Therapy is Collaborative



Collaborative Language-Based Therapies are umbrella terms for numerous types of therapies such as reflexive, solution-oriented, narrative, and experiential therapies (Rambo, 2003). The overall thought process behind these types of therapies is that through talking and walking with a client, anything can be understood and resolved. Because through talking and being there with a person, we can understand another’s reality.


Check that last statement out. We can understand another’s reality. Not take on. Not disagree. Not change. Just understand.


The idea of “multiple realities” (Rambo, 2003, p. 150) came about when Goolishan, one of the founders of said therapies, realized that, depending on what family member you were speaking to, there really could and would be various interpretations of the same event. That in order to understand the family, one had to do it collaboratively with all the family members through listening, empathy, and reflective listening.


Reflexive therapy is simply reflecting on a time that has already past. Solution focused, or what is now termed possibility therapy, focuses the attention of the family on not the problem at hand but on the time when that particular problem was not there at all (Rambo, 2003). Narrative therapy, on the other hand, is the most multicultural of these therapies. It takes into account the history of oppression, race, and cultural identity and is much more client directed. A counselor becomes an active listener and asks questions that are geared toward understanding the family members as cultural and ethnic identities first and foremost.


What’s appealing about these therapies is that the role of the counselor is to simply listen. The client’s story is the most important part and diagnosis of any kind is considered negative. By listening, there can be a collaborative solution through positive discussion and support. The client knows best and the counselor is there as an inquisitive team player only.


The biggest and most appealing strengths of Collaborative Language-Based Therapy approaches are the initial affirmation the client gets. From the very beginning, he or she is 100% supported and there is unconditional positive regard from the counselor. This therapy sets the stage for a client to feel confident and strong in resolve. The weaknesses of such an approach lies only in the counselor’s ability to have an open mind and an all accepting outlook into any client’s worldview and life overall. There is no room for judgment. This requires a counselor to be sure in his or her own ideals and the ability to put them on the backburner indefinitely for the good of the client.


Virginia Satir was the founder of experiential approaches therapy and, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be the ethereal mother of love and goodness and she promoted her therapy as such as well. I say this with the deepest respect. Experiential therapy is considered a “theory free” therapy and is based on the idea that all of us are here to grow. However, we are often stifled in that growth through communication breakdowns, emotional misunderstandings, and self esteem issues (Thomas, 2003). We must be reminded of our potential and our strength to move past whatever is holding us down and recognize how we are contributing to that wall. We do this by having a nonjudgmental soundboard to reflect on our lives and our stories.


Whitaker explained that change will only come from drive and worry that transfers into a usable energy (Keith & Whitaker, 182 as cited in Thomas, 2003). That energy and worry can make change, which is flexible and adaptable. Dysfunction is interpreted as simply no growth through a cyclical lack of viable communication, secure attachments, and self esteem issues (Thomas, 2003). Experiential therapy can be very free form and the counselor does not have techniques and tasks, per say. There are some ground rules and basic stages, such as noting body language, the use of metaphor and reframing, using “I” statements, and using touch (Satir & Baldwin, 1983 as cited in Thomas, 2003). However, many techniques are simply taken from a counselor’s creativity and a client’s desire.


For instance, both Whitaker and Satir were well known for following a client’s lead through experiential therapy – therapy may entail wrestling with angry boys on the floor, sitting at the feet of a grandmother telling a story, or holding hands with an angry couple. They are off the cuff and client directed (Thomas, 2003). My greatest moments of experiential therapy? They are too numerous to count and I never expected them to happen. Those have been turning points in therapy for many a client. And if truth be told, for me as well.


Collaborative language based therapy means understanding a client’s language. Even if they aren’t talking.


Which means you have to pay attention.


You have to understand their path of reality.


And then you walk down the path. Together.





Rambo, A. (2003). Chapter 6: The collaborative language-based models of family therapy: When Less Is More. In Hecker, L. L., & Wetchler, J. L., (eds.). An Introduction to Marriage and Family Therapy (1st ed.). Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Clinical Practice Press


Thomas, V. (2003). Chapter 7: Experiential approaches to family therapy. In Hecker, L. L., & Wetchler, J. L., (eds.). An Introduction to Marriage and Family Therapy (1st ed.). Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Clinical Practice Press

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