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Experiential Therapy
Family Therapy as an Emotional Encounter
Zoe Robinson, Brittany Tigner & Cindy Porta
History of Experiential Therapy
❖ Emerged from humanistic-existentialist movement of
the 1960’s
❖ Drew from:
● Gestalt The...
Innovators and History
❖ Carl Whitaker (1912-1995)
● Among the first to do psychotherapy with families
● Encouraged family...
Theoretical Formulations
● Root cause of family problems is emotional suppression.
● Parents regulate their children’s act...
Normal Family Development
● Experiential therapist share the humanistic faith in the natural wisdom of
honest emotion.
● A...
Development of Behavior Disorders
● Denial of impulses and suppression of feeling are the root of family
problems.
● Dysfu...
Development of Behavior Disorders Cont’d
● 4 Dishonest ways to communicate
o Blaming
o placating
o Being irrelevant
o Supe...
Goals of Therapy
Experiential Therapist believe that the way to emotional health is to uncover deeper levels of
experienci...
Conditions for Behavior Change
● Breakthroughs occur:
o more separate
o divergent
o angrier
o closer/intimate
● Therapist ...
Therapy
● Experiential therapists believe that there are no real techniques, only
people.
● Evocative Techniques
-Family s...
Family Sculpting Technique
An activity in which family members place themselves in postures symbolic of
the family dynamic...
Experiential Family Therapy Technique
Family puppet interviews- Ask a family member to make up
a story using puppets. It i...
- The use of art and creativity may lead to greater self-knowledge.
- Accessing creativity may be helpful in identifying e...
Conjoint Family Drawings Technique
“Draw me a picture of your family, make sure everyone is in the picture, have everyone
...
Play Therapy Technique
Generally for children ages 3 to 11, although adults can benefit also. Using puppets,
playhouses, d...
Role Playing- Technique
Past events or hoped for or feared future developments can be made more immediate
by role-playing ...
Gestalt Technique
Use of techniques such as the “empty chair” to address emotional content surrounding
those not present i...
Two recent emotive approaches to family therapy that represent a more
sophisticated understanding of family dynamics are e...
The Process of Therapeutic Intervention
(Johnson, Hunsley, Greenberg & Schindler, 1999)
1. Assessment- or creating an alli...
Pros and Cons of Experiential Family
Therapy
● Pros
o Helps individual discover inner thoughts, feelings, and fears
o Comm...
References
Nichols, M., (2013). Family therapy concepts and
methods (10
th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.
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  1. 1. Experiential Therapy Family Therapy as an Emotional Encounter Zoe Robinson, Brittany Tigner & Cindy Porta
  2. 2. History of Experiential Therapy ❖ Emerged from humanistic-existentialist movement of the 1960’s ❖ Drew from: ● Gestalt Therapy ● Psychodrama ● Encounter-group movement
  3. 3. Innovators and History ❖ Carl Whitaker (1912-1995) ● Among the first to do psychotherapy with families ● Encouraged family members to be themselves ● Intuition ❖ Virginia Satir (1916-1988) ● Communication ● Individual self-expression
  4. 4. Theoretical Formulations ● Root cause of family problems is emotional suppression. ● Parents regulate their children’s actions by controlling their feelings; as a result, children learn to blunt their emotional experience to avoid criticism. ● From this perspective, attempts to bring about positive change in families are more likely to be successful if family members first get in touch with their real feelings- their hopes and desire as well as their fears and anxieties. ● Treatment is designed to help family members find fulfilling roles for themselves, with less concern for the family as a whole. ● The assumption is that opening up individuals to their experience is a prerequisite to breaking new ground for the family group. ● When people express their vulnerability directly, they’re are likely to elicit a compassionate response from their partners.
  5. 5. Normal Family Development ● Experiential therapist share the humanistic faith in the natural wisdom of honest emotion. ● According to this point of view, if people are allowed to follow their own instincts they tend to flourish. ● Society enforces repression to tame people’s instincts and make them fit for group living. ● Parents appreciate their children, accept their feelings, and validate their experience. ● Healthy families offer its members the freedom to be themselves.
  6. 6. Development of Behavior Disorders ● Denial of impulses and suppression of feeling are the root of family problems. ● Dysfunctional families o fearful of conflict o cling to routines o lack of warmth o parents find children to be annoying/children don’t respect themselves or parents
  7. 7. Development of Behavior Disorders Cont’d ● 4 Dishonest ways to communicate o Blaming o placating o Being irrelevant o Super reasonable ● Attachment injuries:traumatic occurrences that damage the bond between partners and, if not resolved, maintain negative cycles and attachment insecurities.
