By Robert Taibbi LCSW
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Extra info for Doing Family Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Clinical Practice, Second Edition (The Guilford Family Therapy Series)
It seems you all have never talked about your father’s death. ” “Helen, you are always in charge of putting Thomas in bed. ” “Angie, you made a comment about your jail time. ” By moving toward these areas, you are helping the family members move against their own grain, out of their comfort zones of their patterns. As they approach their anxiety, they can experience change. And when you feel overwhelmed or unfocused in a session, look for what’s missing right there in the room (what is not being talked about, what emotions are being avoided, what secret is lying somewhere in the corner of the family’s past) or focus once again on the holes already mapped out (the mother’s anger, the father’s sadness, the child’s inability to say what he or she feels).
It easier to develop skills when you’re not under performance pressure. Increase your sensitivity to what’s missing, the patterns, and process by watching it in others outside the clinical sessions. Sit back and watch what emerges over the next couple of staff meetings. Look at the nonverbal behavior among people [ 46 ] DOING FAMILY THERAPY at the tables around you in a restaurant. See how quickly you can begin to hear and see the holes, how quickly you can tell when a pattern is being repeated, or what the verbal or nonverbal triggers are that set it off.
As with calling attention to patterns, it’s your job as the therapist to take the risk, and it is a risk, to shift the focus to the process when content no longer represents what’s occurring. This is usually done with questions (“John, you’re talking about the good times of the past, but looking mighty sad. ”) or statements (“Mary, I’m trying right now to offer a suggestion and I feel like you’re ignoring me”). The client, be it one individual or the entire family, has to shift, and is forced to stop and think about what just happened and is happening right then.