Family Sculpting: Psychodrama For Family Therapy
By: Dylan Buckley
Updated September 24, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC
Family therapy can be an important step for families in need of expert guidance. If your family is struggling with communication issues or other concerns, there are many out-of-the-box approaches to helping you move into a healthier place. Many kinds of therapy exist to help families of all ages and stages establish more meaningful connections.
What is Family Sculpting?
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. Deep issues arise that need to be addressed by someone who understands family sculpting very well. What is family sculpting? The following definitions may help you understand this helpful form of treatment. Family sculpting is a type of 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(s) of the family is 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, a therapy that focuses on a child. In this definition, the child or children in question may include adults. When adults are a part of the group, therapy focuses on their inner child. Child-centered family therapy is for many kinds of 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 still use this term. Family therapists are trained to understand the complexity of family dysfunction. Experts in mental health understand that no one person is the source of all 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 do family sculpting under the supervision of a counselor, knowing more about it before you begin may help you feel more relaxed and positive. 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 the 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.
2. The Sculpting Process
The therapist usually starts with a specific prompt. They may ask the sculptor to place the family according to how he thought of them when she or he was a specific age. Alternatively, 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 the person feels superior. The sculptor determines all the positions and details.
3. Therapist Interventions
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. 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 discovered. 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 several 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 of your goals within the 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 is a therapy that can be used to help a family resolve its 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 that you feel in your body.
Family sculpting is a concrete and visual modality. The family dynamics, at least as the sculptor sees them, become so obvious that not only does the therapist understand, but the family members can learn from what they see. 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. It is harder to deny what happens in therapy with everyone watching.
Family sculpting is sometimes the quickest way to address 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 offers an easy insight into uncovering truths about your family.
Some people become very emotional during talk therapy. However, many others simply say the words that make them look better or seem the sanest. Family sculpting brings up feelings family members may not have even realized were inside them. They not only experience their feelings, but they have a chance to express them in the family group.
Uncovers Hidden Problems
Family sculpting is a good way to discover 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 have a reason for why they did it that way. As the therapist helps the family get to the bottom of this sculpture and work through the problem as revealed, the family becomes more self-aware. They have new information that may help them become healthier and stronger.
Finding Family Help
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 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 relationships, no matter how perfect or dysfunctional they may initially appear, can become stronger and healthier in the process. Family challenges, dysfunctional patterns, and goals can become clearer and set a new direction for you as a family and as a collection of unique individuals.
Professional guidance offered by therapists such as the ones at BetterHelp can be a great starting point to improve relationships within a family. If you are not sure about attending face-to-face sculpting sessions, or if it is not offered in your area, you may also consider online therapy. Online therapy has been shown to be just as effective as traditional therapy in addressing concerns such as anxiety, depression, anger, and relationship issues. A study published in the Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapy journal pointed out that online therapy provides effective therapeutic benefits for both parents and children, as it is more accessible and feasible to continue long-term than face-to-face therapy. Additionally, another study published in 2018 showed that family sculpting can bring significant insight into thought processes that may be hard to express verbally, and thus open the door to collective healing and understanding.
As mentioned before, online therapy is accessible and convenient. For busy parents with busy children, having the flexibility of online therapy sessions can be immensely beneficial. Sessions can be scheduled around work, sports games, extracurriculars, and other events in daily life. Also, online therapy is more cost-effective than traditional therapy. While the financial model varies from platform to platform, BetterHelp offers financially reasonable and feasible options for parents and family members. Online therapy, with its convenience and accessibility, can be readily incorporated into daily life and help enhance relationships within the family.
Read below for several testimonials of individuals who faced similar issues and reached out to BetterHelp:
"I started working with Jeana a few weeks ago, mainly because I am trying to really step out and learn who I am without the influence of my family and others. She has been so very helpful in guiding me through this process and helping me manage those emotions that will pop up while trying to dig through life."
"Ava was a great help to me. She supported me through a transition period in my life and also helped me work through some issues that I have been facing with a parent. She is very frank but also listens and reads with a keen and empathetic ear. I appreciated having a counselor of similar racial and ethnic background to me as she had insight into the particulars of my family dynamics and past experiences. I am happy with my experience with her."
Family issues may grow if they remain unresolved. Opening conversations about the relationships and connections within your family is a powerful exercise. Finding health together often means that individuals find health within themselves as well. Family sculpting and other exercises are a meaningful way that your mental health care provider can assist you in resolving conflict and charting a healthier course for your relationships. Take the first step today.
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