Marriage Counseling That Kicks Butt!
Written By: Mark Smith
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Okay, I recently joined the You Tube generation. You will now get a brief video each week with my Blog. I'm not really very good at it yet so any feedback is appreciated!
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Just what in the world do therapists do with clients when the door shuts and the meter starts running? Different therapists do different things. Going to a therapist isn't like going to a McDonalds. You may get a vastly different product from one therapist than you would from another. One therapist might have you hit a chair with a plastic bat; another may stress the value of a therapeutic massage; another might preach the Bible evangelistically; another might teach you how to meditate on the sounds of the ocean; still another might want you to hug a teddy bear or beat a drum. I'm not making fun of any of these techniques; I think that they all might have their place. My point is that counseling can mean vastly different things to different people. I wanted to share with you, our valued referral sources, just exactly what the product is that the clients you send us receive when they come to Family Tree Counseling Associates. Certainly every therapist at Family Tree Counseling Associates is not the same. We are all different, with different styles, different personalities, and different experiences. However, there are many beliefs about therapy that we share. I would like to share 10 highlights, or central beliefs that might help you to understand and identify who we are and what we do at Family Tree Counseling Associates.
When I began the practice in 1989, I tried to put a lot of effort into coming up with a logo that would really reflect what the practice was all about. After searching in vain for weeks, one day at a printer's office I was thumbing through some clip art when I found it. It jumped up and grabbed me-our logo, the family tree. It was on a piece of paper with a genealogy tree drawn on it. Instantly looking at the tree made me think of roots, of ancestors, of family heritage. Our logo is much more than a drawing of a tree; it is a worldview, a paradigm.
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines paradigm as an "example, pattern, an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype." Everyone has a paradigm, a worldview, a pattern or perspective about the world that they live in. It might be a "skin-head" paradigm, a conservative Republican paradigm, a new age paradigm, or just your run of the mill middle class, white, American paradigm. I am going to share ten key foundations of the therapeutic approached endorsed here at Family Tree Counseling Associates. I would like to mention three theoretic "fathers" of mine whose work and writings have profoundly influenced me. First and foremost would be one of the founding fathers of family therapy, Murray Bowen. Bowen was a paradigm builder; he "invented" the transgenerational emphasis so prevalent in the work of many therapists today. His basic approach is as easy to understand as it is logical; simply to begin therapy by taking a complete family history of at least three or four generations, and then to study this family map for patterns, issues that have repeated themselves, and to make an educated guess at how one generation affected the next generation. That, in a nutshell is the approach that we use.
My clients are very open to this approach; it just makes sense to them. When you have three or four generations drawn in front of you the patterns just jump off the page, and an accurate assessment of the clients' problems can be determined easily. The other two "fathers" who have influenced me are Charles Whitfield, M.D., and John Bradshaw. Both of these men are leading figures in the "recovery / codependency / healing the child within" movement. Now, on to my list.
1. Use of Genogram or Family Map
When I have a new client sitting in front of me I don't just see one person sitting there; I see his parents, his parents' parents, his siblings and his children. If I study the relationship that the client has had with these family members it will tell me volumes about the client himself: his problems, the role he played in his family of origin, how his parents' problems affected him, what family patterns seem to be repeating, how he handles money, how he treats women, his attitudes toward work, toward God, about child rearing, etc. For me to know you I need to know where you are from, what your heritage is, and what particular paradigm your parents implanted in your soul when you were but a tender little one.
2. Family Systems Theory
This theory is very simple as well. In my office I have a mobile. It is made up of three generations of a family (plus the dog and cat). Whenever I need to explain systems to a client I simply reach over and tug on one of the figures in the mobile. Every time it makes the whole mobile, or the whole system shake and move. We are not as "pull yourself up by your boot straps" independent as we think we are as Americans. We are deeply affected by family. When one of the family's architects (mom or dad) has a problem or an addiction, it will affect us as children. There is no escaping that. When stuff is going on in any family, a member affects a member; each one's issues and behavior reverberates through the family system, and eventually through the generations.
3. A Non-Medical, Recovery Model
I'll describe this by telling you what it is not. In the medical model there is a patient, who needs treatment, by a doctor, who is paid by an insurance company, based on the doctor's diagnosis using a DSM III diagnostic manual. Insurance companies propagate this model. With the medical model there is one individual who is sick; but we know, as systems therapists, that no one member of the family is any more emotionally wounded than any of the other members. Some parts of the medical model are helpful, but it tends to focus just on the physical, or predominately on the physical, and not enough on the emotional or the spiritual aspects of the problem.
