Photography Is Therapy

     Everyone has a story to tell.  As a counselor I spend a lot of time trying to help people examine their past.  My job is to help people.  One of the tools that I use is the past.  People do the things they do, because of the things they have done.  How we remember the past greatly influences our present thoughts and beliefs.  I believe that photographs are one of the most overlooked tools for counseling and life in general.  People are storytellers by nature.  We want people to know where we have been.  We want them to know how we feel.  Our greatest stories can be written through photographic prints.  You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words right?  Well the digital age has given us the ability to capture photos in ways we never could have hoped to do just a few years ago.  But something changed.  We stopped printing our pictures when we started taking photos with digital cameras.  We no longer have boxes or albums full of prints.  We have old hard drives full of images on old computers.  Our computers have been replaced with our tablets.  Our cameras have been replaced by our phones.  It's really easy to take pictures, but it's a hassle to print them.  So we don't.  We have become a culture that has forgotten how to write our stories.  We capture the story and unknowingly discard it.  We are so busy taking pictures with our phones, that we don't really experience that special or important moment.  Then we move on, and never really archive that photo.  We might go back and look at it again once or twice in the phone or camera, but something will come along that will keep that memory from being transferred to a print.  We are witnessing the story, and then forgetting to write it down.  Maybe your software update will go wrong and the images will get erased.  Maybe your memory card will go bad, or you'll accidentally erase the photos.  Maybe your phone will accidentally go swimming.

     Did you know that film is almost no longer being made?  Photo printing has become so inexpensive, but we only print a small fraction of what we shoot with our cameras.  I believe that printing your pictures is something that can help you write your story.

     I admit, I am guilty of not printing enough of my own photos.  I did professional photography for several years, and I loved to print my own photos.  Eventually it became too much like work to print my own photos.  It was also pretty pricey to print my own with the extremely nice ink jet printer I had.  Today I can get professional prints made for less than twenty cents apiece.  I have made a commitment to my family to print more photos, and I have been doing it.  I have to say, that it's really cool to see more and more prints on our walls.  It makes me remember the great times that we have been having as a family.  Now that we have two children, I am very excited.  I want them to see visual reminders of their stories hanging on our walls.  I want them to see that we choose as a family to visually write our story through photography.


Teenagers have a special gift.  They know just what to say to get parents on opposing sides of an issue.  Let’s pretend your teenaged daughter wants to wear an outfit that her friend loaned her.  You being the dad really haven’t paid much attention to what she was preparing to wear tonight.  She gets ready to leave, and you are involved in something.  Maybe you’re cleaning the kitchen or washing your wife’s car or something.  You know you’re always doing productive things for the family right? 

So out comes your daughter and she says, “Bye dad.”  You look up and notice that you don’t recognize those shorts that she’s wearing, and she’s just about to get past you.  You think to yourself, “Man, those shorts don’t look okay.”  What do you do?  Thoughts speed through your mind like a flash of lightning.

What happened to my little girl?
What would my lovely wife say about those shorts?
My wife would look really good in those shorts.
I wonder what my wife is wearing right now…
Is that a scratch on the car?
I need to finish washing this car so I can go fishing.
What time did my wife say she would be home tonight?
Where are my keys?

You stop.  Does your daughter have your keys?  No, the important thing to stay focused on right now is that your daughter is about to get away, wearing the most inappropriate shorts, and who’s going to get in trouble for it when your wife gets home?  You’re daughter?  No.  You are!  Why?  You’re going to get in trouble because you know teenaged boys better than your daughter does.  More specifically, your daughter is testing your boundaries, and she is attempting to take advantage of a psychology term called, “Splitting.”  This is when your daughter attempts to elevate one parent while demoting the other parent.  You are demoted by her attempt to avoid you.  Your wife is elevated in this example, but your daughter avoids her, because she knows she wouldn’t be allowed to wear those clothes if mom was there. 

