bowen family systems therapy fieldsofknowledgeblog

Murray Bowen’s Passion

I recently wrote about Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory, and while reflecting on his professional achievements I began to marvel at the underlying story his work told.  I find that Bowen’s motivations for his personal and professional goals intertwined and, as a result, propelled him toward success.  I assert that his professional interest in helping families came from his personal observations of his own family of origin.

To me, Bowen epitomizes his own theory.  One of Bowen’s foundational thoughts was that individuals must acknowledge generational patterns and make necessary changes accordingly, in an effort to extinguish the transmission of foul patterns to present and future generations.  In true form, Bowen’s motivation was derived from his own family of origin issues, which provided him the determination to examine and rectify those issues.  In doing so he provided other families, outside of his own, the tools to do the same (in part due to his ability to construct and record the relevant information).  Though some have offered the opinion that portions of Bowen’s work are convoluted, his research and theory paved the way for academicians since their derivation.

I think of Bowen as a person whose passion for his work is reflected in his success.  To me his work speaks for itself, but it is in the light of his recipe for success that I believe he is a beacon for therapists.  Those associated with the helping professions (therapists and academicians alike) should be individuals who have a passion for their work.

In my opinion, passion associated with a therapist consists of several attributes, to include enthusiasm and excitement.  However, therapists with too much passion (better stated as an inappropriate level of passion) for their work may be pushed to make unethical decisions such as diagnosing for the purpose of treatment (concerning health insurance), creating unhealthy client/clinician relationships, or pressing for progression with clients while disregarding the nuances of the process of their particular approach.  Likewise, an academician or researcher may be able to use the extremes of passion to their advantage if the energy is properly harnessed.  But there is often a fine line between working hard at discovery and proving one’s own worth…between fertilizing a mind and molding it.  The progression of the field through theory and research often requires a person to cut against the grain or take a seemingly blind leap.  For these professionals, a heightened sense of passion can prove essential.

While this article is directed towards helping professionals, the points extend to any individual who may be on the journey of self-discovery.  We all from time to time ask ourselves, “Who am I?”   We all wonder about our own level of success and seek to discover purpose.

 

bowen family systems therapy fieldsofknowledgeblog

So I ask you to examine whether you have taken something personal and made it a profession, or simply allowed your profession to overshadow your person?  Are you determined, motivated, enthusiastic and excited about what you do?  Whether you are a Baby Boomer or a Millennial, despite the vast age difference, you are likely looking for significance.  You should look inside and outside.  You should look at the past and the future.  You may start by asking yourself what you have to offer and compare that with what the world around you needs.  Align your passion with your purpose and find the fulfillment you are searching for.

Jordache Williams

 

Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Advertisements

Bowen’s Family Systems Theory

Bowen Family Systems Theory

Bowen’s Family Systems Theory is centrally focused on families as an emotional unit within the context of nature.  Bowen systems theory serves as a guide for family therapy, and is moreover the cornerstone of family systems therapy.  Bowen’s theory is robust; however, there are several key concepts and assumptions that construct its framework.

One such concept is triangulation–the basic arrangement of all existing relationships—which specifies that the initial relationship is between two individuals, then, after an undetermined period of time, a third person is inevitably included.  The relationships between these three individuals will constantly shift, and one will consistently become the “outsider” of the triad and continue to push for change.  De-triangulation occurs when a member of the system is successful at differentiating herself from the emotional system and gains personal control over emotionality and reactivity.  This feat results in a sense of responsibility “to” the system as opposed to a responsibility “for” the system.

The primary focus of Bowen systems theory is the establishment of a differentiated self.  Bowen declares that for one to operate at their highest level of functioning in any relationship system, it is necessary that differentiation from the system be reached and maintained.  To function at a high level of differentiation, one must have well-resolved emotional attachments from previous family systems, not be dependent on reactivity from others in their relationships, and have the ability to remain objective regarding themselves as well as their current system involvement.  This concept is introduced to clients at the beginning of therapy in order for their treatment to be optimally received.

When reviewing such concepts as triangulation and differentiation, it is necessary to understand the fundamentals of relationship systems.  The nuclear family emotional system is the most basic of the relationship systems, and involves the parents and children only.  This is when triangulation and shifts in relationships have the potential to change most frequently, and have the most significant impact on the individuals involved.  The causes for the shifts in this system would most likely be from a persistent escalation of tension and anxiety within the system (i.e. between the parents, between a parent and child, or among the children), or the reactivity to significant events by the members of the system.

Concerning relationship systems, a key concept includes family projection which occurs within the nuclear family emotional system.  Bowen proposes that a parent—most often the mother—projects her emotions onto a child as a result of the tension and anxiety she is currently experiencing and absorbing from her other relationships.  The adaptive parent commonly becomes over-emotionally involved with one of the children, potentially leading to the child having differentiation issues and unresolved emotional attachments to this system as well as being prone to emotional cutoff from family.  This is typically the result of the parent attempting to anticipate any insecurities or issues they may have, wrongly diagnosing these issues, and then “fixing” the dilemma, which ultimately leads to the child developing a strong, unnecessary dependence on the parent for the resolution to the issue.

Furthermore, the ability to function at a high level of differentiation is pivotal when studying the multigenerational transmission process.  The multigenerational relationship patterns (positive and negative) exist when an individual enters new relationships with others who are functioning at a similar level of differentiation.  This behavior perpetuates the cycle of parents attempting to shape the child, the child responding to the parents’ anxiety level, and the establishment of a significant dependency on the emotional reactivity of others in their system.  Understanding the transmission of multigenerational patterns is a concept that Bowen placed at the forefront of his therapeutic approach.  He would have clients construct a genogram depicting not only their nuclear family, but also their extended family system in an attempt for them to objectively see the behavioral patterns among all of the individuals involved, as opposed to simply possessing an emotional response to their family issues.  When the children affected by the tensions of their nuclear family system become adults, and possible anxiety regarding their family of origin begin to surface, it is common to experience a negative emotional reaction and elect to completely separate themselves from the system.  These individuals are functioning at low levels of differentiation so they are unable to de-triangle from the system, and feel they are only left with the option of emotional cutoff.  By cutting themselves off they are leaving all of their emotional attachments unresolved, leaving them more likely to become overly dependent in other relationships; thus increasing the likelihood of significant levels of fusion—considerably lowering their functioning potential in the relationship.

A major factor in determining how each child in a nuclear family system absorbs tension and reacts to their parents’ anxiety is their birth order.  Sibling position is a determinant for certain characteristics that individuals gain during adolescence, and maintain throughout adulthood.  Bowen presented the concept that a first-born child may have a purposeful niche in the family.  It is likely that this child will absorb the most anxiety produced by the parents’ relationship (i.e. the child provides a new focus for the mother’s emotions; the child provides an excuse for the father to spend additional time at work, etc.).  The emotional responsibility of this child is so much more significant than that of his subsequent siblings, that although having been raised in the same household by the same parents, they will develop different personalities and characteristics.  For example, a first-born child will be more likely to develop a stronger leadership role, have more unresolved emotional attachments, and function at a lower level of differentiation; whereas, the middle and youngest children will have been exposed to less anxiety, may function at higher levels of differentiation, and experience less dependency in adult relationships.

