Power of Family: An Experiential Approach to Family Treatment

ISBN: 978-1-939019-15-8
SIZE: 7.75 x 9.25
PRICE $29.95

Experiential therapists emphasize the feeling side of human nature: creativity, spontaneity, and the ability to play in therapy, as well as the value of experience for its own sake. We would stress that the intentional use of specifically designed interactive interventions with families offers the best of both worlds: an emphasis on each individual’s lived experience of being in the family along with a focus on structural and system issues that often dictate how each experience within a family is processed and perceived.

The authors invite you to explore the intentional use of interactive interventions as a primary methodology in family treatment. The activities they introduce into the therapy office provide an immediate context for witnessing how the family functions first-hand. In this manner, families reveal systems, structures, cognitive and emotional processes, strategies, communication styles, approaches to problem-solving, as well as other issues traditionally targeted in the process of family treatment. The intent is to provide an environment that allows family members to freely and genuinely demonstrate their strengths and limitations.


“This book is a must read for anyone who wants to effectively engage families in therapy settings. The experiential approach provides creative means of both assessment and intervention with families, and promotes a strengths perspective in which families can build capacity. The book is filled with useful tools and activities for family therapists and other mental health professionals, and can be easily applied in clinical settings.”
—Dr. Christine Lynn Norton, LCSW, Associate Professor of Social Work, Texas State University, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Scientist

“This is one of those texts that the next generation of clinical adventure therapy authors will model their work after. It successfully includes strong clinical content and concepts with intervention models as well as documentation protocols! This book makes adventure therapy programming and sessions available to any clinical practitioner, seasoned or brand new!”
—Tiffany Wynn, MA, LPCC, Associate Faculty, Counseling Psychology Department; Director, Adventure Based Psychotherapy & Ecopsychology Concentrations at Prescott College, and Associate Director of Santa Fe Mountain Center

“The breadth of activities, from icebreakers to homework, combined with the depth of clinical focus and considerations are phenomenal. This book is a cornucopia of interventions for families, and sure to enrich the practice and effectiveness of the new provider, as well as the seasoned adventure therapist.”
—Bobbi L. Beale, PsyD, Group Programs Director, Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health, Canton, OH

“Mental health practitioners who believe strongly in an action-based therapy approach will find this book full of creative ways to have families experience many of their issues while in session and discover solutions that work.”
—H. L. (Lee) Gillis, PhD, Department Head & Professor, Department of Psychological Science, Georgia College

“This book takes the application of adventure therapy with families to new levels, providing clear descriptions of the therapeutic process and ample opportunities for practical application. It is a great resource for practitioners of every experience level!”
—Kim Sacksteder, MSW, LISW-S

“This book belongs in the resource library of every family therapy practitioner. It lays out an abundance of innovative experiential activities and describes how to effectively utilize them to enhance the family healing process.”
—Gil Hallows, Chair, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council

“If you are interested in play, joy and fun, this is the book for you! This marvelous book is an outstanding introduction to the use of intentional, experiential activities with families in therapy. The authors are all very experienced family therapists who have used the approaches described in the book in practice. This is a book that will be helpful to therapists from a wide variety of theoretical approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral treatment, psychodynamic understanding, object relations theory, and many others. In sum, this book is not only a fun read, but it refocuses the field of psychotherapy on the imperative of enhancing joy in people’s lives.”
—Orli Avi-Yonah, PhD, Family Assessment Clinic, The University of Michigan

