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Stories with a Purpose: Family Attachment Narrative Therapy

Stories with a Purpose: Family Attachment Narrative Therapy

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Stories with a Purpose: Family Attachment Narrative Therapy

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  1. Stories with a Purpose: Family Attachment Narrative Therapy Melissa Nichols, MA, LMFT

  2. FANT: The Importance of the Narrative • The ability to use narratives or stories to describe an experience, contemplate a scenario and plan for the future is a unique quality of the human race. It is through stories that children learn cultural roles and expectations and the meaning of concepts such as love, good and evil, freedom and truth. As the child develops the capacity for language and beings to share thoughts and feelings with the parent, a common perspective is shared and internalized. This is the perspective that is retold in story form with others and with self. When this process does not take place, behavior tends to be instinctive, impulsive and imitative. Although thoughts are not always predictive of behavior, the way we think is reflective in out action. • “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts, with our thoughts (stories) we make the world.” • Dhammapada (Buddhist Observation) • “Beware of the stories you tell yourself For you will surely live them” • “Cultural Tales” George Howard (1991) • “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” • Proverbs 23:7 NKJV Bible

  3. FANT: Theoretical Basis Theory • Attachment disordered children have a self-defeating internal working model • Problem behavior is often a reflection of this internal perspective • This destructive perspective can be permanently shifted and healed • The positive emotional connection (attunement) between a parent/child is innate and does not have to be taught.

  4. FANT: Theoretical Basis Methodology • Parents tell all the narratives • Parents do all of the nurturing holding • Holding is NOT used to work through intense emotions • Intense emotions are addressed with EMDR

  5. FANT: Theoretical Basis Narrative Themes • Attachment & bonding • Trauma history • Behavior change

  6. Attachment Program • Diagnostic Interview • Assessment • Data: Past Evaluations, Records, etc. • Observational • Staff Coordination

  7. Attachment Program Intensive Structure: • Lead Therapist/Play Therapist • Time: length & frequency • Assessments • Attachment Worksheet: recommendations • Final Report • Follow-up Assessments

  8. Activating Parental Attunement Rather than assuming the role as expert, the task of the therapist is to facilitate the parent’s innate ability to attune to their child’s internal process. This means that the therapist elevates the parent to the status of expert in identifying components of their child’s perspective or internal working model. This process begins as the therapist employs an affirming, inquiring, questioning method of eliciting the parent’s intuitive knowledge of the child’s motivating thoughts and emotions.

  9. Activating Parental Attunement • Parent’s experience • Child’s background • What would your child be like if you had started out together? • Child’s thoughts and feelings

  10. Shifting Inner Working Model with Narratives

  11. Why Do Stories Work? • Stories are culturally universal and timeless • Organizes memories and gives meaning to life (coherent narrative) • Stories promote neural integration of thinking and feeling • Stories channel a different perspective of life events--Change the story, change self understanding

  12. Constructing Stories • Setting • Props • Perspective • Hero • Message

  13. Types of Narratives • Claiming • Developmental • Trauma • Successful Child

  14. Claiming Narratives • Strengthens emotional bond • Facilitates trust • Establishes birth order • Extended family • Passes on traditions, history, rituals

  15. Developmental Narratives • Facilitates cognitive development • Enhances emotional regulation • Builds relationships • Remedial skill building

  16. Narrative Themes From the first, you were a child that deserved to be loved and cared for by parents you could trust.

  17. Trauma Narratives • Heals pain of trauma • Creates empathy • Fosters understanding

  18. Narrative Themes Even though you experienced abuse, abandonment, neglect, you deserved to be loved and cared for by responsible parents.

  19. Successful Child Narratives • Teaches values • Reinforces cause and effect thinking • Presents alternative behaviors • Explains basics of “How To Do” life

  20. Narrative Themes Your problem behavior does not define your value and we will be there to love and support you as you make changes.

