Developing Your
Multiple Family Group Therapy
Style*

1994 By Lewis N. Foster


It may take years to discover and develop your own style; some therapists never do. But its potential is there from the beginning flashing in and out of your work.

Style begins with your frames of reference. It's what it feels and sounds like inside your head. You may be able to discover some of your style by the type of therapy you chose to practice. Underlying these influences is a basic set of rhythms that will determine the ways you do therapy. Your personality and character can furnish clues.

A network of theories are needed to develop the foundation for your style. You need a theory of why people (and families) behave the way they do in groups and society, and what motivates them. You will need a theory of how and why families change, a theory of individual and family normality, a theory of culture and a theory of diagnosis that leads to some type of action, not labeling or defining the symptom.**

A distinctive multiple family group therapy (MFGT) leadership style is the product of conscious and unconscious process and it is simple not complex. It will develop instinctively, over months and years, from the therapeutic process itself, like a muscle being worked and getting stronger. It's like the magic a musician understands. She's playing some tune she's played a thousand times before, and suddenly there's a whole new set of ideas coming out of her instrument without ever going through her conscious mind.

This conversational quality of your therapeutic language and process is the single most important source from which your therapeutic fingerprint comes. It's the simplicity and directness with which you express your feelings or a clear sense of right and wrong. It is called personal manner.

Your own style is not necessarily the first thing you come to or the first that comes to you. The first style a new therapist comes to is usually the easiest, and it's likely to be somebody else's. Usually some powerful therapist whose works we most admire has moved into our head, voice and technique. Those are her cadences echoing, her choices asserting themselves in the therapy session.

It's perfectly okay to imitate that which you admire, up to a point. Sooner or later you have to understand the limitations of imitation, and move on. You begin to discover your own style when you have formulated theoretical frames and use them to create interventions that bring about change. The theory and your personality become integrated.

Reading, attending workshops and classes, viewing videotapes, and observing multiple family group therapy can help you discover your own style. No matter how much of this you do, however, you are not going to discover your style until you begin to do multiple family group therapy.

If you do MFGT long enough, you will catch flashes of your style. If you observe carefully, your own cadencies will assert themselves and help direct you. If you care enough about doing MFGT you will go on doing it beyond influences and affectation until your therapy style is like nobody else's.

Someone who has some background in individual, family or group therapy can begin leading multiple family therapy groups after fifteen to thirty hours of theoretical training which will include role-playing MFGT sessions. I recommend a co therapist with a supervisor behind a mirror and processing the session after each group. Give yourself permission to do screwed-up therapy to begin with.

You can't do quality multiple family group therapy until you do screwed-up MFGT. Be selfish and ask for the tough cases, that way you can know that eventually you'll be the best. Isolate those things you need to improve on then refine and correct them. Break down the things you need to learn, and develop a training plan. (We have a training plan developed at the Resource Center.)

During MFGT sessions you must learn to balance between concentration and relaxation.

Find a trainer that you can grow with. We have a list of questions at the Resource Center that we think you need to ask your potential trainer. We have a list of questions we think the trainer needs to ask the trainee too. What the trainer and the trainee expect from each other, makes the difference between success and failure. Remember that our senses motivate us to create art out of everything in our life and all artists are searching for personal freedom. We can't be therapists without freedom.

With freedom your therapy style becomes as individual and distinctive as your fingerprint and it speaks to everyone, because it is you.

*Reed, K. "Master Your Style," Writer's Digest, September 1991 and Wilson, J.M. "A Gift of Voice," Writer's Digest, December 1993, stimulated the idea for this article.

**Adapted from comments made by Jay Haley at a workshop in Charlotte, NC on February 25, 1994 on Contemporary Applications of Directive Therapy with Adolescents and Young Adults.

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