  8. 8. Goals of Therapy Experiential Therapist believe that the way to emotional health is to uncover deeper levels of experiencing. Satir (1972) puts it this way: Through Experiential Therapy, Therapist attempt to make three changes within the family system 1. First, each member of the family should be able to report congruently, completely, and honestly on what he sees and hears, feels and thinks, about themselves and others, in the presence of others. 1. Second, each person should be addressed and related to in terms of their uniqueness, so that decisions are made in terms of exploration and negotiation rather than in terms of power. 3. Third, differentness must be openly acknowledged and used for growth.
  9. 9. Conditions for Behavior Change ● Breakthroughs occur: o more separate o divergent o angrier o closer/intimate ● Therapist must be genuine (provocative and warmly supportive/give and receive criticism) ● Clients come in wanting to change but thinking they can’t ● Satir believed: Caring and acceptance were key
  10. 10. Therapy ● Experiential therapists believe that there are no real techniques, only people. ● Evocative Techniques -Family sculpting -Family Puppet Interview -Animal Attribution -Family Art Therapy -Conjoint Family Drawings -Play Therapy -Role Playing -Gestalt Technique
  11. 11. Family Sculpting Technique An activity in which family members place themselves in postures symbolic of the family dynamics. - Each person – the mother, father and each child - sculpted how they see the family at that moment. - They followed by showing how they wanted it to be. - The ‘physical movements’ between the two scenarios show the possible changes people could make to create their ideal family.
  12. 12. Experiential Family Therapy Technique Family puppet interviews- Ask a family member to make up a story using puppets. It is useful in determining conflicts and alliances. Animal attribution- A story-telling technique that requires family members to attribute an animal counterpart to each member of the family and then tell a short story about the animal protagonists.
  13. 13. - The use of art and creativity may lead to greater self-knowledge. - Accessing creativity may be helpful in identifying emotional issues and can help in the healing process. - Art therapy is a serious technique that uses the creative process to help improve the mental health of clients. - Art therapy can be used on children and adults to treat a wide range of emotional issues. Family Art Therapy Technique
  14. 14. Conjoint Family Drawings Technique “Draw me a picture of your family, make sure everyone is in the picture, have everyone doing something.” - Following this would be discussion by the family and the therapist of what was drawn and why, what these may show of how different family member’s perceive the family, and possible alternative patterns the family might wish to explore.
  15. 15. Play Therapy Technique Generally for children ages 3 to 11, although adults can benefit also. Using puppets, playhouses, dolls, sandboxes, fingerpaints or other media to assist children in expressing their thoughts and emotions.
  16. 16. Role Playing- Technique Past events or hoped for or feared future developments can be made more immediate by role-playing them in the “now” of therapy.
  17. 17. Gestalt Technique Use of techniques such as the “empty chair” to address emotional content surrounding those not present in the therapy.
  18. 18. Two recent emotive approaches to family therapy that represent a more sophisticated understanding of family dynamics are emotionally focused couples therapy and the internal family systems model ❖ Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (Johnson, 1998) ● Emotionally focused couples therapy works on two levels in succession: A. Uncovering the hurt and longing beneath defensive expressions of anger and withdrawal. B. Helping couples understand how those feelings are played out in their relationship. ❖ Internal Family Systems Therapy (Schwartz, 1995,2001) ● In the Internal family systems model, conflicting inner voices are personified as subpersonalities or parts. ● Founded on the belief that underneath peoples’ emotionally reactive parts lies a healthy core self.
  19. 19. The Process of Therapeutic Intervention (Johnson, Hunsley, Greenberg & Schindler, 1999) 1. Assessment- or creating an alliance and explicating the core issues in the couple’s conflict using attachment theory. 2. Identifying the problematic interaction cycle that maintains attachment insecurity and relationship distress. 3. Uncovering the unacknowledged emotions underlying interactional positions. 4. Reframing the problem in terms of a problematic cycle with underlying emotions and attachment needs 5. Encouraging acceptance and expression of disowned needs and aspects of the self. 6. Encouraging acceptance of the partner’s new openness. 7. Encouraging the expression of specific needs and wants and creating an intimate emotional engagement. 8. Facilitating new solutions to unresolved relationships issues. 9. Consolidating new positions and more honest expression of attachment needs.
  20. 20. Pros and Cons of Experiential Family Therapy ● Pros o Helps individual discover inner thoughts, feelings, and fears o Committed to emotional well-being o Discussing feelings can help family members get pass the defensiveness o Help families re-connect and relate on a more genuine level ● Cons o Limited appreciation for role of family structure o Less concerned with problem solving o May be more suited for encounter groups
  21. 21. References Nichols, M., (2013). Family therapy concepts and methods (10 th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education.
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