In addition to the emotional system that individuals experience with their nuclear and extended family, Bowen suggested that there also exists the presence of a societal emotional process that individuals are involved in as well.  He emphasized that the current and future condition of society can have an effect on emotional systems.  For example, if society’s current state is regression, then additional anxiety is likely to arise in family systems, creating more tensions that may not be present in the system if society was in a more consistent state.

Aside from the major concepts of Bowen’s theory, there are several background concepts and assumptions that must be taken into consideration when studying the theory or applying it to the clinical environment.  The first of which is chronic anxiety.  According to Bowen, one of the primary ways to create a balanced and fulfilling relationship in an emotional system is to regulate chronic anxiety.  Chronic anxiety is a result of one’s emotional reaction to an imagined threat that has become sustained in the relationship, and has to potential to be detrimental to a relationship as one member will begin to disproportionally absorb the anxiety produced by the relationship.  They become the “adaptive” member of the system, which prevents an individual from functioning at a high level of differentiation due to their overfunctioning in the relationship—spending so much of their energy anticipating negative reactivity from the other members of the system that they are incapable of free-thinking or taking a desired objective position on the relationship.  As a result of being adaptive, social, mental, and physical symptoms may surface.  These symptoms can surface in the form of depression, avoidant behavior, and medical ailments ranging from the common cold to cancer, just to name a few.

In addition to chronic anxiety Bowen presents the idea that humans are innately driven by two basic forces in life:  individuality and togetherness.  He suggests that individuals naturally seek to feel a sense of belonging, whether in a general social or working environment, or in a relationship system.  This is his basis for introducing the concept of reactivity dependence, and that one who does not feel the desired belonging that they are searching for will develop an increasing dependency on the affirmation of their partner, and will continuously become more fused to that relationship.  Also, if an individual does not have a clearly defined self, they will consistently be in search of their individuality.  They will also seek relationships that cater to this aspect of themselves that they are lacking; most likely prematurely fleeing from their family of origin to do so.

Additionally, systems theory operates under the assumption that emotional systems are uncontrolled, and typically unconscious, reactions to events and situations experienced by humans.  Bowen makes a distinction between emotions and feelings, insisting that feelings are the conscious reactions that surface when beneath lies a significant emotional issue.  He also specifies that both feelings and emotions should be secondary to an individual’s objective perspective when observing their own relationship systems.  In conjunction, Bowen addresses the concept that one’s family is an emotional unit, inferring that any changes within any of the systems can result in an unconscious emotional reaction affecting the entire multigenerational unit.  This approach also assumes that any symptoms that develop in one individual can be a product of the anxiety absorbed from another part of the system, not just that individual’s nuclear family.

Jordache Williams

 

Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Adler the Conqueror

Alfred Adler Adlerian Theory

When investigating the theory of Alfred Adler, it is essential to consider the impact his childhood experiences had on his cognitive development, and consequently his work.  Adler’s life in Austria was plagued with traumatic events.  These conflicts, along with the multi-cultural surroundings, influenced his conceptual development of social interest.  Adler first went into practice as an ophthalmologist, later to become a psychiatrist.  For all the Thundercats (1985-89) fans out there, I suppose he graduated to “sight, beyond sight.”  At any course, he would eventually link up with Sigmund Freud as a member of a psychoanalytic circle.  He began to write psychoanalytical articles for journals; his views emphasized the subjectivity of perception and the importance of social factors more so than biological considerations.  He later broke away from Freud’s group, cementing the differences he and Freud held.  World War I impacted Adler as well, due to his service obligation, he had a first-hand view that confirmed his socialist perspectives.  Adler’s life experiences not only shaped his views of the world but were the crucible for his development of personality and psychotherapeutic theories and practices.

Kurt and Alexandra Adler continued their father’s (Alfred’s) work upon his death in 1937.  Though his children continued to make advancements and modifications to the work of their father, many of the influential contributors came prior to their generation.  One such influence was Immanuel Kant.  Adler developed, from Kant, a desire to aid individuals in acquiring practical knowledge of themselves and others.  Hans Vaihinger, another contributor to Adler’s developments, influenced Adler by way of the concept of “factionalism”.  Though Freud and Adler separated never to reconcile, Freud had a large impact on Adler’s developments as well.  Freud provided Adler with a basic framework that allowed Adler to develop his own ideas.  Adler was noted to have given credit to Freud for his emphasis on dreams and the unconscious.  However, due to Freud’s popularity in Europe and the United States, Adler was less productive at drawing attention in those places.  The American psychiatrist, Rudolf Dreikurs, was a heavy proponent for Adlerian theory.  Dreikurs was responsible for many innovations in the application of the theory, with additions such as the concept of multiple therapy and systematic analysis.  The influences and contributors to Adlerian therapy have been many.  Adlerians today continue to strive to guide the theory in new directions.

As imagined, with so many influences the Adlerian theory is multi-faceted and complex in nature but retains several key concepts.  Alder pulled from Vaihinger’s “factionalism” to develop the concept of “fictional goals.”  In this concept, fictions are considered to be ideas that are useful tools for individuals to deal with life’s realities.  The practice of using attitudes and values as truths aids humans’ interactions with each other on a day-to-day basis.  Adler as well as Friedrich Nietzsche (German philosopher) used the concept of “will to power.”  Adler took the concept in a different direction than Nietzsche in that Adler described “will to power” as humans attempt to gain competence.  Adler entangled the concept with his views on equality, as he opposed socialism by violence.

Adler did extensive study in personality though his views in this area are very broad and open.  He focused on the individual as a whole as well as individuals interactions with society.  His theory uses the individual’s style of life to evaluate the coping mechanisms they use when faced with adversity.  He also breaks social interest into three stages: aptitude, ability and secondary dynamic characteristics.  Tied to Adler’s theory of personality are the concepts of inferiority/superiority and birth order.  The concepts of therapy and counseling, as pertains to Adlerians, directly affect the impact of goals on treatment.  The therapeutic relationship is valued by Adlerians; they believe the goals of the patient and therapist must be synonymous.  Adlerians begin assessments at the commencement of the client relationship and continue those evaluations as the relationship builds.  During assessment the therapist chooses key timing to integrate interpretations and insight leading the client to a phase of reorientation.  Adlerians’ pragmatic approach to psychotherapy can be seen through their interactions with individuals suffering from psychological disorders.  Vivid examples of the approach are seen through Adlerians work with depression, eating disorders and borderline disorders. Within these processes, Adlerians assess the disorder and seek to ameliorate the affects the disorder has on the individual.  Almost as an ode to Adler, Adlerians believe disorders stem from personality conflicts that occurred early in life.  These key concepts of the Adlerian theory have been refined over time and continue to be developed today.  The strong framework set by Adler has given current Adlerians a firm foundation that is sure to have an impact on psychotherapy for generations to come.

