Family Card Game

We are thrilled to post this therapeutic technique submitted to us by close friend of ChildTherapyToys Liana Lowenstein. Ms. Lowenstein is a therapist and author whose books include three volumes of Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families; Creative Interventions for Troubled Children & Youth; and Creative Interventions for Children of Divorce. (You’ll also find her articles and techniques peppered throughout this blog.)

The great thing about the innovative techniques presented here is that they require no more than a standard deck of playing cards. However, if you’re interested in using other fun therapeutic card games in your practice, be sure to check out the wide variety offered at ChildTherapyToys!

Therapeutic techniques that involve children or the entire family can be challenging, particularly if the therapist relies on the usual modus operandi of therapy—talk. The First Session Family Card Game (from Creative Family Therapy Techniques Edited by Lowenstein, 2010) provides a means by which talk is integrated into an engaging game. A standard 52-card deck is used for this activity. Introduce the activity by stating, “We are going to play a game that will help me get to know your family.” The rules are explained as follows:

Take turns picking the top card from the deck of cards. If you get a card with an even number, pick a card from the question card pile and answer the question. If you get a card with an odd number, pick a card from the question card pile and ask someone in your family to answer the question. If you pick an ace, ask someone in your family for a hug. If you pick a Jack, Queen or King, you get to pick something from the surprise bag. At the end of the game, everyone who played gets to pick something from the surprise bag.

The question cards have been specifically designed to facilitate joining and to help the family identify treatment goals. Examples of questions for the First Session Family Card Game include:

1. True or False: When families seek therapy they often feel nervous, embarrassed, and/or overwhelmed.
2. Fill in the blank: A good therapist is someone who…
3. What would need to happen in the session today to make you feel like it was worthwhile coming?
4. What do you think needs to change in your family?
5. True or False: Everyone in our family plays a part in making it better.
6. How will you feel if your family gets the help you need?

During the game, there is ample opportunity to observe family dynamics, which further assists in treatment planning. Added elements of the game include hugs to encourage nurturing interactions in the family, and a surprise bag filled with small treats to further engage the clients.

The game can be repeated in the last session (thereby called the Last Session Family Card Game, Lowenstein, 2010) with questions focused on reviewing therapeutic gains. Examples of questions for the Last Session Family Card Game include:

1. What is a positive change someone in your family has made during your time in therapy?
2. What is your family able to do better now?
3. Tell about something you have learned about someone in your family during your time in therapy.
4. Tell about a skill you learned in therapy that you can use to deal with problems that arise in the future.
5. What advice would you give to another family who are experiencing a similar problem that brought you to therapy?
6. Families often teach therapists valuable lessons. Ask your therapist to tell something your family has taught him/her.

Additional questions for the two above versions of the game can be found in Creative Family Therapy Techniques (Lowenstein, 2010). The game can be modified for specific target populations. For example, below are some sample questions from the bereavement version (found in Creative Interventions for Bereaved Children, Lowenstein, 2006):

1. Tell three feelings you have had since your loved one died.
2. Describe a grieving ritual or custom your family followed when your loved one died.
3. Share a favorite memory of the person who died.
4. In what ways has your family changed since the person died?
5. What has helped you the most since your loved one died?

The game is used as a “stimulus for expression of otherwise unattainable information” (Schaefer & Reid, 2001). The therapist provides supportive feedback and validates feelings that emerge during the course of the activity.

About the Author:
Liana Lowenstein, MSW, RSW, CPT-S, is a child and family therapist in Toronto, Canada. She is internationally recognized for her innovative work including numerous books on child and family therapy.

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