Contract: Solution-Focused Parent/Child Therapy

Since POGO is all about constructive approaches to family issues, I asked Stuart Light, MFT, how he uses the techniques of short-term therapy and mediation to improve parent/adult child relations.

Here is a sample letter that Stuart Light, MFT, sends to his clients


Dear __________&___________,

Over the previous four sessions, two together and two individually, we’ve had a chance to explore your relationship, past and present, and the circumstances leading up to current times. Your levels of individual stress have been varied, but clearly you’re both coping with a very rough patch in the family. You’ve both expressed areas of concern that, without remedy, could likely lead to estrangement.
     You’ve also both expressed positive aspects of your relationship and qualities you admire in each other. Your commitment appears mutual, with the shared hope that a stronger and healthier relationship can develop as changes are made, and new skills are learned and practiced. Love for the other has been authentically expressed by both of you, severely tested as you’ve both admitted.
     Our partnership will endeavor to generate the “goals” of a solution focused therapy. Keep in mind that throughout this process, I am not the “expert” whom you’ve turned to, to fix your relationship. The expertise lies in what you already know about yourselves and each other. My job is to support you, encourage you, and hold you “accountable” for the “actions” you identify that would help you achieve your goals. The goals you’ve identified and agreed upon are as follows:

  • Promote mutual satisfaction through increased intimacy and honest expression of feelings and needs;
  • Promote individual well-being within the context of the parent/child bond by supporting individual growth;
  • Create a “climate” for change through generosity, presence, authenticity, trust and forgiveness;
  • Build communication skills that lead to a clear understanding of each other.

Nothing moves a relationship forward more than the willingness of both sides to drop the blame game. If this can be done, learning to behave differently toward each other, developing a shared vision of a positive relationship and future, and working together to realize it, are all possible.
     Dropping the attachment to past grievances will be the hardest thing you will attempt, but it is essential to this work. I’ve found that when family members describe what they need or find lacking in their relationship, they tend to speak in abstractions from the past that may have meaning for them but are too often misunderstood by the other one. Parents and adult children tend to experience each other through labels, such as, “He’s controlling,” or “She’s emotionally withdrawn,” yet they are hard-pressed to describe the behaviors behind the label.

Stuart S. Light, MA, MEd, LMFT

Stuart S. Light, MA, MEd, LMFT

     It’s hard to give a parent or child something that he or she needs if you don’t know specifically what it is. Our partnership will help you accumulate new skills and practices and an expanding vision of what is possible in your family. Your relationship has a good chance of getting back on a positive track with more caring, understanding, and generous behavior. You’ve both committed to this work, and that’s the most important predictive success factor of all. Remember, you’ve both been hurt and deserve to heal; Hopefully, together.


Stuart Light is a Licensed Family & Marriage Counselor, who is affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara and teaches in the Masters of Clinical Psychology Program at Antioch University Santa Barbara. To contact him call 805-722-2314 or email

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