I credit much of Adler’s success to his trials in childhood.  He displayed a strong will and work ethic, which should be revered by all.  It is my belief that individuals will be rewarded for their efforts to aid society, despite and in many cases as a result of, the challenges and adversities they may face along the way.  Adler had thoughts of his own regarding this subject as he believed individuals have a responsibility to function in society.  He surmised all individuals will face challenges, and it is essential that they learn to cope with these challenges and continue to seek success for individual accomplishment as well as societal enrichment.  Adler embraced choice and responsibility, which are directly inline with my beliefs.  Though certain factors in the early stages of life influence the development of each individual, they retain the responsibility to make ethical decisions.  Adler showed respect for human responsibility, individuality and capacity to change.  These concepts have essentially been the theme for American society for the past decade, and while we are often so busy trying to get ahead by moving forward, the best explanations may very well be history.

For more about Adler and his work, I suggest Understanding Life: An Introduction to the Psychology of Alfred Adler, one of the modern translations of Adler’s work by (Adlerian) Colin Brett.

Jordache Williams

 

Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

The Racial Identification Development Model (R/CID)

The purpose of the Racial/Cultural Identification Development model is for therapists to provide the foundation for an individual of a specific culture to positively progress toward their own cultural identity.  The desired end state being that they foster an appreciation for their own cultural lineage while developing their own personal set of beliefs and values.  Clinicians use the R/CID model to distinguish a client’s current stage of cultural identity, and then provide objectives and guidance that the client can use throughout their journey to understanding and accepting their own culture and evolving their personal identity within their culture.

The stages of the model are comprised of the conformity, dissonance, resistance and immersion, introspection, and integrative awareness stages.  The series of stages represent every possible mindset of an individual from the extreme negative to the final acceptance and appreciation of one’s culture.  In the case of African Americans, extremes of their cultural views would include either a complete disregard or shunning of their minority culture, or the opposite, in which they would display a total unacceptance of the majority (White) culture, displaying a significant level of racism toward the majority culture members.  The stages are definitive, and the ideal is for an individual to progress through them; however, it is not required that an individual be in the first stage before they can begin their advancement toward the desired end state.

Although the first stage of the R/CID is the conformity stage, it is not necessary for an individual to be present in this stage to seek and proceed with therapy.  This stage is identifiable in a person by their overt rejection of their own culture.  This occurs by the individual attempting to adopt and uplift the values of White culture, while simultaneously demeaning the value system of their cultural group.  African Americans would depict their presence in the conformity stage by their attitudes regarding themselves.

In my personal life, I have witnessed quite a few instances of this; most notably was a twenty-four year old African American friend of mine who harbored a hatred of all people and things attributed to be African American related.  He was also excessive in his acceptance of all things related to White culture.  He would only wear clothing brands typically associated with Whites, only date White or Asian females, and refused to have any African American friends; and this type of behavior is common in African Americans who are present in this stage.

As an individual, an African American would adopt White cultural aspects such as mannerisms, speech pattern, dress, and goals in an attempt to not only mimic these attributes, but also to make themselves more attractive to the members of the dominant culture.  If their individual “acceptance” is gained, then they can prove to the other members of their minority group that they are “better” than they are.  In this stage, an individual’s perceptions involving the other members of their minority group would include their overall shunning of these persons as they operate on the views of the majority culture.

African Americans, in this instance, would view themselves as the exceptions of their racial group.  To them, they supersede any African American typecasts because they hold differing views than the other group members.  For example, a college-educated, employed black male would hold himself in a higher regard than other members of his group because he is not “lazy, ignorant, unemployed and criminal.”  They would view the members of other minority groups a similar way—as if he were in the majority culture.  In the conformity stage, a minority individual would either rank other minority groups on oppression level, or view them all as equally “below” him.  For instance, an African American’s thought process may be that he is in competition with an Asian American individual to gain majority approval because, “White’s already know an Asian is smart.”  Finally, persons functioning in the conformity stage view the majority group as the ideal culture.  They hold the majority culture in a superior light, and view full acculturation to the majority group as his or her ultimate achievement.

The stage of dissonance is defined by just that, a period of time in which a previously conforming individual is now faced with a disagreement between his or her self-concept and the attitudes of his culture.  It is typical for an event to delegate one’s shift from the conforming stage to the dissonance stage, and this event usually appears in the form of overt racism or discrimination.  An African American male in a professional environment could be participating in a work-related event among White individuals he perceives to be his equal colleagues, and while at the event could be faced with a discriminatory comment (aimed at him) that could immediately begin to alter his views regarding his place in his minority culture group.

In this stage, one’s views regarding themselves would entail a great deal of questioning in reference to why they even desired to be acculturated into White culture since there are clearly aspects of it that are not as positive as they once thought.  Their attitudes towards members of their minority group will begin to take the form of acceptance, and the realization that their views are not as negative as they previously perceived.  It is likely that this individual would experience shame and regret at the thought of their repelling all of their minority group’s values, simply to adopt all White culture ideals.  Their views regarding other minority groups would shift as well, although not as significantly as it would among their own minority group; however, this individual would gain a new sense of acceptance among other minority groups.

Another significant change would be the one between the individual and how they now view the majority culture.  This adjustment would surface in the form of the depreciating value of the majority culture’s ideals.  The dissonant individual now realizes that they were never completely accepted as a member of the majority culture, and that race remains to be a contributor of discrimination, no matter how educated or accomplished the minority culture individual may be.

Resistance and Immersion is the next stage in the sequence.  While in this stage, it is noted that individuals experience a strong gravitation toward their minority culture and begin to dissolve any connection to their previously upheld views of, in this case, White culture.   The individual also dissipates any validity of the majority culture.  The person’s guilt and shame surface as they understand their role of oppressive enabler of the majority culture.  Their reflective attitude regarding their personal role encourages them to begin to seek knowledge regarding their own culture with ferocity.  And by obtaining this new knowledge base, these individuals increasingly experience a sense of pride for their own cultural group.  Their opinions regarding their same minority group shifts in the sense that they now focus on unraveling previous doubts and identifying a sense of connectedness among its members.  This begins the process of upholding their own cultural group’s values as opposed to the majority group.  Among other minority groups, individuals in the resistance and immersion stage begin to seek similarities within the other groups, typically in the form of joining together in a united front with opposition of the racism and oppression exhibited by the majority culture.  For example, African Americans may seek out likenesses between themselves and Hispanics, attempting to forge relationships based on the commonality that they have both experienced a great deal of discrimination from White America.  Their views toward the majority group change significantly in that distrust, anger, and disdain emerge as the individual reasons that the source of discrimination lies in White culture.  Henceforth, the individual vows to function in total opposition to majority culture.

The therapist attempts to guide persons in the Resistance and Immersion stage toward understanding their own functionality, emotionality, and level of differentiation.  This is achieved, in part, by the therapist aiding the individual with creating their own objectives and ideals.  Once this framework is established, one can transition into the Introspection stage.  It is during this stage that a minority individual acknowledges that the energies they have been delegating towards being angry and distrustful of the majority group are futile.  They begin to understand that these emotions are a hindrance to the efforts that could be allocated toward gaining knowledge regarding their own cultural group.  It is during this stage that individuals aspire to create their own autonomy, and are discouraged from defining themselves based specifically on a cultural group.  Their attitude toward their own cultural group changes in that they begin to understand that total immersion or resistance to a certain group may not be the appropriated route.

