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3 top tips for keeping therapy on track with parents and families


A Guest Post from Dan Jones - Solution focused hypnotherapist

I have worked with hundreds of parents of young offenders and young people at risk of becoming offenders to reduce and prevent future youth crime and anti-social behaviour. Parents were given an average of six support sessions. From this brief intervention alone there was a 68% reduction in youth offending over the following year. Three years later the reduction rate was still 66% compared to families where parents met the criteria but didn't get the support.

To achieve lasting results from an average of only six sessions we have to keep highly focused on what the parent hopes to achieve from the support.

Some people, including the parents I was seeing, have questioned how any results can be achieved at all when only the parent is seen, and not the young person who is misbehaving.

The answer is that it is by working with someone who is motivated to want things to be different that change can be achieved.

I often ask parents who question how effective it can possibly be - when I may not even get to meet the young person we are really trying to help - to think of it like this: How they would feel if I had come into their house and sat down and started being rude to them, criticising their parenting and being judgemental about everything they are doing? Would they not have a very negative reaction and behave quite differently with me than they are right now?

I use a three-pronged approach.

1) Say what you want, what you really really want

To keep the support program focused we have to find out from the parent what it is that they really want to get from the support program. What is their ideal outcome?

Often they start off talking in rather vague terms like "We want to have a happy and harmonious family."

My aim is to help them to become more specific. I ask for more detail. I want to know

  • what they will see
  • what they will hear
  • what they will feel
  • what they will be saying to themselves in their mind
  • what others will notice.

when they have achieved what they want, when they have that "happy harmonious family".

To help them to describe this, I might say something like

If we were watching a parenting show on TV, and it was the final episode, and we are looking at how far that family has come since the start of the series, and what they have achieved that lets us know they have been successful, and that family was your family... what would we see and hear on the TV? What would they be saying to camera about how things have changed?

2) Scaling 'Where are you now?'

Once I have an accurate description of the ideal situation from the parents, I use scaling to establish

  • how much of that 'ideal situation' they would be happy with
  • where on the scale they are in relation to that.

So I ask them

If 10 is that ideal situation, and 0 is the very opposite of that ideal situation, where would you be happy with things being at? And where would you say things are now on that scale?

Most parents say they would be happy to reach a 7 or an 8. Some parents may say 10. If they do, I always question them on that to encourage being happy with less than perfection.

Most parents say they are currently about a 3 or 4 on the scale. Some parents may say 0. If they do, I usually joke along the lines that "at least things can't get any worse than they are now, then, can they?"

Many parents respond to this by telling me how it definitely could be worse, and then we re-evaluate the 0 and they are normally comfortable to raise this to at least 1 or 2.

3) Task setting - noticing small (but significant) changes

When they have told me these numbers on their scale, I ask them to describe what those numbers mean in sensory specific language, in the same way I did with the description of their 'ideal situation' - what do they see, hear, feel, etc?

I also ask them to describe the next number up from where they are now.

So if they have told me that right now things are at a 2, I ask them to describe what will be different about a 3. What will they notice?

This often elicits information that can be used to set a specific task for them to do, or something for them to look out for, between now and the next session, to help bring about the kind of change that will take things in the direction of the next number up the scale.

More about scaling

Scaling, as well as helping to establish where they are at now and where they would like to be, is a very useful tool for measuring progress and gathering soft (subjective) data to provide evidence of particular outcomes.

Scaling is done in each session. The three areas that are scaled are

  • 'best hopes' - a scale of what the parent wants to achieve and where they are in relation to that
  • 'confidence' - how confident the parent feels at making the necessary changes and managing their young person
  • 'relationship' - looking at where their relationship with their young person is now.

Scaling in each session produces a useful record of outcomes at the last session that took place, even if parents stop engaging.

How it all fits together

These three tools are what helps to keep the support on track:

  • sensory specific descriptions - see, hear, feel, do, notice
  • scaling - starting point, next step up, target
  • task setting - between session actions that move things forward or facilitate new discoveries.

Each subsequent session continues this focus. At the end of a session parents are asked what they will do between now and next time. This is usually some part of the description of being at the next number up, or something from the number they would like to reach, or it could be something they have mentioned during the session that would move things in the right direction.

If a parent is quite negative in a session and perhaps has had a tough time since the last session, so that doing something seems like too big a demand at this time, they may well be set a 'noticing task', such as:

Between now and next time, just notice some of the things you wouldn't want to change about your son/daughter...

The idea is to keep things moving forward and to build hope and confidence in the parent. If a parent isn't likely to 'do' anything because they aren't in that place right now, it is better to set a task like a 'noticing task' that helps them begin to make internal changes, helping them build up the hope, resiliency and confidence to work towards being able to take action.


Look out for more guest posts from Dan Jones, who is a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist from Bognor Regis, West Sussex, UK. Dan offered 321 parents a support service over four years, monitoring outcomes and youth offending rates both before intervention and one year after. 91 families were also followed up after three years.

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