Change Mechanisms

The goal of SEFT is to provide experiences for the client that will reshape dysfunctional symbols and interactions resulting in positive, lasting change. Experts in SEFT identified emotion as the primary element in the therapeutic process. Emotional expression promotes maturation, opportunities for ongoing growth and serves as a historical point of reference and context through which a “corrective emotional experience” occurs.

According to Mitten & Connell, Symbolic-Experiential Family Therapy follows six core values or goals:

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1. Generating an interpersonal set through the expansion of the symptom and introspection by each member of the system regarding their contribution to the problem and maintenance of dysfunctional processes.

2. Creation of a supra system through the therapist’s successful joining of the family system. The therapist creates a therapeutic relationship with each member of the system through utilization of self-disclosure to present alternate perspectives to the problem.

3. Simulating the symbolic context to allow for symbolic experiences to occur in session. The therapist shifts from reality-based to symbolic listening allowing the creation and understanding of client’s meaning of the problem.

4. Activation of stress within the system by increasing emotional intensity in the therapy room. Whitaker believed anxiety fostered growth and clients would not be motivated to change in the absence of such discomfort. Increase in emotional intensity combats therapeutic impasse from systems not desperate enough to change.

5. Symbolic experiences are created during interactions in therapy that are beyond the client or therapist’s scope of conscious awareness. If meaningful change is to be maintained after therapy, a symbolic experience must be created and assigned meaning.

6. Therapists move out of the system through distancing once termination is imminent. Therapy is an experience of mutual growth and the therapist should acknowledge self-growth as a result of working with a client.


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