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AFT National Conference workshop reports

T e creative toolbox: Invigorating situations of stuckness

Presenters: Nina Gotua and Claudia Forero Having been fortunate enough fi nally to at end my fi rst AFT

national conference in September 2011, I found it to be an exciting mix of plenaries by “big-names” within the fi eld of family therapy, longer presentations and “bite-sized” taster events. One of the lat er that par- ticularly interested me was a short workshop looking at creative ways of addressing “stuckness” within family therapy sessions. Stuckness is a concept most of us are probably all too familiar with and I am always interested in hearing other people’s ideas about their ways of trying to move beyond it and help families change their conversations and move from hopelessness to a position of hopefulness. Working in a child and adolescent mental health service means it is oſt en necessary to engage both young people (who may be at very diff erent ages or stages) and adults at the same time. Being able to think creatively and be open to working in many diff erent ways is therefore perhaps a particularly valuable quality in this set ing. Certainly, I have found that the careful use of props, aided by a strong sprinkling of humour, can be an incred- ibly powerful way of working collaboratively in helping to externalise problems and create an environment where diffi cult conversations can take place in a safer, more relaxed way. Nina Gotua and Claudia Forero presented their idea of using a cre-

ative toolbox to invigorate situations of stuckness within sessions and shared with us lots of ideas to help playfully shiſt conversations or the focus of diff erent family members. T ese included road signs enabling families to “park” questions, “U-turn” and return to earlier conversa- tions or signal diff erent levels of need by using traffi c lights with eyes. We had the opportunity to meet exciting characters such as the Focus Worm (a brightly coloured, soſt rubber centipede) who likes to help by opening up conversations or providing a centre of focus during diffi - cult ones, and the vibrant Parrot of Redemption who has, on occasion, apparently been a curiously irreverent participant in conversations of chronic self-blame. T is led me to refl ect on other such characters that were undoubtedly hiding out back at my work base or at home and were just waiting to be put to use in supporting families in their desire to change. Nina and Claudia stressed the importance of fi nding metaphors meaningful for a particular family, and the signifi cance of diff erent types of non-verbal communication within language and social constructionism. T ey also made other theoretical connections in their use of these ideas with concepts such as relational refl exivity (Burnham, 2005) and externalisation (White & Epston, 1990). T inking about Nina and Claudia’s toolbox has inspired our family therapy team in Grimsby to start collecting together some of

Context February 2012

Nina Gotua and Claudia Forero

the ideas and props we regularly use, as well as some of those used by Nina and Claudia, and to start creating our own toolbox of things to have on hand when we meet with families. For example, we frequently use a lit le jar of assorted but ons I have collected over the years, to involve family members in taking turns to sculpt themselves and the important people in their lives and, recently, we have used Jim Wilson’s idea of “magic” glasses that can be used to look at a time in the future or through someone else’s eyes. T e magic glasses are in a carefully decorated case that has now been placed in a special box along with the jar of but ons and other useful props and ideas. Nina and Claudia’s presentation was just one of the inspirational

and thought-provoking events I at ended. T e conference was a great chance to meet up with lots of family therapists, catch up with friends or acquaintances from the past, discuss and exchange ideas and be inspired and re-enthused. I would defi nitely encourage anyone with the opportunity to do so to at end. I for one certainly intend to be back!

References Burnham, J. (2005) Relational refl exivity: A tool for socially constructing therapeutic relationships. In C. Flaskas, B. Mason & A. Perlesz (eds) The Space Between: Experience, Context, and Process in the Therapeutic Relationship. London: Karnac Books. White, M. & Epston, D. (1990) Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends. New York: W.W. Norton.

Viv Uttley, (family psychotherapist working within the North East Lincolnshire CAMHS Service)


AFT National Conference workshop reports

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