Ending the session

Every session must have an ending, and the purpose in the behavioural-systems approach is to send the couple away with something to work at during the interval before the next session. About two-thirds of the way through a supervised session the therapist will usually go behind the one-way screen, turning off the camera and closing the shutters. The team will of course have been discussing the therapy all through the first part of the session, and will usually have many suggestions to give to the therapist. The team and the therapist then spend about I5 minutes in discussion, planning the 'message' to be given to the couple at the end. Part of this discussion will centre round the team's thinking about the significance of the problems from a systems point of view, but part will also be concerned with how the therapist can help the couple to change their interaction.

The introduction to the message will give the date of the next appointment, and usually also contains some positive and sympathetic comments for both partners. It is important as far as possible to keep them both 'on side' at this stage, so that it would be unwise to say something which could be seen by either partner as favouring the other one. A good example of an introductory comment would be: 'The team and I are aware of the great difficulties you are experiencing, but we think you have what is basically a good relationship, and you are both working hard to improve things'.

The message itself will vary according to the level of the hierarchy at which the therapy is being pitched. If it is mainly a session of reciprocity negotiation (see below) the main theme may be simply to reiterate the negotiated plans which have emerged from the earlier discussion. If, however, the therapist is working more systemically, the message may contain a task, a timetable, or a paradoxical injunction (see below) which is designed to alter both the behaviour of the couple and the way they conceptualize their relationship. In some cases it is appropriate to use a 'split-team' message (see below), in which one part of the team is said to favour a more behavioural task while the other part believes that that will be impossible to achieve and therefore prefers to 'prescribe the symptom' (see below).

The final part of the message is again likely to reiterate the positive sentiments of the introduction. There are good therapeutic reasons for this, in that people tend to remember the positive things that they hear about themselves, and may then link these to the more specific tasks or injunctions that are given with them. In many cases we also send a written copy of the message to the couple, so that they can think it over between sessions and not forget what has been discussed.

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