Timing, Pacing and Tracking

In Multiple Family Group Therapy

1992 By Lewis N. Foster


    What happens within the therapist to let she/he know that it is time to make an intervention during a multiple family group therapy session?

    This question was asked of a training group on May 26, 1992 at Bruce Hall Center for the Treatment of Addictions.  We were reviewing a videotape of a family therapy role-play when this trainer asked Mona Hartzell the above question.  The topic was discussed for the next hour and some interesting revelations surfaced.

    Mona (like most of us) said that she didn't know what happened to let her know to get verbally involved in the session.  Another participant suggested that it was something within all of us that let us know when the family needed our help.  Someone else suggested that NLP had discovered that therapist appear to randomly go by the seat of their pants, but study of leading therapists produced patterns.  Someone else added that everyone brings their own frames-of-reference that puts them on track and provides a path to follow.  In some way maybe guided by an internal radar and when the cross-hairs are aligned that is the time to act.

    More discussion produced increasing insight into how frames-of-reference, training, likes and dislikes, unresolved issues, and resolved issues free us to get involved or keep us from getting involved.  One therapist in the group revealed that he discovered how he avoided having children in the room with arguing parents, because, he remembers how difficult it was for him to have to listen to his own parents arguing.  There seemed to be a feeling of discomfort that led to reasoning which led to action that avoided exposing the children to the parents arguing during the therapy session.

    The children had been living with their parents for years like this and removing them from the room may have been a relief for them. The parents began to work together and started communicating and attempting to understand each other.  The children were not a part of the beginning of the making up process and possibly missed a valuable lesson which they could have used in their own marriages later in life.  but what is it within the therapist that lets she or he know it is time for their involvement in the family system during the therapy session?

    Something happens within the therapist that is stimulated by the family system in therapy, that lets the therapist know it is time to get actively involved.  This process involves thinking, feeling and behavior.  The process would be different for every therapist.  Personality style would probably have a bearing on how this process is set up.  Which leads us to, "how well does the therapist need to know self," in order to be free enough to be objective, fair and impartial?

    A conversation with John T. Edwards, Ph.D., on May 25, 1992 revealed that he has been doing more personal work in his workshops than he used to.  He calls them retreats where information is shared and the opportunity for personal work exists as well.  I explained to John that I have been doing that in my workshops for the past six years and thought I learned that from him.  He was surprised and didn't remember my doing a family sculpt during the training with him at Randolph Clinic in Charlotte, NC, that left me with the clear understanding of how important looking at self is when working with family systems.

John T. Edwards, PhD and Lewis N. Foster (circa 1995)

    There are so many triggers that can stimulate unresolved issues in the therapist.  It is my opinion that personal work is a must when considering doing family therapy or leading multiple family therapy groups.  Let me put it another way.  The therapist is going to do personal work.  She/He can choose to do it with the families they work with or choose to do it honestly in therapy or training.  Anything other than openly and honestly is akin to voyeurism, which sets the therapist apart from the family, and fosters dependency on the part of the families in therapy.

    But what is it within the therapist that lets she/he know when it is time to make an intervention during a therapy session?

    Self is a tool for the family therapist and the contamination brought into the session will prevent healthy therapeutic process.  Calibrating the tool is an ongoing, life-long process that never ends. That which we resolve today will enhance our ability tomorrow.  That which we don't resolve today will limit (contaminate) our ability tomorrow.

    Consider the idea that we track in families that which we are attracted to.  As trainers and teachers we teach that which we want to learn and address what is impacting our lives at the moment.  Contamination from a marital conflict can affect what the therapist tends to track in the client family system.

    One of the most difficult things to teach a multiple family group therapy trainee is, sit down and be quiet after the joining and problem definition stages have passed.

    So, what is it within the therapist that lets she/he know when it is time to make an intervention during a multiple family therapy session?

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