
Frame this as a valuable learning experience, rather than a shame and blame hunt
for "bad," "sick," or inept people. Note the options of including (a) a Higher
Power, (b) emotionally-powerful dead or absent relatives, and/or (c) influential
lay and/or professional supporters as dynamic members of the family structure.
Options - (a) use the analogy of inspecting the structural soundness of
their home and/or bodies, and (b) offer to work with them in diagramming, or to
help evaluate the diagram they make on their own. (c) Give client-adults a copy
of this article (or its Web address) to use as a reference, and (d) invite them
to diagram their respective childhood-family structures for greater awareness..
Use the Diagram to Promote Useful Changes
If there are significant structural problems, propose that (a) no one is
at fault or to blame, and that (b) this is a useful chance to discern some
primary problems that need improvement for their family's long-term health and
prosperity. Invite the clients to stay focused, rank-order multiple problems
(which is likely), and commit to patiently improving one or a few problems at a
time using appropriate Lesson-2
If appropriate, teach or refresh the adults on the idea of surface (presenting)
problems and underlying
An honest structural diagram may reveal one or more problems like these:
A stepparent ad/or co-parenting ex mate feels
discounted or excluded by other adults and/or kids - and/or excludes
themselves - from full family
and appropriate authority.
One or more children are discounted and/or
excluded by one or more adults and/or other children;
A child, relative, or a coalition is running a
home and/or the whole family, rather than the adult co-parents;
A couple is allowing alliances between two or
more other family members to sabotage the primacy and integrity their
relationship, The usual primary problems are a mix of unwise commitment
decisions + unawareness + excessive fears and guilts + role-confusions +
unresolved loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles, + marriage not
genuinely in second placed + psychological wounds .
A prior divorce is emotionally
unfinished. The usual
primary problems are premature re/marriage and/or blocked or incomplete
grief, and denied psychological wounds.
Two or more residents in one home and/or between
co-parenting homes are blocked in
communicating and problem-solving effectively. The usual primary problems
are ignorance of effective communication
+ denied psychological wounds;
An adult has an inappropriate role as a "child's
friend" rather than a family co-leader;
A home or whole family is polarized into
separate (bioparent + kid/s) and (stepparent + kids) coallitions, rather
than an integrated "us" group.
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