The founder of family therapy, Virginia Satir believed in empowering clients to take care of their own problems. One of her major therapeutic beliefs was that the problem is not the problem, coping is. When clients seek help with their problems it is really their inability to cope with their problems that requires inner strengths and resources that the therapist can surface and help their clients tap into, to empower them to cope better. Hence the focus of therapy is not on the problem but on the person of the client. Therefore coping is a manifestation of the level of self-worth. The higher one’s self-worth, the more effective and wholesome the coping.
As coping is largely an internal process, clients can be in charge of and be responsible for their own internal processes rather than trying to control the outside world of people and events which he or she has little control of. Since clients can be fully in charge of their inner processes or in other words themselves, change is possible, even if external change is limited, internal change is possible. Rather than being problem-focused or focused on pathology, family therapy is therefore always moving clients towards positively directional goals.
We have choices, especially in terms of responding to stress instead of reacting to situations. A major goal in family therapy is therefore to help client to be more responsible and to be better choice makers. While most counseling and therapy models attempt to help clients find solutions to their problems or focus on changing undesirable behaviors, family therapy attempts to make transformational change. It seeks to change the person by dealing with his feelings, perceptions, expectations and yearnings as well as his behavior which is only one of the components of the person’s ‘internal world’.
An important assessment and intervention tool is the Iceberg Metaphor which illustrates the various components of the individual’s ‘internal world’. One important components of the Iceberg which we often encounter when our clients are unhappy is that of unmet expectations. There are three kinds of expectations that we know of. They are our expectations we have of ourselves, the expectations we have of others and the expectations they have of us. Very often we find that many clients come to see us due to an unmet expectation. Anger, hurt, sadness and disappointments very often are feelings associated with unmet expectations. Knowing how to help our clients learn how to deal with their unmet expectations would help them then deal with their reactive feelings such as anger, fear and hurt. Learning to help clients deal with unmet expectations therefore go a long way at not only helping them deal with their reactive feelings, but would also help them change their behaviour which is an outcome of these reactive feelings.
These reactive feelings often come from the impact of an event rather than the event itself (often in the form of a story about the event our clients tell us as their presenting problem). To find out how an event has affected or impacted the person and how he is coping, the therapist would explore his ‘iceberg’ to find out how it has affected his behavior, feelings, perceptions, expectations, yearnings and his self. The client would then be helped to change what is necessary at any of these levels of coping in his ‘iceberg’ so that he can be more wholesome, more responsible for himself, more congruent and become a better choice maker in life.
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