While gaining a more neutral position, the individual’s allegiance to his own group will begin being questioned by its members.  The introspective person will understand the importance of gaining knowledge regarding other minority groups.  It is in this stage that their focus will not be on oppressive likenesses, but instead will be on the differences.  The individual will be interested to learn more about other minority groups’ discriminatory experiences.  For the African American, the attitude toward White culture would still remain greatly underdeveloped.  In the introspective stage, the individuals are continually seeking more information to validate their acceptance of any White values.  Their disdain for White culture dissipates to form a more curious, knowledge-seeking, and general questioning of the reason for many of the ideals that White culture upholds.

In the final stage of the R/CID model the minority group individual has progressed significantly toward establishing his or her own autonomy within their cultural group, as well as in relation to the majority culture.  In this Integrative Awareness stage the individual possess the ability to identify the benefits as well as disadvantages of the ideals of the majority culture, without concentrating on solely the oppression aspect of, in this instance, White society.  They harbor no discourse with their own minority culture, nor do they hold any disconcerting feelings toward the overall values of the majority culture.  From this point forward, the individual possesses an increasingly strong feeling of empathy toward the cultural group in which they belong, as they have absorbed it’s belonging values and delineated which values they choose not to abide by, without the feeling of discouragement that they are not all-absorbed in the entirety of the culture.  Individuals in the Integrative Awareness stage tend to welcome forging relationships among other minority cultures.  Adhering to the mindset of multicultural awareness, they continue the aspiration to obtain more knowledge regarding other minority cultures as well as the oppression experienced by each group.  They have also evolved into an appreciation of the positive aspects of the majority culture, and have created an inviting attitude toward understanding and identifying with individuals in that culture.  This stage involves finding the likenesses and benefits of multiple aspects of the majority culture.

The potential implications for clinicians involved in using the Racial/Cultural Identity Development model includes the unpredictability regarding when a client is actively transitioning from one stage to the next.  In this light, it is difficult to understand or estimate when a client is emotionally and psychologically prepared to advance from one stage to the next.  This is when the importance of cultural competence and the therapist-client relationship peaks.  When the therapist is functioning at a high level of cultural competence, there is an increased likelihood that the client’s transition between stages becomes seamless.  As the therapist increases his or her own awareness they can identify the client’s culturally objective status, and then proceed to guide them throughout their next transition fluidly.

Jordache Williams

 

Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

 

 

Looking for Racial Identity: An Interview with Mary White

Utilizing the Helms White Racial Identity Model created by Janet Helms, the following description of Mary White (pseudonym) is based on the observation of verbal and nonverbal cues from an interview with Mary conducted in the fall of 2011.  Mary White is a 32-year-old, Caucasian American, divorcee with no children.  Keeping in mind the six statuses as proposed by Janet Helms, the interview with Mary set-out to discern her racial identity and attitudes to include her biases, prejudices, conflicts, tolerance, etc.

Mary was an extremely willing participant of the racial identity interview.  Her interest in the interview was shown through her expression as Mary immediately displayed a certain confidence of which I initially could not discern the reasoning.  This confidence, however, was the first of several cues that eventually led to my description of Mary’s identity.  Quickly identifying herself as a White American she explained an abbreviated version of her life history—growing up in South Carolina to a White mother and father and having a “pretty normal, average life.”  She was taught that all people were “equal” and, despite ever feeling that she experienced racism, did acknowledge that it exists.  Through her teen years her contact with races other than her own was limited to casual encounters in public places and exposure through media.  Mary claimed that there were a total of 3 Black people and “maybe ten or so” Hispanics that attended her school (K-12).  She recalls that one of the Black persons who attended her school was an athletic female who came to the school in tenth grade and happened to be in Mary’s class until graduation.  Mary remembered this individual as friendly and when asked about her relationship with the individual stated, “I would consider us to have been friends.  We never really hung out exclusively, but I’d say we were friends.  We held small talk… about to the degree that I had with most of my classmates vice my real good friends.”  She admitted to never having a “real” interest in dating a non-White person, but only considered her lack of interest to be a result of a lack of commonality and physical attraction.  “It’s not that I wouldn’t or won’t date a Black man, it’s just that I don’t typically find them to be attractive.  I have yet to really meet a person of another race that has similar interests as me.  Additionally, I don’t even think I was introduced to a non-White male my age until after I was married.”  I concluded this topic of conversation by asking Mary her opinion concerning interracial dating/marriages.  Shrugging her shoulders, she retorted that the idea doesn’t bother her at all, stating, “it’s really up to the people involved, it’s really none of my business… whatever makes a person happy.”  At this point I had already identified Mary’s Contact Status as well as noticed certain mild characteristics of disintegration.

As the interview progressed, I moved towards probing into Mary’s marriage.  Mary claimed to be “a little shy in school when it came to interacting with boys.”  She remained “single” until she started dating John during her senior year of high school (John was a junior at that time).  John was white and shared similar interests as Mary.  In fact, Mary and John had known each other since John came to Mary’s school a year earlier, as they were members of the girls’ and boys’ tennis teams respectively.  Mary explained that she and John rarely discussed race, but she had always assumed their view of the subject was similar.  She did always notice that, in casual conversation, when John described an individual of another race he always included the person’s race in the description of the person.  Mary said that this cognitive inclusion stood out to her because she felt she rarely ever did that herself.  Mary claimed that her own exclusion of race as a descriptive measure was not purposeful; “it’s just the way I’ve always been” she exclaimed.  It appeared that even at 32-years-old, and despite claiming to acknowledge racism, Mary had not moved into the statuses of Pseudo-Independence, Immersion/Emersion nor Autonomy as described by Helms.

Mary’s relationship and five-year marriage ended with John eight years ago when she was 24-years-old.  She feels that the marriage “fell apart because they had tried hard to have a child with no luck and he (John) had gotten really involved with his job.”  She explained that John claimed they “had grown apart over the years,” whereas her mother claimed that she and John “married too young.”  Since that time, Mary has dated “a few men.”  Not to my surprise, none of these dates were with a person of a non-White race.  Despite her persistence with dating men of her own race, her interaction with members of various races had increased over the last ten or so years.  This increase in interaction began when she attended college, where she saw “several people of a variety of races around campus.”  However, having been married at the time, she commuted to college and only attended classes.  “In general, I only interacted with classmates and that interaction was typically mandated by group projects,” explained Mary.  Mary has worked at her local community bank since college.  She works with mostly white females; however, there is one White male and two Black females who currently work with her in the bank.  Mary claims that “most of our customers are White, but there are people of every race that come to the bank nearly every day.”  It was at this point that I was concerned that, despite Mary’s excitement with participating in the interview, it seemed her state of oblivion limited a complex dissertation regarding her Racial Identity.  Despite my concern, however, it was also during this stage of the interview that the quality of Mary’s racial socialization became evident.

