In the field of working with children and their families we must be concerned with the fact, that not all of our clients want our help or recognize that the help we offer them is relevant. For those and many other reasons therapeutic change is seldom linear, and sometimes not even attractive.
In Foliko, a collective of psychologists in Copenhagen, we mostly meet families that already have been offered help for ages, and therefore have some reluctance at the thought, that help is needed though oftentimes it is. The reluctance often comes across as mistrust, anger or disinvolvement. This, in itself, poses an additional challenge to the problem.
So here the question of “what kind of help, is helpful?” starts. The starting point is often that somebody else, not the family, is worried. Therefore, the motive for change is negative and not a part of the family’s own agency and realm of ideas. The paradox is instantly brought to life: The demand for change brings pressure to the context of change, which can cause the change to be delayed or frozen.
This paradox has been well described and approached from different angles for years in the field of family therapy: you cannot leave a negative defined position, the problem of the referring person, working with the no-problem stance etc.
Often we have met either-or approaches to this paradox – either prioritizing the alliance with the family, focusing on what they find important and prefer from a not-knowing position, or the immediate reduction of worry by presenting the family with the effect of their choices and the possible consequences (eg. foster placement) from a position of power.
Our approach in Foliko is somewhat pragmatic. We will argue that the best help is both meeting the family where they are and where they need to go!
We try to consider the responsibility is to keep focus on the children’s wellbeing and the changes that often must be achieved while at the same time being curious about the difficulties that arise from that same demand. We offer our help without lifting the demands for change. This is a balance that, as you might recognize, is difficult to find.
At the Nordic Congress of Family Therapy 2020 we will share our most difficult experiences in keeping this balance by presenting practices around the notion of Epistemic Trust (trustworthy learning) as put forward by Peter Fonagy, one of the founders of Mentalizing. Our examples are video-based and will be put forward in a way that can easily be applied in cases that you work with and that exist in the same realm of the paradox of helpful help.