As a therapist we develop our own repertoire of high-impact questions. Such questions open up territory in clients’ lives in powerful ways.
Much of my work in a child and adolescent mental health context requires that I chart back into a child’s developmental history, gain a sense of the child’s underlying temperament or emerging personality, and become aware of significant events in the family’s history including mental health issues and family scripts (Byng-Hall, 1985). After completing a three generation family tree, I find the following question allows me to respectfully approach all three of these areas. Hat tip Evril Silver for this one.
Of all the people in your family (referring to the genogram), who does this child remind you of the most and why?
I have always found answers to this question informative. Sometimes I need to ask the question without the child in the room, as well as with the child present. Sadly many mothers tell me that their child reminds them of an abusive ex-partner. However even in this instance we are then able to move onto exploring ways in which the child is just a child, rather than the parent’s representation of the ex-partner (Fraiberg, 1975). The parent is then more able to take charge when necessary, rather than stepping around the issue of control to avoid feared conflict (Marvin et al, 2002).
The question also allows easy entry into discussion of family mental health issues – often the parent’s concerns for their child are linked back to difficulties experienced by other family members (e.g., schizophrenia). Again, once space is opened up for exploration of such issues, parents are often able to revise some of their perceptions and concerns (family scripts). On occasions when the question is asked with both parents present, marital conflicts may surface where it becomes apparent that one parent ‘blames’ the other for their child’s behaviour. Progress can be made here by addressing such implicitly-held beliefs openly. There are many other benefits, including of course discovering possible genetic influences.
So what is your tried and tested question? Please share it with the readership of this Blog…