I always knew I wanted to be a family counselor. My first training experience with Dr. John T. Edwards solidified for me a framework for traveling down this path by way of Systems Approach to family therapy. I was a student of Dr. Edwards every chance that was presented to me. He taught me to be short on theory and long on guidelines and applied practice in helping families in difficult times. His down to earth approach resonated with my own style. As we discussed the art of therapeutic joining with families John would say, “Susan, they (families) listen to people they like”. Simple statement, however, I learned quickly that I needed to study this art of therapeutic joining, especially with resistant families.
I watched closely as Dr. Edwards made connections with others. I listened intently as he shared his observations of my own attempts. He described joining as the activity of making a connection between the counselor and family members, establishing rapport and trust; seeing their reality, individually and collectively. He emphasized that I would need to especially join with the most hostile or uncooperative member as they may be the very one to, as he described, “fire me and take their family home”. (He called this approach TOO Brief Family Therapy)
Today, as I train new clinicians in the field of chemical dependency, I am able to pass on to the next generation Dr. Edwards joining practices which includes:
* listening well
* pointing out positives
* matching their mood (at least at first)
* using their words and metaphors
* communicating understanding
* expressing genuine concern
* gently challenging
Dr. Edwards said time and time again that the most powerful of all however, was communicating HOPE. He explained that hope gives energy and families need to believe there’s a way out of the problem.
The teachings in John’s work have helped me to stay in touch with my own sense of hope. Not only hope that even the most challenged and traumatized families can change but the hope that I can practice the skills to be an effective and powerful change agent to assist them along their journey.
Susan Mattox, CCS, LCAS, CRC-MAC, LPC, CHTP