Your daughter knows your wife is not home.  She knows that you are a softy.  She is attempting to split you from your wife.  She knows that she can take advantage of the fact that her mother is not here to help reinforce the rules about her dress code.  She assumes that since you are not able to communicate with your wife at this very moment, she will have the advantage of plausible deniability about her choices.  She knows the rules regarding her clothes, but she can just say she didn’t know.  Since you saw her in her clothes, and you let her out of the house it must be your responsibility.  News flash!  It is your responsibility.  You have just as much responsibility to point her towards her behaviors as her mother does.  You also have the added responsibility to remind your daughter that you and your wife are on the same page about everything.  (Even if you're not on the same page about everything.)

You also have the fatherly task of assuring that your daughter understands the role of safety in the outside world.  She needs to know that it relates to what she is wearing too.  It may be fine for someone else’s family to put their daughter out there as an advertisement for a men’s magazine, but your daughter is a teenager.  She does not need a man for a few more years.  She needs to understand this concept in a manner that communicates that she has value as a young woman.  The best way for you to do this is to communicate how much you value her and your own wife.

This is where you tell your daughter that you and your wife have already discussed the acceptable way to dress with your daughter.  You can remind her that she has already agreed that she will not wear those shorts since they violate the rules for clothes.  Tell her that your love for her and her mother is what motivates you to tell her to go back inside and change clothes before she leaves.  Tell her that she can go out with her friends when she demonstrates that she is going to make better choices with her clothes.  Do something, but don’t let her split you from your wife by letting her leave.  You set the expectation that she can attempt to come between you and your wife in the future if you just let her go.  If she continues this pattern, she may believe that it’s okay to try to continue coming between mom and dad.

 Your respect for your wife will speak more to your daughter’s heart than the clothes that she got from her friend.  She will see your respect for her mother as a genuine thing to internalize and learn from (bring in to her heart).  She will also remember that her friend who gave her the clothes has the opposite issue.  Her friend’s clothes speak against safety, structure and genuine love.  She knows that those clothes were her friend’s way to get attention.  She’ll probably remember how her friend cried several times about being manipulated by guys…and not understanding why.  Over time, your daughter will grow to realize the difference between selfless love, and self-centered love.  She will understand the love of Jesus by you pointing her to the rules and safety that you set up as a family. 

The Scripts: Savior or Rescuer

The Scripts:  Savior or Rescuer

Remember the kid in school who always went and told on your classmates?  Did you notice that it was usually the same kid who was picking on other kids who went to “tattle” on the teacher’s pet?   We call him the “ Savior” or the “Rescuer” in the drama triangle.  Can’t you just remember him waiting around for you to accidentally drop your pencil?  He would blurt out in class that you were “Out of your seat without permission.”  He just wanted to help the teacher do her job, right?

How did the teacher react?

Did she see through his clever plan?  Did she remember that he was the actual bully?  Why did he seem to think that the adult teacher needed that extra bit of help to find out what you were doing?  Why did he feel the need to portray you as a hooligan anyways? You weren’t doing anything really bad.  You were just trying to get your pencil right?  This is the third part of the “Drama Triangle, or Victim Triangle,” that we have been discussing in other articles.  Dr. Steven Carpman conceptualized the drama triangle in the 1960’s.  This is a great way to see what motivates people. 

People tend to start using these scripts because they do not really want to learn a lesson.  They are stuck in the process of learning to be responsible for their actions.  Their family and friends may actually expect them to grow up and stop doing bad things in the future, so they blame others for their own behaviors.  This lets them live in an ongoing habit of finding some fault in the people around them as the reason for their behaviors.  The three points on the triangle are labeled Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer.  Before I found out that it was Dr. Carpman’s theory, I called them Bully, Victim and Savior.  The savior role is the most entertaining to me.

