Traditional family therapy addresses an entire family once. There may be 3,4, 5 or more people in the therapist’s office at a time. However, this begs the question: How does this therapy setting differ from the situation at home? It doesn’t take much foresight to figure out that if people fight at home and are coming to see a therapist for help with their fighting, if they are seen all together at once, the fighting is bound to continue in the therapist’s office, except that they may be a little better behaved – perhaps do a little less yelling and swearing, and hopefully refrain from attacking each other physically. In fact, this is exactly what happens! Is a therapist there just to be a referee? I was once evicted from my office because of fighting between a teenager and her mother, with the teenager running out of the room sobbing. In such a case, there is little doubt that it will take many sessions to sort out the fighting before a therapist can gather even basic information, let alone begin a process of change. But how then should a therapist function?
Even if there is no imminent fighting, the DOLF method does not recommend that a family be seen together in one room for long. Whenever I see a family, I see the entire family together only initially with everybody invited, and for the first 10-15 minutes of the interview we all meet and greet for introductions and basic explanation of their problem. After that, with the DOLF technique in mind, I call for 2 or 3 family members at a time to come into my office, and ask the rest to sit in the waiting area. After my discussion with the first grouping, at my discretion, I ask for any number or combination of others to attend, the rest waiting outside. The combination of people is never routine and entirely a product of my quest to diagnose their problems. This depends on how I think I can best “feel out” the situation, figure out the roles played by the family members, and fit them into my DOLF model. I may choose to interview the parents as a couple, the children together as a group, one child and one parent, a child and a grandparent, a child alone, etc. In this way I see everyone, get to ask whatever questions I please to clarify the situation in my own mind, and come up with answers I can share, or not, at the end of the session.
In the back of my mind I always refer to the DOLF model, which provides me with the tools to judge exactly how the relationships in this family are structured, and how love is being distributed among the members. Once uncovered, I am able to advise the members about solutions. I might offer my advice directly, or indirectly. For example, if the parents seem open and willing, I might suggest how their love toward one child should be loosened, and the bond with another child strengthened. In many cases I do not make the recommendations directly, but simply ask that in the next session only certain members should appear, and in successive sessions, attempt to strengthen the bonds between these members. It is more unusual to try to loosen rather than strengthen certain bonds, but obviously, if some bonds are going to be strengthened, others will necessarily have to be loosened.
Often, because of its pinpoint accuracy, the DOLF process takes a minimum of sessions, usually between 1 and 5. Best of all, I get to talk to people in the most meaningful terms that make sense to them – the real feelings in terms they can relate to, that touch their deepest longings and leave them feeling more relieved than they ever felt, or expected to feel, before. They go home feeling gratified, contented, satisfied and grateful after talking to me. They feel “Finally, someone really understands what we’re going through, and knows what to do about it!”