Family Psycho-Education practices begin with the joining sessions which are the first opportunities that practitioners have to facilitate and build a rapport and a working alliance with families.FPE practitioners recognize families’ knowledge and expertise. and the idea of FPE is that families and practitioners join their expertise and strengths to support goal achievement. This collaborative approach forms the foundation for the model. To foster this collaborative relationship, practitioners:
- demonstrate genuine concern for their families,
- validate families’ experiences and realities,
- avoid treating families as ‘patients’ in need of fixing, and
- avoid playing the blame game with families for their real or perceived problems.
To help foster a more informal environment and working alliance, practitioners begin by socializing, both at the beginning and at the end of each session. This helps to reduce anxiety and allows you to get to know your families as people, as diverse as they may be. If you don’t get to know your families, capacity-building cannot begin or result in maximized collaborative learning, joining, or helping relationships. It is also important that practitioners be open and honest about themselves and who they are as people.
From the first joining session, it is your role to guide, without monopolizing or dominating the conversation, but they must be structured in order to complete this process. There is always an agenda, however informally presented. Following a prescribed and structured meeting lets families know what to expect and what will be accomplished during your time together.
Developing a strong alliance and a rapport with families is a long process. If your first contact with families or parents is during a critical episode you may have a special opportunity to build that strong alliance. Respond quickly to immediate needs as you demonstrate your sincere willingness to help, especially in concrete ways. Establish yourself as a resource and a source of support.
If assistance is sought, offer it quickly. Prompt attention reassures families that you have committed to partnering with them. Do not hesitate to think outside the box and step in and take on non-traditional roles. Act as an advocate, refer services, help obtain entitlements and benefits and help them navigate the system’s bureaucracy.
If this is not your first encounter with families, and any expressed concerns or problems have not arisen, as may have prior, review and revisit those strategies that work to enable forward movement for families and their children. Be solution-focused. Reflection works to help families identify the variables which may or may not be effective. Look, specifically for the positives, and build upon them. Talk them through, and invite imagery to illustrate that which works for them.
Emphasize changes that are identified if any. If so, these changes, apparent or barely noticeable, constitute ‘prodromal signs and symptoms’. For example, if a child were having difficulty in school surrounding behavior and impulse control, whether sporadic or for the first time, there are usually prodromal symptoms. These symptoms make up idiosyncratic behaviors specific to that child, and will precede episodes. Poor sleep, restlessness, irritability, poor eating are those symptoms which give indication of a particular behavior. Your job would be to help families address these behaviors, recognize them early and learn to manage or help their family member manage the impulses that lead to problems.
The joining process allows the exploration of such concerns and helps families to form a working relationship with practitioners and establish that trust required to invest in psychoeducation sessions. Disclosure from families emerges more freely within an atmosphere that is relatively informal, respectful and definitely confidential. What happens in groups or with individual family meetings, stays right there on that floor, in that room. Confidentiality must be maintained at all times!
Parents need to know that they are respected, valued, and that their experiences are validated, whether commonly shared or unique to a family. In order to facilitate an alliance between families, in multi-group sessions, it is important that they socialize, identify common interests, share common experiences, concerns, and recognize shared goals. This is possibly the most important part of the process of utilizing psychoeducation practices and family engagement in education, child welfare, juvenile justice or behavioral health systems.
Some practitioners skip or shorten this phase to more rapidly begin to introduce your program’s agenda. However, shortening this step will usually backfire and families who don’t complete joining sessions are more likely to disengage prematurely. The tasks for Joining Session #1 look like this:
- Review a present or past ‘episode’, concern or problem
- Identify precipitating events
- Explore prodromal signs and symptoms
- Review family experiences and validate their experiences as normal human responses
- Identify family strengths and coping strategies that have been successful
- Identify coping strategies that have not been helpful
The purpose of joining is to develop a rapport and cultivate partnerships with families. You may conduct joining sessions with families, either individually or in groups depending on family preference. Meetings usually last for about an hour. Build and convey hope, establish yourself as a trustworthy, supportive, and valued resource for the empowerment of families, and communities. All of this goes without saying that your services must be framed by culturally responsive practices. Along with trust, these are your building blocks for engaged and invested families. Families need you to support their capacity to advocate for themselves and their family members’ total wellness. Joining is connecting!