Considering Mary’s limited interaction with non-White races, I began more deliberate questioning regarding her understanding and knowledge of races and, in particular, racism.  Her basic stand on racism was that “slavery was a long time ago but it’s evident that not everyone feels that all races are equal.”  As she continued to claim her own acceptance of all races, she attempted to vet her declaration by stating that she studied about racism in both high school and college.  She experienced classroom debates that often created a great deal of emotion in various classmates.  During these debates she felt a bit removed from emotionality, and Mary was often standoffish in such class discussions.  When asked to explain her opinion of reparations, Mary said, “I know it causes a lot of debate.  Even at my job I’ve heard that the management has to have minorities on the staff.  I don’t really care who I work with as long as they are proficient.”  When I asked her if she had ever heard of anyone being hired simply because they were a member of a minority race despite interviewing against White’s who were more qualified, she said she doesn’t really think that happens.  Mary maintained a naïve attitude regarding the reality of the current level of prejudice and racism present in society.  Despite her potential for Autonomy, being generally knowledgeable of the historical context of racial issues, Mary maintained a very selective perception.  For example, she acknowledged no reason for herself or society to “help non-White races any more than Whites”, showed little vigilance for Immersion/Emersion and was overall inflexible, denying herself the attainment of Autonomy.  In general terms, I concluded that Mary was suspended in the Contact Status.  Despite being knowledgeable of racism, she remained oblivious to and unaware of racism in today’s society.  She explained how she felt as if she was “a fair and impartial person” in regard to race, and claimed that to her “race is not important.”

In conclusion, through the interview with Mary White I was reminded of the various degrees to which persons in society are truly unaware of the issues of racism that exists today.  It is my assertion that with Mary, her life experiences (or lack of) have weighed much heavier in the determination of her Racial Identity than any influence of media, education or publication.  For some people, even direct experiences with racism may remain unacknowledged despite a general knowledge of the subject.  In summation, Mary seemed to be a person who had inadvertently been successful at abandoning racism; however, she lacked any significant development of a nonracist White identity.  In layman’s terms, Mary’s interview suggested she was “obliviously non-racist.”  Due to Mary’s obliviousness to racial dynamics, it proved difficult to assess her methods for coping with such dynamics (thus challenging to assess any status other than Contact), yet Mary in turn was the quintessential reference for the Contact Status.

References

Helms, J.E. (1997). Implications of Behrens for the validity of the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 44, 13-16.

Helms, J.E. (1999). Another meta-analysis of the White Racial Identity Attitude Scale.  Measurement and Evaluations in Counseling and Guidance, 32, 122-137.

Helms, J.E. & Carter, R.T. (1991). Relationships of White and Black racial identity attitudes and demographic similarity to counselor preferences. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, 446-457.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache Williams

Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Therapists Differ and so do Their Approaches

In the most basic sense, therapy is a form of treatment for disorders.  However, not every person that seeks therapy meets the full criteria for a clinical diagnosis, thus therapists are often engaging a client regarding presenting problems.  These issues may or may not lead to diagnosis, but more often than not, are affecting the individual’s overall functionality.  So, while you as a client may feel that you need therapy, understand that you may not be receiving treatment for a disorder. In many cases, at the request of the client, therapists seek to assist the client with restoring or increasing the client’s level of functionality (often recognized by the client as balance, happiness, meaning or fulfillment).  This process typically includes a clinical assessment of the client’s level of functionality, and a determination on whether or not the client’s thoughts or actions meet the criteria for diagnosis.

In order to provide therapeutic assistance, therapists use their experience and expertise, which may be derived from a variety of tools, techniques, theories and models.  Because of the vastness of the research, experiments and studies that have occurred over time, there are an abundance of valid (proven) approaches to therapy that may be chosen by a given practitioner.  While there is no identified “best” approach to therapy, the client’s situation and the therapist’s competence play a large role in determining which model the therapeutic engagement will follow.  If you are interested in seeking therapy, it may prove helpful to understand what specialties potential therapists claim, as well as what approach(es) to therapy they practice.  Below is a comparative look at a few popular therapeutic models.

Reality Group Therapy versus Structural Family Therapy

While applying the Reality Group Therapy method, the therapist focuses on the individual’s control of their behaviors.  The clinician aides the client in performing a self-evaluation in which they identify the quality of their behaviors, then determines what the contributors of their failures are.  The therapist’s role is to guide the client through the process of developing a plan of action to eliminate these behaviors, and then hold them accountable throughout the execution of the devised plan by confronting them and identifying any possible deterrents or reasons for any incapability of completing the plan.  The therapist and client work closely together to formulate the plan of action for the client to modify the behaviors causing their negative emotions in order to reach the desired outcome.  Whereas, in Structural Family Therapy, the therapist emphasizes the dysfunctions of the family as opposed to strictly the individual’s control of the issues.  Abiding by the Structural approach limits the therapist’s overall involvement as he is not used to establish intensive reparative for the family members, but to simply outline the framework, develop the foundation for reframing, and then encourage the family to continue a positive progression of growth.  The Structural therapist’s role is to be an active agent in the process of restructuring the family, emphasize clear boundaries, facilitate the unearthing of hidden family conflicts and then outline the manner in which the family can modify them.

Person-Centered Therapy versus Strategic Family Therapy

The Person-Centered therapist is one who is congruent, removing all sense of authority and de-masking of professionalism.  To be an effective Person-Centered therapist, it entails revealing personal information if it is an accelerant to the progression of therapy.  Typically therapists have the general understanding of the limitations when involving self-disclosure; however, in Person-Centered therapy the clinician is transparent.  Person-Centered therapy is client-guided as they explore their life experiences, and with the aid of the therapist, analyze their history and the result is the client resolving their own issues.  In this approach, it is vital for the therapist to exude unconditional positive regard, providing no criticism, guidance for behavior, or discouraging them from any behaviors.  In opposition, Strategic Family Theory requires the therapist to employ guidelines and directives, no matter how ambiguous.  The Strategic therapist pays extreme attention to detail and accepts only the positive, whereas the Person-Centered therapist must accept all aspects of the client—positive as well as negative.  Therapists abiding by the Strategic approach also develop a distinct outline for treatment involving defining the problem, investigating all solutions, defining clear change to achieve, and formulating strategy for change.