I remember kids in my past job that always wanted to “help” their caregivers by pointing out the behaviors of other kids.  They would then justify their “right” to act up, because of the things the other kids had done.  It was a constant “bait and switch” scheme.  I learned to help kids with the drama triangle by telling them that they were safe to learn a lesson.  I told them that if they accepted responsibility for their actions, they would be adding something to the inside of their personality.  This would make their personality grow, and heal from things that are hurting right now.  I told them that the next time something like this happens they will be more grown up.  I told them it would be a little bit easier to handle the stress next time, and it would not hurt as much.

How do you see the rescuer or savior role in your daily life?  I’m sure it reminds you of some people you may know.  I would like to encourage you.  Try to show them that you don’t need help, when you really don’t or if you didn’t ask for it.  You will be showing them that they are responsible for being consistent and that you won’t be easily manipulated into “needing” them.

The Scripts: Bully

The Scripts:  Bully or Persecutor

So have you ever found yourself feeling like a friend or a loved one was setting you up? 

Ever felt like you were going to get in trouble no matter what kind of response you gave?

Have you ever heard this line, “Does this dress make me look fat?”

If you say yes, you’re in serious trouble! 
What if you say no?  Maybe you’re being truthful…but maybe you’re being set up for a conflict.  The “non-fat” friend of yours could reply back with something like…well are you saying the other dress makes me look fat?
It’s a no-win for you isn’t it?

How about this one:   “It’s your fault I over drew the checking account! You said I could buy what I want.”

The language that we use is based on our personality.  These are examples of people using the Bully script.  It is also called the persecutor or the perpetrator.  This is one of the three scripts in the Drama Triangle or the Victim Triangle.  The Drama Triangle was a concept put forward by Dr. Stephen Carpman.   He viewed personality conflict through a triangle with three different scripts.  Each script puts the responsibility for behavior on the other person in the relationship.  Not on the one doing the talking. 

I remember being in the group home where I worked for two years as a therapist.  I would constantly watch kids attempting to get out of trouble by blaming other kids or staff members for the unjust treatment that they thought they were about to get.  It usually came about because of something they had done wrong, but they were frantically working on a story that put the responsibility for their behaviors on someone else.  Usually they tried to come up with something they remembered from earlier in the day.  They would try to spin the story so that they were the victim in the situation. The thing that struck me was that fifteen minutes later they would be staring down some other poor kid, and threatening unspeakable things they were going to do to them.  Where did that poor victim go?  It had only been fifteen minutes and they were threatening to beat up on another kid.  They hadn’t learned anything from the consequence that was used or attempts to make them feel like less of a victim.  (Assuming they were convincing enough to the staff member involved with them.)

I was introduced to the Victim Triangle through these episodes.  I used this concept in treatment every day…all day.  Here’s what I would do.

A teenaged child would approach me, usually screaming about what they were going to do to so and so, if they didn’t start getting some respect.   Usually there would be some other poor teenager backed into a corner.  I would ask them, “I didn’t know you were such a perpetrator (Or bully)…Is that what you are telling me you want me to believe, or is there something else you are trying to tell me?  Usually that was enough of a warning about the child’s behavior to get them to stop for a minute from their tirade.  Usually the other kid (or staff member) was even more intrigued, because few people actually talk in this type of language in their daily life.  Think about it.  I’m not saying they are a perpetrator, or a bully.  They approached me and said they were about to do something painful and bullying to someone else.  Their own language already shows their intended choice through a threat of bodily harm to someone else.  I’m just taking them seriously…but I had already spent time with the same child as they were using the victim script.  I had empathized with them when they believed they were the victim.  I didn’t necessarily enable that belief.  I empathized with them. 

Sometimes I reality checked with them about twisted thinking in the victim script too.  But I empathized with them when they were the victim.  I validated their healthy choices, and offered alternative ways to think for future situations.   The other child always safely got out of the corner.  The Bully was also able to save face, because I was actually calling them a bully, which was what they wanted their victim to perceive.  But they made the choice to step away from the bully role in the episode.  It also showed the actual potential victim in the situation how to use de-escalating language in the moment.

