Family Sculpting: Psychodrama For Family Therapy
By Julia Thomas
Updated January 02, 2019
When we think of family counseling, we imagine our family sitting in a room with a counselor, talking things out. Although therapists often conduct family meetings in a standard 'talk' format, family therapy can take many other interesting forms as well. One of these forms, family sculpting, is a technique that reveals family dynamics through nonverbal expression. Counselors do help the family talk through their issues afterward, but much of the work can be done without uttering a word.
Family Sculpting Definitions
Family sculpting is a specific type of therapy that needs to be done by a therapist trained in the technique. That's because deep issues may arise that need to be addressed by someone who understands family sculpting very well. But, what is family sculpting? The following definitions may help you understand from a client's point of view.
What Is Family Sculpting?
Family sculpting is a type psychodrama used in family therapy. Family sculpting is also one of the child-centered therapies that can be used in a group setting. A member or members of the family are chosen as a sculptor(s). The job of the sculptor is to place the family in a scene that reflects each person's position, attitude, and role within the group.
As a type of therapy, psychodrama is a dramatic representation of past events. In other words, the people involved in the group act out memories. In a sense, the sculptor of a family sculpting session is the director of this play, although there might not be any movement involved.
What Is Child-Centered Family Therapy?
Child-centered therapy is, of course, therapy that focuses on a child. However, the child or children in question may include adults as well. When adults are a part of the group, the therapy focuses on their inner child. Child-centered family therapy is especially helpful for dysfunctional families as well as for adults who came from dysfunctional families.
Who Is The Sculptor?
The sculptor is typically a family member. It can be an adult or a child if they're old enough to follow the simple directions for sculpting. The sculptor is the one who arranges the family.
Who Is The Identified Client?
The identified client is a term used in family therapy. The identified client is the family member who other family members blame for the family problems. Often, the identified client becomes the sculptor in family sculpting.
The identified client is a somewhat controversial term because it seems to indicate that the person who takes the blame is the one who is disturbed rather than the entire family. However, some therapists who use family sculpting do use this term. Still, family therapists are trained to understand the complexity of family dysfunction. They aren't likely to single out one person as the source of all the problems.
How Family Sculpting Works
Sometimes, new experiences seem less frightening or uncomfortable if you know a bit about what to expect. While you should never try to do family sculpting on your own, knowing more about it before you work with a therapist may help you feel more relaxed and positive before you start. Your therapist will explain what's about to happen before you begin.
Choosing The Sculptor
The first task of family sculpting is to choose a sculptor. Usually, the therapist simply asks who would like to do it. The counselor may ask that family member if they feel emotionally ready to take on this role. If more than one person wants to be a sculptor, the counselor may ask more questions to decide or may allow both to work together with one acting as a lead sculptor.
The Sculpting Process
The therapist usually starts with a specific prompt. They may ask the sculptor to place the family according to the way he thought of them when she or he was a specific age. Or, the therapist may ask the sculptor to position the family the way they seemed to her or him before, during, or after an event.
Next, the sculptor follows the prompt. He or she might put some people closer together than others. Two people might be holding hands or pushing each other. The sculptor may add details such as tilting one of their heads up, so their nose is in the air, to indicate that person feels superior. The sculptor determines all of these positions and details.
The therapist may need to intervene at certain points during the sculpting. If an argument arises, the therapist can help the family resolve the issue together. Sometimes, psychodrama can uncover long-buried feelings that are so intense the sculptor isn't able to go on with the sculpting. When these feelings come up, the therapist can help the sculptor work through them. Even the family members who are simply standing as the sculptor posed them may become aware of feelings, thoughts, and problems that seem overwhelming.
Again, the trained therapist steps in to help the family understand their situation better, express their emotions, and begin their healing process.
After the family is sculpted, a brief talk session follows. They discuss what everyone found out. The counselor helps them leave behind the roles the sculptor placed them in and begin to feel more comfortable and more like themselves again.
Purposes Of Family Sculpting
Family sculpting can help you and your family in many ways.
Your therapist uses the information they gain during an initial family sculpting session to diagnose the problems in your family so that they can offer the best treatments. They may use later sessions to assess how you are doing individually and as a group at different points in your family therapy. This helps them know if they need to make changes in the treatment or if your family has accomplished all your goals for therapy.
Family sculpting isn't just for assessments. It's a way for families to connect with their inner children, with their feelings, and with each other. It's a therapy to its right and can be used to help the family resolve problems and become mentally healthier and more functional.
Advantages Of Family Sculpting
Whether your therapist uses family sculpting alone or with other treatment modalities, this form of therapy can be helpful for several reasons. It has advantages that many other types of therapy can't match.
Doing a family sculpt may be more intense than only talking about your family problems. When you take the role of the sculptor, you are touching, positioning, and posing each family member. When you take the role the sculptor gives you; you feel the pressure of their hands moving you. Family sculpting is an active experience you feel in your body.
Family sculpting is a very concrete and visual modality. The family dynamics, at least as the sculptor sees them, become so obvious that not only the therapist understands, but the family members learn from what they see, too. In addition to the sculpt itself, the verbal and nonverbal exchanges between family members, while the sculpt is going on, are also easy to notice.
During talk therapy, family members can intellectualize their problems and rationalize their behavior. But, it's harder to deny what happens in therapy with everyone watching.
Family sculpting is sometimes the quickest way to the heart of family dysfunction. When you see how the sculptor has placed you and others, you can immediately identify how they feel. Or, if you are the sculptor, you can express your feelings about the family structure in a very short time. Family sculpting, then, offers a shortcut way to uncover truths about your family.
Some people do become emotional in talk therapy. However, many others simply say the words that make them look better or seem the sanest. Family sculpting, though, brings up feelings family members may not have even realized were inside them. They not only experience the feelings, but they have a chance to express them in the family group.
Uncovers Hidden Problems
Family sculpting is a good way to find out about problems that none or few of the family members are aware of. As the sculptor is arranging the family members, everyone may notice that he or she unusually placed someone. The sculptor may not even know why they did it that way. As the therapist helps the family get to the bottom of this sculpt and work through the problem as revealed, the family becomes more self-aware. They have new information that may help them become a healthier, stronger family.
You See Your Family's Dysfunctions For Yourself
Getting expert advice from a qualified professional is great. Sometimes, it may be difficult to just take someone's word for what's wrong in your family. Family sculpting offers this advantage, which is especially helpful in allowing the skeptical or fearful person to see for themselves what's wrong.
Family sculpting is just one type of mental health counseling for families. You can talk to a counselor at BetterHelp.com and begin online therapy at your convenience. Family life can be complex and heartbreaking at times. With proper family therapy from a licensed counselor, you can healthily restructure your family. Your dysfunctional relationships can become healthier in the process. Family challenges, dysfunctional patterns, and goals can become clearer, setting a new direction for you, as a family, and as a collection of unique individuals.