Rational Emotive Group Therapy versus Psychodynamic/Bowenian Family Therapy

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy contends that individual’s belief systems are responsible for emotional consequences.  In theory, a client’s irrational beliefs could be effectively refuted by challenging them rationally and inevitably reducing the conflict.  In a group setting, the therapist takes a lead role in attempting to change the minds of the clients.  The therapist can accomplish this without fostering a “warm” relationship with the clients.  In a group setting, there is potential for judgments to be made of group members by other members of the group, which may prove of benefit or detriment to the therapeutic experience.  Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy holds that humans have the equal potential to be rational or irrational, and both preserving and destructive.  Therapists must promote clients to confront their behaviors as well as accept their faults.   Additionally, Rational Emotive Behavior therapists claim that it is possible to assist clients with changing their behaviors as a means to restructure their way of thinking.  In this light, the therapist must continue to encourage self-discipline as well as self-direction.  The primary similarity between Rational Emotive Behavior therapists and Psychodynamic therapists is that the principle focus of both is essentially for the client to reach full self-reliance, and operate at a high level of differentiation by exploring and developing their own autonomy.  The Psychodynamic therapist accomplishes this not through confrontation, but through examining the client’s family of origin, constructing and dissecting a multigenerational diagram, and guiding the client to remove emotionality from their family system and begin approaching it from an objective approach in order to identify its highest level of functionality.

Because these comparisons are very general it may prove helpful to conduct further research regarding any approaches that are of interest.  Additionally, understand that there are a multitude of other approaches to therapy as well and the best interpretation for you to have regarding any approach is the interpretation used by your therapist.  Understand that even though some therapist’s practices are based on the same principals, each therapist will inevitably approach therapy in their own manner.  This is to say that just because a certain therapy model was unsuccessful in the past with a specific therapist, you should not necessarily avoid seeking help from others utilizing a similar approach.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Play Nice or Tell it Straight

Imagine that your employer always has nice comments to share with you about your work.  Sounds great, right?  You feel as though you must be doing a great job and you’ll certainly get a large bonus at the end of the year.

However, when the end of the year comes, others are getting promoted and you are not.  Others receive large bonuses…you do not.  You’re either broken or angry, but mostly confused.  You begin conjuring up conspiracy theories and may even begin looking for a new job.

While there are a multitude of possible reasons for this conundrum, it may boil down to a basic difference between you and your employer—that difference being the understanding of affirmation.  Your boss may be trying to empower you through affirmation, while you interpret her actions as confirmation.  Although her positive comments were meant to encourage you to excel, your interpretation led you to remain consistent.  To you, your complacency is holding you steady at A+ work, while your boss C’s you differently.

The reality is that individuals are different and, for one to truly impact another in an intended way, there has to be a certain level of understanding.  Sometimes people need to be told, with #nofilter, what they need to do, how they could improve and about their weaknesses.  Others need encouragement and positive words as motivation for reaching their potential.  Some need both.

Here are two models of group therapy, which help illustrate the utility of both approaches.

Person-Centered Therapy involves a self-directed evolution towards an individual’s full potential.  In a group setting, the group members dictate not only who the therapist is, but also control the nature of the session(s) as well as set their own individual and group goals.

The members of the group are responsible for monitoring their own progress and the progress of the group.  The therapist’s role consist of providing an empathetic and trusting environment.  The therapist must remain adaptive to the shifts in the group’s norms, and have the ability to evaluate group and individual progress without being intrusive or judgmental.

Additionally, the therapist must accurately perceive the groups’ meanings and feelings while consistently employing unconditional positive regard.  The Person-Centered approach claims that, through trust and genuineness, a therapist can inevitably improve a client’s self-concept and behavior.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy contends that individual’s belief systems are responsible for emotional consequences.  In theory, a client’s irrational beliefs could be effectively refuted by challenging them rationally, inevitably reducing the conflict.  In a group setting, the therapist takes a lead role in attempting to change the minds of the clients; the therapist can accomplish this without fostering a “warm” relationship with the clients.

Within groups, there is potential for judgments to be made of group members by other members of the group, which may prove of benefit or detriment to the therapeutic experience.  Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy holds that humans have the equal potential to be rational or irrational and both preserving and destructive.  Therapists must promote clients to confront their behaviors as well as accept their faults.   Additionally, Rational Emotive Behavior therapists claim that it is possible to assist clients with changing their behaviors as a means to restructuring their way of thinking.  In this light, the therapist must continue to encourage self-discipline as well as self-direction.

_____

The tried and true good cop, bad cop technique works, in part, because it addresses the spectrum of individuals discussed herein.  In this light, leaders, therapists and supervisors are oftentimes able to best serve more individuals when they understand the dynamics and exercise balance.

In this effort, it is necessary to understand how individuals perceive criticism, even constructive criticism.  It is also incumbent for you to understand how your personal attempts at either are perceived.  While an individual may confide in you that they enjoy or need constructive criticism, they may hold a different definition of such than you.

Understanding what triggers or prompts you as an individual towards progression is critical to your individual development but is also telling of how you may elect to treat others.  You cannot always rely on others to direct you, as in some instances they will fail.  Not necessarily because they don’t care, but perhaps because they don’t truly understand you.  Likewise, when you begin to understand how you prefer to receive information, you will also gain perspective regarding how you give it.

Reverting back to the opening scenario, emotional support and encouragement from leaders can be a benefit to the overall performance of those being led.  In this light, the employer hasn’t necessarily done anything wrong.  A clear understanding of goals and expectations, as well as continual evaluation of the progression towards those goals can complement such affirmation.

In many environments, such as in sports and within the workplace, leaders are under a certain amount of internal and external pressures often challenging their own reserve.  Therapists and counselors are typically at an advantage because they are trained and educated on empathy, and should be well-versed concerning dealing with their own pressures as well.

Helping professionals may choose to assist clients’ progress towards goals the clients set themselves.  Another lesson here is that individuals who are not internally motivated towards a goal may present a greater challenge than those who are.  Regardless of your role or environment, in most instances it’s best to ask the tough questions and find a nice way to tell it straight.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Systemic Thinking versus Linear Thinking

Systemic thinking versus linear thinking

The distinguishing difference between systemic thinking and its linear counterpart is the basis on which each is derived, which is causality.  Linear causality takes a direct approach and is more scientifically driven with its emphasis on cause and effect.  This school of thought encourages the idea that one’s behavior results in an effect on either that individual or another closely related (i.e. nuclear family members).  Systemic thinking occurs at the opposite end of the therapeutic spectrum.  The primary concept for which systemic thinking is centered is that of circular causality.  Circular causality is in fact the antithesis of linear causality in that an individual’s behavior is not only the result of one relationship or event, but also the result of all emotional relationships with one’s system.  The basic cycle is that the functionality of the system has an affect on one individual, then that individual’s emotionality and behavior then has an affect on the system.  The systemic approach also takes into consideration the broad variety of possibilities for a client’s functionality—familial relationships, nodal events, social happenings, etc.  This is a predominant reason that, therapeutically, systemic thinking seems to be more beneficial as it is holistic, as opposed to the idea of simply treating one behavioral or psychological issue.  Also, by involving a client’s family of origin—whether present during therapy sessions or by dissecting a genogram—clinicians are able to aid the client in understanding the origin of the issue, how it has been perpetuated, and then properly guide the client through treatment allowing them to be objective in their system.  This results in a lesser likelihood of continuing or creating multi-generational patterns of behavioral or psychological issues.

So, how is the systemic approach applied to families? And how is it different from individual therapy?