Excerpt from the Book

All of the authors have experienced the power and effectiveness of using intentional, experiential activities with families in therapy. We have all had the honor of witnessing the light bulb of change come on during a therapeutic activity with a family. We have seen first-hand how much easier it is for families to process and reflect on issues that arise out of a shared experience. These personal experiences with families are what motivate us to pass this vision of therapy with families along to others.
As with our previous book, Power of One: Using Adventure and Experiential Activities Within One On One Counseling Sessions (Lung, Stauffer, & Alvarez, 2008), our hope is that readers around the world will be encouraged to explore the intentional use of interactive interventions as a primary methodology with families. Our expectation is that your family clients will be positively impacted by this dynamic approach in the same way our clients have been.
Although our western society often interprets family as a two-parent, heterosexual couple with two children, with the woman’s role as the primary caregiver and homemaker and the man’s role as the financial provider, we have to recognize and adapt to the reality that families are to be understood in a much broader context. It is likely that therapists will treat many different configurations of families, such as childless couples, single parents with children, gay or lesbian couples, and unattached elderly persons being cared for by their own children.
Similarly, we have to recognize and adapt our clinical idea of diagnosis when working with a family. The DSM is a prime example due to its focus on the symptoms presented by individual clients. When considering families, we focus on the total family as an interconnected system. All of us experience difficult life events, such as death and illness in the family. These events come with emotions of hurt or anger as well as strategies we use to cope with these events. Because a family is a dynamic system, when an individual family member experiences a life event, then the family will experience the life transition as well. In the family, we may experience marital conflict, sibling conflict, or parent-child conflict, all in response to family stress. Consider an adolescent who has been drinking alcohol regularly to cope with stress. Not only does this affect the adolescent, it affects all members of that family, including the relatives, and possibly the community. By focusing solely on the adolescent, we not only underestimate the impact on the family but also under-utilize that adolescent’s primary support system.
It is important to note the family counseling methods we are discussing are compatible with a wide range of theoretical approaches to clinical practice. We integrate cognitive-behavioral approaches, psychodynamic understanding, object relations theory, social-learning theory, and many other influences from the broad social-psychological literature into our clinical practice. We invite readers who also embrace these theoretical perspectives to read on.
Our desire for this book includes the vision that we reach a broad cross section of practitioners. We hope therapists who do not typically use activities will consider adding these powerful tools to their personal practice with children, youth, and adults. We hope that an equally broad group of experiential and adventure therapists, who routinely utilize interactive approaches, will consider expanding their practice to include the use of activities with family clients, whether that takes place in a clinical office or in the out-of-doors.
The chapters that follow will give a brief overview of the clinical foundations and applications of this method with families for you to integrate into your current theoretical perspective. We have intentionally taken a broad perspective on working with families in the hope that readers will be able to apply our ideas to their specific population. We contemplated inserting separate chapters describing the specific nuances of working with families who have experienced trauma, those who have children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or those impacted by depressed mothers, for example, but soon found this to be overwhelming and distracting from the original purpose of the book. Likewise, we chose to deal with multi-cultural issues throughout the text and in specific activities opposed to compartmentalizing our treatment of these issues in a separate chapter.
A hearty “welcome” is extended to everyone who is interested in working with families and desires to add to the effectiveness of his or her work.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Clinical Foundation
Newspaper Towers: Case Study by Marty Riggs, LCSW
Chapter 2: Clinical Application
Chapter 3: Therapeutic Use With Families
Building Trust in a Minefield: Case Study by Rachel Wood, LCSW
Chapter 4: Clinical Reference Charts
Clinical Purposes Definitions
Clinical Purposes/Activity Intervention Chart
Common Family Interaction Patterns
Family Interaction Patterns/Activity Intervention Chart
DSM Diagnosis/Activity Intervention Chart
Navagating the Waters: Case Study by Rebecca Gauchet, LCSW
Chapter 5: Experiential Activities (see Activity Index on page 35)
Chapter 6: Power of One Activities Adapted for Families
Key Exchange: Case Study by Kim Sacksteder, LISW-S
Chapter 7: High Adventure Activities
The Pendulum of Parenting: Case Study by Michael Gass, PhD LMFT
Chapter 8: Transitional Activities
Chapter 9: Reflection Activities
Chapter 10: Family Homework
Goal Circle: Case Study by Tony Alvarez, LMSW
Chapter 11: Sample Sequence: Individual Family
Chapter 12: Sample Sequence: Multi-Family
Multi-Family Mother/Daughter Retreat: Case Study by Amy Embury, MA, LLP
Chapter 13: Writing Family Treatment Notes
Chapter 14: Agency Favorites Family Activities
About the Authors
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