Studying for the NCE – Dealing with Family Conflict

While I haven’t had any professional experience dealing with family conflict, there are many useful insights from the assigned materials this week.   Nay, (2010 describes angry couples in a way that is similar to how Dr. Gottman had described the disaster couples from his research.  In angry/disaster couples, there is a tendency for arguments or ongoing conflicts to quickly escalate and physiological symptoms of fight-or-flight to set in (Nay, 2010). As the therapist in “The Angry Couple” video (Holland & Stein, 1995), explained, oftentimes underlying the conflicts are interpersonal patterns that reflect early childhood experiences.  While the video shows a useful therapy structure that involves both individual and joint couples therapy, the Nay (2010) article provides conflicting perspectives on this technique.  On the one hand, while this technique is useful in addressing early childhood experiences, others might feel that this method isn’t truly a systemic approach.  I’m personally uncertain about how I feel.

Diffusing Conflict.

In the assigned video, the therapist suggests that conflict-focused therapy should focus on: (1) symptom reduction, (2) conflict resolution, and (3) the development of conflict resolution skills, (Holland & Stein, 1995).   Techniques utilized by therapist throughout this video, to prevent and manage conflict involve the establishment of structure.  This structure involved guidelines or rules that could allow both clients to experience a feeling of safety while in therapy so feelings could be explored honestly. For example, structural guidelines can include: (1) avoiding inflammatory crosstalk, (2) using “I” or “and” statements, (3) and allowing equal time for each individual to share their thoughts.  Finally,  the therapist in this video did a good job of managing the emotional conflict level, with an agreed-upon “stop” intervention, when the discussion became too heated.  When utilizing structural guidelines like this, the couple in the video was able to begin practicing conflict resolution skills.  This allowed the dynamic between them to shift from conflict to collaboration.

Anger Prevention Strategies.

The useful anger prevention strategies I saw in these resources pertained to two key insights.  In the assigned video,  therapist discusses early childhood experiences with this couple individually, in order to understand how this is impacting their relationship.  Over the course of several sessions, we learn how experiences in their families of origin impacted them emotionally, and left them with unresolved interpersonal relationship patterns.  When coupling this insight with homework and joint sessions, I believe a transformation of their relationship is possible.   In contrast, the Nay, (2010) article discusses techniques such as the “STOP” acronym, which stands for “stop, think, objectify and plan”.  Skills such as these can provide individuals with anger management skills that are also likely to impact relationships positively over the long term.


Holland, J. (Director), & Schein, L. (Producer). (1995). The Angry Couple [Video file] Retrieved November 11, 2015, from The Collection.
Nay, R. (2010). Case study, stop the merry-go-round: Strategies for angry couples. Washington: Psychotherapy Networker, Inc.
Patterson, J., Williams, L, Edwards, T., Chamow, L. & Grauf-Grounds, C. (2009). Essential Skills in Family Therapy: From the First Interview to Termination. New York: Guilford Press.

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