The Art of Enactment

The Art of Enactment

How to Get Real Conversation Going in the Consulting Room

By Mike Nichols

November/December 1997

Q: Therapists are supposed to get family members to talk with each other during sessions, but I've found that is not so simple. How do you get family members to talk together productively?

A : Although some families are willing to engage one another directly in therapy, often members have given up on one another and just want the therapist's approval and understanding. In-session dialogues, or what structural therapists call enactments, can be among the most valuable tools for getting a family's communication going. Nevertheless, staging enactments isn't simple. Both beginners and experienced therapists have trouble making them work, but usually for very different reasons. Typically, beginners have trouble structuring enactments and taking charge of them in a way that generates a different kind of interaction. In contrast, experienced therapists often make the opposite mistake--they so overmanage the conversation that they interfere with the ability of clients to become involved in the dialogue and find new ways of interacting.

Beginners should be sure that they give clients clear and explicit instructions. Specify the exact topic for conversation (clients' complaints about one another are a fertile source of material) and indicate how the conversation should go ("See if you can convince her that you're willing to listen to her feelings"). Be clear about the mechanics--turn participants' chairs to face…

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