Our story of Angel and his mom provides a unique glimpse into a family therapy session.
Eleven-year-old Angel had been meeting individually with the WYS therapist to establish trust and to learn about him. The therapist asked Angel’s mom, Rosa, to schedule a special time to meet together as a family. The therapist felt there was an opportunity for Angel and Rosa to learn better ways of communicating.
When they arrived, Rosa was very upset with Angel due to an earlier argument. The therapist taught active listening skills. Their therapist suggested they:
- share what happened, each from their own perspective
- with one person talking at a time and
- both waiting to share if they disagreed or had another perspective after the other completed sharing
Angel and Rosa agreed to try this.
The therapist invited Rosa to talk about their earlier argument. She encouraged her to use “I” statements and to discuss what she was feeling. She asked Rosa to refrain from assumptions or judgments about her son’s motivations. After several attempts, Rosa was able to share her feelings.
The therapist then asked Angel to repeat what he heard his mom say. Then she invited Angel to tell his version of the story. When Angel was done, Rosa was asked to share what she was experiencing in her body and feelings. Rosa immediately began to cry. The conversation shifted away from the topic of the argument.
Rosa shared that she was feeling guilty for not being able to protect Angel from previous trauma from years before. She also shared that she was feeling guilty for not having a partner to help her with finances and parenting. The therapist then invited Angel to share what he was experiencing in his feelings and body. Angel shared with them that he felt his mom did an excellent job protecting and raising him. Rosa and Angel cried together and hugged.
They also returned to the topic of their earlier argument which started when Rosa was asking Angel questions about school. Mom was able to explain that she asks a lot of questions because she cares about Angel and wants him to be safe and happy at school.
Angel admitted that he doesn’t respond to the questions and Rosa acknowledged that she assumes he is being silent and angry. Angel was able to explain that in actuality, he is often thinking about how to best answer her so that she doesn’t worry about him. Rosa acknowledged that her guilt was getting in the way of understanding Angel’s needs.
In this session, both Angel and Rosa were able to understand the argument in a completely different context. Angel now understands that his mom asks questions out of concern for his safety and well-being, and Rosa sees Angel’s response (or lack of) was also out of concern for her feelings. This shift in perspective diffused the underlying tension in their communication.