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Counseling Techniques with Dysfunctional Families

Dysfunctional Family Counseling Techniques

When a family seeks treatment, the initial question for the therapist is what is the problem and what does having the problem do to the family? The therapist then assesses the family as a whole with the therapist observing how members work together, discovering problems other than the presenting problems, and assessing the family’s developmental stage cycle (Klimek & Anderson, 1988). In general, with systems theory therapy, the therapist is less concerned with “why” than with “who, where, and what.”

Several techniques are useful in helping family members demonstrate how they normally deal with situations. Some examples include:

Sequencing. Ask questions like who does what, when? When kids are fighting, what is mother doing? father?

Hypothetical Questions. Who would be most likely to stay home if mother got sick? Which child can you visualize living at home as an adult?

Scaling Reports. On a scale of most-least, compare one another in terms of anger, power, neediness, happiness.

Family Map. Organize information about the generational development of a family that reveals the powerful transmission of family rules, roles, and myths (Bowen, 1978).

Reframing. Describe negative behavior in different ways. Acting out, for example, can be described as displaced anger from an unresolved family conflict.

Tracking. How does a family deal with a problem. “What was it like for you when. . . ?” rather than “How did you feel when. . . ?” These kinds of questions help keep the focus on the family rather than on the individual.

Sculpting. Create a still picture of the family that symbolizes relationships by having members position one another physically. This technique helps to cut through intellectualized defenses, and gets nonverbal members to express themselves.

Eco-Map. Organize data about the family’s total environment and their relationship to it.

Paradoxical Intervention. Instruct a family to do something they don’t expect and observe how the family then changes by rebellion or noncompliance. This approach is not appropriate in crisis situations such as violence, grief, or suicide, or for families with minimal resistance. It is reserved for highly resistant and rigid families and is clearly an advanced therapeutic skill (Papp, 1981).

Unbalancing. Support an individual or subsystem at the expense of others. This modifies family structure and introduces the possibility for alternative ways of living together.