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    Action Techniques for Therapy with Families with Young Children

    Author(s): Lawrence A. Wolfe and Judith A. Collins-Wolfe

    Source: Family Relations, Vol. 32, No. 1, (Jan., 1983), pp. 81-87

    Published by: National Council on Family Relations

    Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/583981

    Accessed: 17/07/2008 14:05

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    Action Techniques for TherapywithFamilies with Young Children

    Lawrence A. Wolfe and Judith A. Collins-Wolfe*Many therapists want to include family members of all ages in family therapy.

    However, they are at a loss to know how to keep young children in ongoing familytherapy. This paper presents some nonverbal activities in which all members of thefamily, including young children, can participate. It also suggests timing for the ac-tivities and ways of using them in the course of therapy.

    When doing therapy with families in whichthere are young children (3 to 11 years), it is im-portant to use approaches that will evoke inputfrom them. In cases where children are quitearticulate verbally, they can be involved intraditional verbal therapy. However, mostyoung children reveal themselves morethrough play. For this reason, activities thathave nonverbal as well as verbal componentsare essential for family therapy with young chil-dren. This paper describes activities and waysof processing the outcomes that are useful inspecific stages of family therapy.

    Before discussing specific activities, it is im-portant to mention the possible resistance ofadults to such activities. Often when a familyseeks therapy, the adults are feeling helpless,inadequate, and maybe even childish in dealingwith their problems. Sometimes autocraticparents expect children to be seen, not heard.The therapist must call on his/her authority totake charge of how therapy will be conducted.

    In a warm, caring, yet firm manner, the thera-pist says, Here in therapy, we do things in

    *LawrenceA.Wolfe is an Assistant Professor, UniversityofSanta Clara,Graduate Division Counseling Psychology andEducation, 226 BannanHall, Santa Clara,CA95053. Judith A.Collins-Wolfe, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist in privatepractice inSan Jose, California nd a part-time ecturer,Univer-sity of Santa Clara.

    Key Concepts: Family Therapy, modeling, nonverbaltheraputictechniques, childrenin therapy,theraputicchange.(Family Relations, 1983, 32, 81-87.)

    such a way that everyone can share becausewhat each person in your family thinks andfeels is important. If anyone feels silly, embar-rassed or nervous, notice if and when that feel-ing changes during our time together.Eliciting the Family System

    One of the first tasks for the therapist is toelicit the family's system of interaction, toassess what is functional and dysfunctional.The following four techniques require interac-tion and communication among the familymembers. The therapist gives directions whichinclude a reasonable time limit determined bythe size of the family, then steps back toobserve what happens. The directions are pur-posely vague so they will evoke the communi-cation skills, interactional patterns, rules andtone unique to a particular family.Activities to Elicit the System

    1. Doodle exercise. Give each member apiece of paper and felt pens. Ask each one tocreate a doodle. When each member has com-pleted a doodle, the family members are askedto share their drawings and then to select oneof the doodles as a base for a family doodle.(Rubin & Magnussen, 1974).

    2. Building blocks. Present the family with alarge box of building blocks. Ask them tocreate/make something using the blocks.

    3. Sand pictures. Present the family with awooden sandbox, 23 x 28 x 4 , andminiatures of all kinds. Ask them to make a pic-ture in the sand with the small toys. Kalff (1971)

    January1983 FAMILYRELATIONS 81

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    originally developed this technique for usewith individuals.

    4. Clay. Give the family a large plastic dropcloth and a large chunk of terra cotta clay orplasticene. Ask them to create a world.Criteriato Assess the System

    How the family works on its project is thefocus of the therapist's observation rather thanwhat the family creates. While the therapist isobserving the family in action the followingcriteria can be used to make an assessment.

    1. Verbalcommunication skills.Each member:Speaks for self Speaks for othersIndicates mes- Ignores input from

    sages are heard from othersChecks out mes- Assumes or mindsages reads

    Specifies GeneralizesExpresses Withholds thoughts

    thoughts and and feelingsfeelings

    Sends congruent Sends incongruentmessages messages

    2. Emotional tone of communicationEngaging WithdrawingSpontaneous ControlledFriendly Remote, hostileExpressive Depressed, sup-

    pressed, repressedReasonable IrrationalControlled ExplosiveGenuine PretendingSupportive Discounting

    3. Non-verbalcommunicationEye contact Avoidance of eye con-

    staring tactdartingflirtingconnecting

    Touching Non-touchingclingingaggressiveseductivedistractivesupportive

    Physical close- Physical distanceness

    4. Interactional patterns.Who speaks for whom?Who leads whom, who follows whom?

    Who allies with whom, against whom?Who seeks approval or disapproval from

    whom?Who rescues whom, from what or whom?Who attacks whom?

    5. Family rules.Who can disagree with whom? agree with

    whom?Who protects whom?Who participates? Who withdraws?Who can express what feelings? How?Who can be independent? dependent?Who can be different or separate?How do they decide?What is most important-following direc-

    tions or enjoying the activity?Questions to Process the Activity

    When the activity is completed or the allot-ted time for the activity is over, the therapistcan facilitate sharing the experience by askingquestions about leadership and participation.

    Who was the leader (boss)?Who picked him/her?Why did you (the leader) take the job?What do you like about being the leader/what

    don't you like?What do you like about being a follower/what don't you like?What did you do in the activity that you

    liked?What did you do that you didn't like?What would have happened if you didn't do

    it?What did someone else do that you liked/

    that you didn't like?If you had your way, how would have the ac-

    tivity have gone?The therapist can use this interaction to furtherassess what does and doesn't work for thefamily.

    In addition to being an assessment device,these activities and the questions about thefamily process encourage communication.Families who have particular difficulty in shar-ing their thoughts and feelings will begin tofeel hopeful, even if scared or threatened, to befinally talking to each other.Feedback to the FamilyAt the end of each session or series ofassessment sessions, the therapist can use

    82 FAMILY RELATIONS January1983

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    the information gathered from observing theactivities and the sharing following them togive feedback to the family. This diagnosiscan pinpoint problem areas and pave the wayfor strategic changes. For example, thetherapist can say, I noticed as you werebuilding your world with clay, there was noleader. Everyone worked alone. You didn't talkabout what your plan was. So your clay worldlooks like separate towns with no roadsleading in or out of them. When you talkedabout how you would like to have done the ac-tivity, you children said you wanted help toknow what to do; John, you said you wantedthe four of you to make one world; and Mary,you said you wanted to play with the clay morelike you remember doing in school. It seemsthat what your family wants is leadership, away to talk about what you want from and witheach other, and to have some fun together.Maybe you can begin by planning how to usethe clay to connect those towns.Communicating Feelings

    After assessing the family system in the firstfew sessions, one of the more common goalsis to have family members express how theyfeel in their family. The following activitiesallow young children and adults to share theirfeelings about their family:Activities to Promote Awareness of Feelings