  21. Additional Resources • Parenting with Stories: Creating a foundation of attachment for parenting your child (Nichols, Lacher & May, 2002) • Connecting with Kids (Lacher, Nichols, & May, 2006) • First Steps for Strengthening Adoptive Families (DVD & Study Guide) • Website:

  22. Supporting Research Bower, G.H. & Morrow, D. G. (1990). Mental Models in Narrative Comprehension. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence-Erlbaum. In order to make sense of a narrative or story, there must be an identification with a protagonist which allows a here and now perspective to be adopted. In doing so, the narrative has the capacity to travel back and forward in time and space, thus allowing the message to become immediately relevant. Charon, J.M. (1985). Symbolic Interactionism: An Introduction, Interpretation, and Integration. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. The process of verbally interacting with self and others is essential in the development of the ability to evaluate present behavior and plan for change in the future. Osofsky, J.D. (1993). Applied Psychoanalysis: How research with infants and adolescents at high psychosocial risk informs psychoanalysis. Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, 41, 193-207. The inability to form a coherent strategy to ensure protection from the caregiver has been identified in the narratives of maltreated children. Children exposed to disruption and family violence typically construct an incoherent, chaotic life narrative. Pynoos, R.S., Steinberg, A.M., & Goenjian, A. (1996). Tramatic Stress in Childhood and Adolescence: Recent Developments and Current Controversies.In B.A. van derKolk & A.C. McFarlane (Eds.) Traumatic Stress (pp. 331-358). New York: Guilford Press. When faced with a frightening situation, the inability to contemplate a solution seems to retard developmental accomplishments and interfere with successful processing of subsequent traumatic events.

  23. Supporting Research Siegel, D.J. (1999). The Developing Mind: toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience. New York: Guilford Press. Parent-child reflective dialogue that identifies the mental state that fuels behavior, perceptions, intentions, goals, beliefs and desires seem to promote both secure attachment and the integrative process of co-construction of narratives. Solomon, J. George, C., & DeJong, A. (1995). Children Classified as Controlling at Age Six: Evidence of Disorganized Representational Strategies and Aggression at Home and School. Development and Psychopathology. 7, 447-464. Securely attached children typically tell stories in which the child protagonist struggles, finds a solution and ultimately lives happily ever after. Zwaan, R. A. (1999). Situation Models: The mental Leap into Imagined Worlds. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8, 15-18. The experience of narrative is the same as being in or observing the real situation. The Innate Quality of Attunement George, C. & Solomon, J. (1999). Attachment and Caregiving: The Caregiving Behavioral System. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.) Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications (pp. 649-670). New York: Guilford Press. In order to ensure survival, the parent is biologically driven to provide care and protection in the same way the child seeks proximity in order to be cared for and protected by the caregiver. Just as the infant is physiologically comforted when the parent is available, the mother experiences strong emotions of pleasure and satisfaction when she is able to provide protection and heightened anger, sadness or despair when her ability to be available to her child is threatened.

  24. Supporting Research Support Crockenberg, S.B. Infant Irritability, Mother responsiveness, and Social Support Influences on Security of Infant-Mother Attachment. Child Development 52, 857-865. FANT May, J.C. (2005). Family Attachment Narrative Therapy: Healing the Experience of Early Childhood Maltreatment. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 31, 221-237. Parenting Resources Bailey, B.A. (2000). I Love You Rituals. New York: Harper. Glasser, H. N. & Easley, J.L. (1999). Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach. Tucson, AZ: Center for the Difficult Child. Jernberg, A.M. & Booth, P.B. (1997). Theraplay: Helping Parents and Children Build Better Relationships Through Attachment Based Play (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey Bass. Kranowitz, C.S. & Miller, L.J. (2006). Out of Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder. New York: Perigree. Nelson, J. (2006). Positive Discipline . New York: Ballantine.

  25. Family Attachment Center 18322C Minnetonka Blvd Deephaven, MN 55391 952-475-2818