Today in my Psych Appraisal and Assessment class I assumed the role of Tricia, a 14 year-old girl plagued with a troubling family life. The topic of this week’s class was doing assessments with families and couples, and after going over the lecture we did some role-playing to enact what we had just learned. Unlike working with individuals, the focus of family therapy is to observe the interactions between all members of the family and the whole family unit is considered to be the client. Based on the sheer increase in the number of people you are working with, family therapy can be quite complex. We learned that the hard way today, as six of us assumed roles of dysfunctional family members in a therapy session with three additional classmates serving as the therapist.
Our family consisted of a full-time working father, a stay at home mother, three teenage daughters, and a six year-old son. The presenting problem for this family was that the six year-old son had been severely acting out in school and at home, and the parents were very argumentative. As we sat in a circle of chairs in the middle of class, playing out the session, it became clear how challenging it can be to conduct a session with so many dynamics at play. Once we got settled into our roles and the therapists were prompting thoughtful questions (with input from the rest of the class), the family’s dirty laundry started coming out and we got in the swing of conducting a family session. We had some fun with improvising…as in the middle of session mom dropped a bomb in front of the kids that dad had been having an affair. Our professor was very insightful in providing appropriate feedback for how to handle such situations and she referenced countless examples from her own experiences as a practicing clinical psychologist.
I must say, one of the things I am enjoying most about this semester so far is that I feel like I am actually learning how to be a therapist in my classes. It’s great (and fun!) to be able to play out a mock family therapy session, or an individual session as we are doing in our seminars. It’s one thing to read about techniques and interventions in textbooks, but I think the best way to learn how to do something is to practice and this style of learning is only enhanced by hearing the professional experiences of faculty members. This is one of the reasons why I chose to attend a professional school and after classes like the one I had this afternoon I am glad that I did.