When adhering to the avenue of systemic therapy, the clinician must tailor his therapeutic approach to an individual’s family, not simply the individual.  Commonly family systems therapists will have the client create a genogram depicting not only the individual’s family of origin, but also several generations of his or her familial lineage in order for them to begin to grasp the possible origin of their issue, as well as to signify any multi-generational behavioral patterns.  For example, after studying one’s genogram, it may become apparent that the client’s behavior could be attributed to the role one of their parents held in their own family of origin.  For instance, the client has developed an alcohol dependency to aid in coping with his mother’s deteriorating health.  The client’s mother was the oldest of five children in a family where both parents were alcoholics.  The inability of her parents to fulfill their parental roles left her as the primary caregiver.  She now has a husband who spends a great deal of time traveling for his employer, as well as four children of her own.  Again, being the primary caregiver in her home has inevitably resulted in her absorption of familial anxiety and has recently begun developing symptoms causing her health to rapidly decline.  This results in her child—who has a significant dependence on her—being unable to operate at a high level of differentiation, thus developing a substance abuse problem.  By the therapist uncovering this information, the client’s family of origin can now become involved in therapy to promote positive change in the entire family system.  Whereas, in individual therapy, the client may have solely been treated for the alcohol dependency, preventing the potential for an overall positive adjustment for the system, as well as increasing his risk for relapse as his level of differentiation has not been improved.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

Therapy Models That Work

Atlas Concepts LLC_Fields of Knowledge Blog_Therapy ModelsDespite a therapists’ ability to categorize issues, disorders and presenting problems, it is largely agreeable that all clients are unique. There are a plethora of reasons why a therapist may seek to gain familiarity with a specific therapeutic approach. Sometimes that reason is based simply on the therapists’ effort to best serve a local service population.

Herein are a few examples of how various therapeutic models may be used in particular instances. If you find yourself working with clients whose presenting problems are similar to the issues described in the examples, it may be beneficial to take some time to learn a little more about the model presented in that example.

Several approaches to therapy are very broad-based and may be used in a variety of contexts. It is possible for a therapist to become comfortable in such an approach, most likely because it works. Yet it is critical to understand that it is your responsibility as a helping professional to continually educate and professionally develop yourself.

The most basic benefit of researching other approaches is to build your knowledge-base.

However, through new understandings you are actually afforded opportunities to increase your level of experience. This process enables you to become a better therapist…efficiency via competence. While you don’t necessarily need to change your “style”, a new tool or technique may come in handy. Perhaps, take a look at some of the “classics” for inspiration…

A husband and wife are unable to agree on how to discipline their two small children. The wife grew up in a family where there was violence and child abuse. The husband’s father had a very demanding job and his mother was socially engaged.

Due to the distinct family of origin issues described, Bowen Family Therapy may be a viable approach to assist this family.

Using Bowen therapy, both parents should be assessed to discern if they have a healthy level of differentiation. Because they are having difficulty disciplining their children (a process in which the children are likely involved), they may run the risk of perpetuating the lineage of negative multigenerational transmissions. The conflict between the parents in regard to disciplining the children can result in triangulation as well as cutoffs.

In addition, because there are two children involved, therapy may include dealing with sibling position; in the event that this concept is budding while the children are “small” it would be prudent to address the issue in a timely manner.

Having the parents construct a genogram of their respective family of origin may prove helpful in a reasonably short amount of time. Through assisting these clients in dealing with unresolved issues, I believe that they would also find the disciplining of their children more agreeable and, in effect, they would be empowered to control their family’s multigenerational patterns.

An 8-year old girl has been wetting her bed for the last four weeks. Her parents began to argue frequently several months ago concerning the family budget. They are both frustrated by the bed wetting and desire an immediate solution.

Behavioral Family Therapy has its origin in parent’s modification of children’s actions. Not only does it appear at a glance that the parent’s discourse is responsible for the child’s bed wetting, but it seems that they have a problem with it as well. The parents need to know that they harness the ability to foster an environment for change, and, through training and empowering the parents, the therapist can allow the parents to take credit for working together to resolve the bed wetting issue.

By simply defining the problem behavior and then explaining the behavioral patterns to the parents, both the therapist and parents can monitor that behavior and as well monitor the child’s bed wetting habit as a means of marking progress.

It is foremost irrational that the parents believe that their child’s behavior can stop immediately; however, when concentrating on the dyadic parent relationship they will find that the family in its entirety will benefit.

A 12-year-old boy began displaying temper tantrums around the time his divorced mother announced she was going to remarry. She and her new husband are having a difficult time dealing with the situation.

One may lean upon the experiences of Minuchin (Structural Therapy) to assist the family in this scenario. By observing the patterns in this family, the therapist would hope to gain knowledge of the family’s structure. As well, it may be important to determine what may be different about the family structure once the mother remarried.

It is apparent that the divorce and second marriage were stressful times for the child. The child’s outcry could be in part due to the demolition of a coalition with his father. Though the family underwent a marital (or legal) restructuring, it may be necessary to restructure the “living” system in an effort to make the family stronger.

It may be plausible to address any incumbent boundaries caused by the marital shift. Due to the new “executive” system that is in place, it is necessary to evaluate the cohesion of that system and examine any residual effects. Additionally, this parental union may have to be alerted of the signs of triangulation as well as the methods for its avoidance.

The structural approach involves the technique of reframing, which can also be useful in assisting the child with coping with his “fits”. In short, there is a basic need for this family to redefine its boundaries to deal with the relevant stage of development. If appropriately applied, the Structural Approach may prove to be of assistance to this family.

A 34-year old female physician began getting anxious in elevators about 7 months ago. She became progressively more anxious in a variety of situations. Now she cannot cross bridges or go out to crowded places.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, having roots in the social learning theory, would be a solid approach to this scenario. Cognitive restructuring may be a beneficial technique to accomplish modifying the client’s behaviors.

It is plausible that the client is dealing with issues regarding her beliefs and reasoning in a fashion that has affected her behavior. Through desensitization the client may be able to overcome the unnecessary anxiety that is associated with the situations described in the vignette.

By enhancing the client’s problem-solving and behavior-change skills she may be empowered to overcome her anxiety through a self-renown confidence. Additionally, a specific technique such as shaping could be employed, as it appears that the client has reached an extreme level of anxiety. It may require the client to take gradual steps towards such goals as crossing bridges and going into crowded places before she can achieve these feats.

A 43-year old male, recently unhappy with his career, sees himself as a failure and has begun to isolate himself because of a lack of confidence.

In dealing with this man’s career issue, one may employ the Strategic approach. In the vignette there is a clear problem that needs to be resolved or removed. It is beneficial to begin by defining the problem and then moving towards evaluating what the client has done to fix the issue.

By defining the necessary change and implementing a strategy for achieving that change, the client could be propelled to a more virtuous cycle. Additionally, the client could benefit from the reframing techniques practiced in Strategic Therapy.

By emphasizing positives and assisting the client through encouragement and direction, he may also begin to see his career in a different light. It seems the issue is rooted in his malcontent with his employment. In this instance I believe the lack of confidence may be a residual effect of his job situation. However, through combating his isolation through actions, he may be able to perpetuate his own confidence and gain a new awareness of his ability to acquire a job that may be more conducive to his happiness.