4. The Emotional Health of the Therapist is a Vital Issue
With the medical model the important requirement for a therapist is that he have an M.D. degree, or at least a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. The therapist is somewhat god-like, all-powerful, in control, the expert always. With this new paradigm, the important thing is how much the therapist has healed himself from his own issues. You can't take someone where you yourself haven't been. I would say that the most important cause of my success as a private practice therapist is that I myself grew up in a dysfunctional family, and I have been working through my own recovery issues for the past six years. When I say that the emotional health of the therapist is a vital issue I am not inferring that one needs to be a mental health giant in order to be a good therapist; that would eliminate me right off the bat. It just means that the therapist should be aware of his or her own issues, have healed a great deal, and be in an active recovery program still. So much of successful therapy has to do with the therapist's use of himself, his awareness of his feelings as he interacts with clients, his sensitivity to the process going on in the room as the session progresses.
5. It is All About Healing the Child Within
We all are children walking around in adult bodies. We have memories from our childhoods, and we have the feelings from childhood. Many children, no doubt the majority of children, are wounded in one way or another as they go through their developmental stages. They are wounded by parents who themselves were wounded as children. They were wounded by parents who were shut off from their emotions, parents with one type of addiction or another, parents who neglected them emotionally or physically, or parents who abused them verbally, physically, or sexually. This type of abuse and neglect is rampant; it is the norm. Sometimes it is somewhat subtle, though. Some of the most unhealthy clients that I have ever worked with came from families they decribed as normal, healthy, and loving. Denial isn't just a river in Eygpt.
6. Problems are Named or Re-labeled
This type of therapy isn't "parent bashing" or blame shifting, it is simply naming what did occur in the family as we were growing up. Re-labeling is simply learning about one's self, learning about one's family, putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and getting some answers that make sense. It is facing family secrets, talking about family secrets. It is admitting and accepting the sometimes-difficult truths about our families and about ourselves.
7. Sorry, but You Marry Your Parents!
This is a very important concept, one that is at the very heart of gaining life-changing insight into oneself. I call this Nature's therapy. When we have an unresolved issue from childhood we go out and unconsciously find someone to marry, or someone to work with, or a friend with whom we can repeat our issues. It is as if we are driven to complete what we did not complete in our childhood. Thus, many women who grew up with a domineering, abusive father grow up and end up marrying a domineering, abusive husband.
8. Compulsions/Addictions are Just the Tip of the Iceberg
We don't focus primarily on addictions. Addictions are a result of a client's inner woundedness, and we focus on those issues. Now, with chemical dependency many times detox is needed, plus a solid 12-step program over a period of time before a client is ready for this type of intensive therapy.
9. Clients Responsible for Their Own Recovery
With the medical model, treatment is done to the patient; With this new paradigm, the client has to forge their own path; they have to work very hard on their own therapy. The 12-step groups are based on this idea. The 12-step programs have a much better success rate for any addiction than treatment hospitals or outpatient counseling programs. It isn't that the therapist doesn't direct the therapy of the client; it is just that there are some things that a therapist can't do. He can't make healthy choices for the client. He can't be there to hug them in the middle of the night when they feel empty and alone. This pain from childhood must well up within the client with his active cooperation if he is to cry and heal and resolve. We encourage our clients to prepare for their sessions as they wait in our waiting room.
10. Unresolved Issues do Affect One's Parenting
The typical Carmel family that we often see here is a controlling, workaholic father, a passive mother who doesn't really have a solid sense of identity, and a very angry teenager. Many times the parents just want to drop junior off so we can fix him. Many times they aren't real delighted when we suggest that junior's problems have more to do with mom and dad than they do with junior. However, if you grew up in a grossly dysfunctional home, I don't care how much money you earn, or how nice of a house that you have, you have still been affected by that which you have spent your life running from. We work with the whole family. If you send a family to us, expect that we are going to have mom and dad more involved than the child. Parents that aren't willing to work on their own issues aren't good candidates for therapy at Family Tree Counseling Associates.
This was just a brief overview, but I hope it was helpful in at least touching on our particular approach to doing the work of therapy.
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