“Untangling” Couples/Family Dynamics

“Untangling” Couples/Family Dynamics

I just love it when a metaphor shows up in real life in all its glory – slaps me in the face or lands in the palm of my hand…

Untangling these actual, real-life necklaces, the metaphor of “untangling” family dynamics in session just couldn’t be ignored:


  • Too much stress on the system locks everything up!
  • Sometimes you can see the problem knot right from the start, often you can’t
  • Work on whichever place is most ready to move
  • Be patient, and willing to pause and come back fresh
  • Opening up space takes a gentle “massage” of the whole system
  • Focus on all the strands, but know that the change usually happens in one small spot at a time
  • The main work is a lot of observing the same territory over and over, with gentle optimism
  • Consider small pushes along with pulls, movement can happen in more than one direction
  • Don’t drop it in the middle of the work! haha!
  • Small progress can feel like no progress, or moving backward, but it’s not
  • Anything that promotes space and movement is progress, even if you can’t see the end yet
  • Once things are moving, don’t go too fast – hold the spaces open and go gently
  • A misstep isn’t the end of the world – what gets tangled can get untangled
  • Every once in a awhile, loosen the tension on the whole mess
  • Continually look at the whole system from different angles
  • Be aware…pulling on one strand can cause tightness in others
  • When things are moving, keep an eye on every strand to see what’s happening, or new snarls might pop up in seemingly untangled areas
  • Be close enough to work, but keep your distance – you can’t untangle if you become a strand! Or even if you get too stressed while working on it.

Comment below: Can you flesh out that metaphor even more? What therapy metaphors have “jumped out” at you in the past?






Office Supplies Volume 3

More Useful Office Stuff (Vol 3)

I don’t have infinite space in my office, so I like to make everything count. I’ve written about some of my office treasures before here and here, if you haven’t seen those.

Here are a few things I keep in my office that are especially good when it comes to client homework (and we know how important homework is, right?!) 


  • Homework “Rx Pad” – One of the things that clients get from therapy is permission. Permission to act differently, have a tough conversation, give themselves a nap, go someplace strange for social anxiety work, etc. Sometimes, that’s implicit, and the client just needed that permission for themselves. But sometimes, it really helps them enact their homework if they’re able to tell members of their system that “my therapist told me to!” To facilitate that, I made up a little prescription-size notepad that says “Therapy Homework” and has my name on it. I don’t use it all the time, and honestly sometimes it just gets used because clients forget homework if we don’t write it down, but when it works, it works! 
  • Brown envelopes – Somewhere along the way, I realized that I often assign homework that involves communicating in a written way with someone else, or with the future self. Because part of what helps therapy work is how special/sacred/novel it is, I like to have some plain (but special!) envelopes to give clients when I assign a homework like that. Kind of a way to take the sacredness home with them, but also nothing obtrusive that’s going to alert family members.  
    • And Red envelopes! I keep a separate set of red envelopes that I use sometimes when I give couples sexy homework. I have no research-based reason to do this, I just like to and feels extra fun! Sometimes, I’m giving them “secret” instructions and sometimes I just give them the envelope(s) to use to communicate with each other.
  • Cheap journals – I assign tons of different kinds of journaling homework. The classic Expressive Writing homework, worry-time journaling, dream journaling, ego state journaling, etc. And I have found that clients really enjoy receiving a little journal from me to start their work in. Not that they necessarily have to do it there! I just find it helps with investment, and frankly, clients like receiving gifts the way we all do! I use these – they’re lined and they have a nice, clean look. I think they’re 50 or 60 pages (which is usually plenty), and because I have a bunch of colors, clients can choose one they like. And they’re under $1 a piece! 

Comment below: What’s the most useful stuff in your office?