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.
Stuart Light, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice, employs SFT. He kicks it off with what he calls “discernment counseling,” a fact-finding session that establishes whether both sides are truly committed to making positive changes in their relationship. He does this by asking three questions:
- What brought you to this point?
- What have you done to try to repair your issues and solve your problems?
- What were the best times in your history together?
Then, using a technique common to mediation, he separates the parties. He talks to them individually for 20 minutes each about the path they would like to be on with each other. Afterward, they come back into the room together and honestly tell how they feel, what they want to work on, and what they want to change. They discuss what realistically can be changed. Together, they set goals.
Light says discernment counseling brings honest feelings to the surface. It establishes whether one side really has no interest in reconciliation, prefers the status quo—as disruptive and conflicted as it may be—or if everyone is committed to making things better. According to Light, “Both parties must have two feet in the circle. If that’s the case, the odds of success with solution-based therapy are 70-80%. If that’s not the case, it just isn’t going to work.”
The role of the therapist is critical. According to Light, this third party is part referee and part witness, who is tasked with setting boundaries and enforcing strict guidelines. Name calling and interrupting are out; respectful listening is in. He says, “Family members are not adept at communicating with one another when things go wrong. They start blaming, shaming, pushing all the old buttons, and dredging up ancient history. A slugfest may be satisfying to the participants at the moment, but it’s unproductive. With SFT we look at the past only insofar as it illuminates how we got where we are, but, basically, we focus on the present and future and how to make them better. Our only goal is to fix the relationship. SFT gives family members the tools to do so going forward.”
In future posts we’ll look at two agreements, one based on solution-focused therapy and the other on mediation. Until they’re published, please let other parents know how you’ve handled conflicts with your grown children.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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