This post is the first of several articles in which I discuss the systemic therapy microskills, with Dr. AnnaLynn Schooley.
Dr. Schooley and her co-author, fellow professor and family therapist, Jim Hibel, are writing a book on the small systemic skills that therapists can intentionally practice in order to increase their effectiveness. In this video series, we review the systemic therapy skills that will be included in their book.
Below are two videos: a) An introduction to the joining skills, and b) an explanation of the first joining microskill, “back-channeling.”
Introduction, and “Prosody”
IW: Hey there, this is Ili and I have Dr. AnnaLynn Schooley with me once again—one of my favorite guests.
AS: Very excited about the question that you asked me as we were going through the microskills list, which unfortunately I keep re-developing every time we look at it. Family therapists kept revising their theory as well. So, not that I'm putting myself in that class. But, the process is the same
You said that you had a question about some of those, so we thought we'd go through and actually kind of quick definitions and examples, so that when people look at their own work (listen to it, or transcribe it out), they can use this as kind of a guide to identify what they're doing
IW: Yes, which is the beauty of this entire process, and why I enjoy so much speaking with you about the systemic microskills that you've developed—because it helps me get an idea and even like—as we know language is so powerful—a word and a concept for things that we already do. But also a word and a concept for things that we can be more intentional about, and we can continue to improve. So, yes. The goal of today is to define a section of the microskills that you call the joining skills.
AS: Oh, and I have a new word for you. My new word is prosody. This is the fancy linguistic term for voice inflection. How fast or slow, how higher low, how loud or soft, right? All those different ways that that you deliver. As you know, the old joke “putting the emphasis in the wrong syllable.” So, the one that my colleague Jim likes to say is the difference between “spare the rod, spoil the child” and “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Complete different meaning, but it's entirely based on voice inflection. Everything we're going to talk about, prosody is still a part of it. How you deliver things—the prosody of it—makes a difference in how it’s heard—whether it's perceived as joining or not.
Joining MicroSkill 1: Back-channeling
IW: The first one I have on our list is back-channeling.
AS: That was an example. So, back-channeling to define it, is introjects. Words we use all the time: Wow, really, gosh, gee, dude. You know, all of those little words that we use. “Okay” gets used a lot. Those little words. That's back-channeling. Also called “paralinguistic encouragers.” That's the fancy linguistic term. And the idea is that it lets you know you're taking your turn without taking up much time, which I just did.
IW: Yes, but you also combined it with a nod. So is it like natural that paralinguistic encouragers are combined with some sort of nonverbal . . .
AW: Non-verbal encouragers. Indeed.
IW: The next one on the list is nonverbal encouragers. So, nonverbal encourager is a nod, or like a [hand gesture]. Well, in therapy you don't do this, but we know this means kind of, like, move it along.
AS: That's what it means. And sometimes, when someone is talking, I will do hand gestures that exemplify what they're saying. So, if a couple is giving me a whole story about how the more he does this, the more she does that, I'll start doing, you know, this kind of thing [hand gestures]. Like, they're chasing each other around, but I don't have to say that. I just start doing the gesture, and they’re like, “Right!”, as if I had said something. They are those little gestures that you do that have meaning, and communicate something without you verbalizing it.
IW: Which I see as particularly useful when you are active listening and don't necessarily want to interrupt with your voice, but you're also in the conversation, so that you don't feel like you're left out of what's going on, and then you have to interject awkwardly.
AS: Indeed. And something to be thinking about is that, oftentimes, people get into head bobble.
IW: And, so, non-stop you’re saying.
AS: Exactly. So, then it stops being meaningful.
IW: So being aware nonverbal habits—not necessarily using them as encouragers, but that they're habits. And so then they're not affirming anything in particular.
AS: Jim [i.e., Jim Hibel, Dr. Schooley’s co-author) talks about them as tics.
IW: Tics. Okay.
More from Dr. Schooley
Dr. Schooley has been a guest on the blog in the past. See the following posts:
Let me know in the comments below:
What stands out as helpful, from these videos?