By taking the threatening behavior seriously and telling them what it is, I give them the opportunity to be responsible for choosing which role they want to occupy.  They can’t be all three things (Bully, Victim, Rescuer) in the matter of an hour.  They know it’s not consistent.  Over the course of the relationship with the children, I would spend time empathizing with them, regardless of what script they used.  They always needed empathy, because they were working on changing aspects of how they cope with others.  I was challenging how they view the world, and how they believed others perceived them. 

The most important part for me as a therapist was that the children learned that I would be consistent and available.  I would not reject them based on the script that they were using at the time.  For a bully to learn that someone close can call them out on their behavior, and still stick with them, is the part that helps them grow.

The Scripts

Once you have set up the ten rules in your home you will probably face some setbacks and frustrations.  Hopefully you will begin to see some positive results from having a “home base” to parent from.  The more you use them, the more you will notice that your language will start to follow a pattern.  You may find yourself repeating things.   You will develop what is termed a “script.”  We will call it a script from here on out. 

As you notice yourself practicing the rules, you may realize that your script is less about you or your child.  It’s actually about the behavior you are trying to correct.  For example, I might say to my little one, “Do we throw our toys?”  She would say no. 
“What do we do with our toys?” I would ask her.
“We play nicely with our toys.”  She would respond.
We’ve practiced this, so she knows she has misbehaved.  I’m just giving her the opportunity to be responsible for her behavior and to correct it through her own choice.

If she continues to throw her toy we would send her to time out and talk about the behavior again.  But the benefit here is that we did not resort to what would have been my early script without the rules.  It would go something like this.

I see her throwing her toys.
“What are you doing?” 
No response.
“Elizabeth!”   If you don’t stop that right now, you’re going to get a spanking.
No response.
Elizabeth, if you don’t stop doing that right now, daddy’s going to get mad.
She still continues.
Elizabeth don’t make daddy come over there.

Elizabeth continues…etc etc.  Until I follow through and spank her or change to a consequence I am willing to follow through with.
Notice my consequences kept getting less severe.  I’m already changing my strategy from cause/effect to trying to appeal to her.  I’ve told her she won, and I just want her to change her mind so she can preserve the relationship.  I’ve given her the responsibility of parenting because I didn’t do what I said I would do the first time. 

I never told her what she needed to stop doing.  I didn’t follow through with my pledge to spank her until at least the third or fourth warning.  This encourages her to continue to test the limit.

The script is habitual dialogue that I draw upon from the past with my child. Sometimes we take what we hear from our parents and make it snowball in the lives of our children. 

The victim triangle, or the drama triangle:
This is an approach to understanding personality dialogue and what’s called the externalization process.  It is credited to Dr. Steven Karpman MD.  He first devised this model in the 1960’s.  He came up with a dramatic script visual called the “victim triangle,” or the “drama triangle.”  This is a very helpful tool to understand the way people try to avoid responsibility in their daily interactions.

We are not constant victims of the world.  We choose what we do and how we feel.
“You always…”   (Always is an absolute term.  People are not absolute beings.)
“You never…”  (Never is an absolute term.)
“Don’t make me do…”  (People can’t really make you do things unless they violate your boundaries, such as a hostage situation).
“You make me feel…” (People can’t make you feel anything unless they are physically harming you). 

This is an example of the “victim” script.  The example is how our dialogue attempts to make us the victims of the people we are talking with. 

“Don’t make me spank you” would be an example of a parent making himself the victim of a noncompliant child.  The parent is implying that he is the victim of the child’s spanking.  It makes the consequence the problem and not the behavior. This diminishes the cause/effect relationship to the child’s choice to misbehave.  It also encourages a later attachment issue between the two.  We will discuss these issues in more detail later.