Another way the Strategic Approach may prove helpful is by utilizing the ordeals technique; in this instance the client may discard his isolated ways as he realizes that this behavior is not constructive.

A 24-year old male who is high functioning with no obvious diagnosis is confused about his goals in life.

Due to the over-functioning nature of the male depicted in the vignette, I believe that Experiential Therapy may be of most benefit, especially considering that there is no “obvious diagnosis”.

The Experiential approach is helpful because it relies on the personality of the therapist more so than that of the client. In this case, there is not much known about the client thus, the Experiential approach allows for the therapist to guide the therapeutic environment in an effort to learn more about the client. One manner in which the therapist can begin to assess the client is by evaluating the client’s level of individuality. An Experiential therapist can achieve this by fostering a warm climate in which the client feels respected and accepted.

As well, it is important for the client and therapist to work towards determining the nature of the client’s confusion (i.e. what about his life goals is confusing). The therapist has the ability to help the client see his confusion as meaningful. The client should be led to understand that it is productive to have goals and that his confusion pertaining them may only be a result of his personal growth.

By utilizing alternatives to reality, the therapist can allow the client to assess whether or not his goals are feasible, thus eliminating goals that are too vague or nested in improper judgments. The more excitement the therapist shows for the client’s progress, the greater stimulation the client is likely to experience, in turn providing the client opportunity for personal existential encounters.

While I may not be able to teach you more than you already know about these approaches, my effort is simply to remind you of the validity and importance thereof. If graduate school is the last time you encountered one of these models, consider this written for you.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.

The Genogram

Atlas Concepts LLC_Fields of Knowledge_Genogram

If you are anything like me, you have spent a great deal of time in your life trying to figure out “why you are the way you are.” From your athletic ability to your thought processes, from your aptitude to your allergies. Many of us claim to remember where we came from, but fewer of us actually take the time to study the intricacies of the root and subsequent growth of the branch.

While events of significance such as being the victim of a crime, achieving a major accomplishment or the death of a loved one do shape who we are, it is often the small, monotonous and mundane which are not given much thought. While there are a myriad of avenues to approach the looking glass, in November of 2011 I took a look at my family history in search of answers, specifically outlining my family dynamics with the assistance of a genogram. To have an objective, I purposed this effort with discovering how my family of origin may impact my ability to assist clients in a clinical therapeutic setting.

I found that my family of origin provides me with both advantages and disadvantages in regard to my ability to provide therapeutic assistance to others. The complexities concerning my mother and father, both as a married couple and individually, provide such examples.

My mother has had a long history of mental illness and instability as well as multiple bouts with drug, alcohol and a variety of health issues. One may have a valid case depicting her as the quintessential candidate for therapeutic assistance. Though throughout my childhood I did not necessarily equate my disturbed relationship with her with the multitude of personal issues she had; however, it is relatively easy in hindsight to see how her issues played a role in the problems within our nuclear family.

My mother and father divorced when I was two years old and I did not have a relationship with my father from that point. My mother raised me until I was eight years old, at which time I became a tenant of a children’s home until the age of eighteen. Utilizing my own experiences with divorce and separation, I feel that I may be able to display certain empathy towards clients dealing with the same. Likewise, clients who have experienced an upbringing without a “standard” nuclear family may find it comfortable to discuss these matters with a person with a similar history. In this instance, having the experience of divorce and separation will give me the advantage of asking relevant questions, and implementing an array of techniques, concerning such.

Adversely, when working with clients of a “standard” nuclear family, I will likely rely on client input and professional research while having little life experience to guide me through the therapeutic process.

Also applicable to my family of origin is the concept of differentiation. When examining my role within my family system, it becomes clear that there was limited enmeshment, resulting in my centrifugal force propelling me towards differentiation. It is my aspiration to utilize my own processes for attaining differentiation to assist others who are dealing with fusion to gain flexible and adaptive traits as a means of conquering their dominant auto-emotional system.

I am the youngest of the three children born to my mother–one half-sister and one half-brother; as well I share my father with two half-brothers. No two of us grew up in the same household; however, starting in my young adulthood I was fortunate to begin establishing solid relationships with both of my maternal siblings; to date no significant relationships have been developed between myself and my paternal siblings.

Although I never experienced “sibling rivalry” with them, my relationships with them have exposed me to the concept of sibling position and how apparent it is that many of our personality traits can be attributed to our respective position. By growing up separately and then forging our sibling relationships as adults, I have the advantage of viewing my family more objectively; and this quality will prove to be quite beneficial as a clinician when attempting to have clients separate themselves from the emotionality surrounding any familial issues for which they are seeking treatment.

The hierarchical roles regarding the structure of my family provide another avenue for which I will have the ability to identify with families who need reframing. As a child, my sister was adopted and raised by my maternal grandparents, so in many ways she has fulfilled her role in the hierarchy not only as a sister, but also an aunt, and at times a parent.

Considering the nature of my relationships with the individuals in my family of origin, I did not necessarily notice any previously undiscovered factors based on the completion of the genogram. However, one notable aspect of Psychodynamic Therapy of which I had not previously considered is that of invisible loyalties as pertains to my relationship with my mother. I believe it would take some outside assistance to discern if this concept applies, but in my own assertion, it may explain why I have been able to reestablish my relationship with her after such an absence.

I understand that I felt resentment for her as a youth as a result of our separation; however, as an adult I have become more understanding, and in turn our relationship closed significant distance. Taking the time to use the genogram on myself has provoked me to redefine my family of origin in order to truly encompass my “family.” To accomplish this, I need to further this undertaking by way of including the relationships that occurred outside of my biological family of origin.

Based on my evaluations, I will move forward to construct a new “genogram” that includes other relationships that I believe to have been “like” family. In this plight, I hope to attain a greater understanding of whom my family really consists.

In summation, the structure of my family, my relationships with each member of the system, and how I grew up, are the primary reasons I possess such a significant interest in Marriage and Family Therapy. I acknowledge that it will be my responsibility to conduct as much research as possible regarding treatment for the entire spectrum of “family types.” However, I already hold the position that every patient will be different, and no two families will ever be identical.

My family and life experiences will allow me to identify with non-traditional families in a unique manner of which I hope to be both sensitive and therapeutic. Also, by exposing descriptions of my family life with clients, they will be comforted by understanding my competency in treating them, it will also allow for a greater level of professional trust, which will significantly progress treatment.

Finally, as I continue my efforts to become credentialed to provide Marriage and Family Therapy, I believe that taking the time to explore and become familiarized with the tools available to the profession is critical to establishing who I will be as a professional. During my graduate education, Family Systems was one area that I enjoyed studying, thus the efforts such as the one mentioned above, I believe will help me transition my interests into practice, even before I am able to sit face-to-face with a client.

I have utilized a similar approach to familiarizing myself with items such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis.

Continue to follow this blog to learn about my experiences with these personality assessments and other therapeutic tools.

Atlas Concepts, LLC_Jordache WilliamsJordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.