We will discuss the three main scripts and put them in a visual format.
The best way to avoid script language is to focus on the problem, not attacking the person.  In our pre-marital counseling, our pastor gave us a communication covenant.  One of the best lines in that document was that we would agree to never verbally attack our spouse.  We would always discuss the problem as being the problem and not the person as being the problem.  This is one of the most important points in counseling all relationship issues.  We will continue with the victim triangle and the concept of scripts in our next few blog articles.  

Why we have the Ten Rules

So for the last week I’ve been trying to narrow my focus for the “Ten Rules For Your Home” material.  I received a few questions from people asking how to get started in coming up with rules.  The main concerns were, “How do you keep the leadership role of the father in the home when the teenager is coming up with the rules?” Another question was, “Why do you do time out when it does not seem like it is working?”
            These are great questions.  When I enter the picture as a counselor, things have usually gotten to the point where the family needs immediate help.  They can’t wait three months to see improved behaviors in their child.  Usually the school is giving ultimatums to the family about their child’s behavior too.  A comforting word from an overly optimistic counselor will not get the school to stop sending home letters about their kid’s bad behavior.  There needs to be some sort of plan to get everyone in the child’s life on the same page.  This is why I needed something adaptable to the most difficult family situations.  Families with less intense issues can always scale back the plan if it is too much.
            Working with teenagers can be very frustrating at times.  Having the ability to manipulate concepts is a new skill for them.  They are sometimes overwhelmed by the new information that they are now capable of understanding, but they do not have all the right places in their mind to store the information from new processing abilities.

I came up with the “Ten Rules” after my two years as a counselor in a Specialized Therapeutic Group Home.  I was responsible for the counseling of foster children who needed an extremely high level of supervision.  We had a 24-hour staff that was accountable to where the children were at all times.  These workers all had differing opinions of how things should be run, but we couldn’t do it a different way for each staff member.  Additionally, I learned that the kids would have been very happy for us to try to run the group home eighteen different ways.  They could exploit that.  That is why we emphasized the concept of “splitting” or divisions. By having a common plan, we were able to keep the children from using the different “parenting” styles of the workers against each other.  Sometimes the kids understood it better than the grown ups though. 
So when I left the group home I began working with children in an outpatient type setting.  They had at least one parent.  I realized that these children also had stability issues that I could address by simplifying the structure of the group home.  I wanted to also make it a Biblical model, because I am confident in the Bible’s relevance for everyone.  I noticed that many of the parents were mad because their kids were “disrespectful.”  I asked them to tell me how they will know their kids are being respectful.  They would say something like, “He’ll say yes ma’am or no ma’am.  He won’t use profanity anymore, or he won’t get into fights at school.” 
I would ask those same parents to write those down as rules, and about half the time, they would not write down those rules.   Since I had so many kids, and about half of the parents would not work on coming up with rules, I began working on the rules myself with the kids.  I would send the kids home with the rules, and many of them would get really excited about their counseling!  In turn, their behaviors at home would improve.  Imagine how a teenager feels when they are getting into trouble, and they begin to take responsibility for their actions.  It is so disappointing when they get home and their parent is not involved in the counseling that they demanded the child receive. The only time I had a hard time with this design was when parents just did not think it was necessary to be involved in participating in the therapy.  They would say things like, “Can’t you just get her to do what I say?” Unfortunately, those were the cases where I was least effective in helping the families.  The “Ten Rules” is a model designed to help the parents and the child communicate about expectations.  This behavior management template also allows the counselor to work on the deeper issues once the clear expectations are set at home.  Many times it even improved marriage conflict, because it gives the parents an opportunity to parent from the same set of expectations.  In time the “Ten Rules” get replaced with the language that the parents learn to use in the moment.  In essence, it teaches the parents how to step outside of the issues they inherited from their own development, and to parent from a Biblical model, instead of an inherited wound of the heart from their own parents.