Family Consultations – Client Example 2 - The Oliviers – Family of Seven Coping with Trauma


We first met the Oliviers for individual trauma therapy for their son, Joe. Joe had witnessed a terrible accident which led to his father losing a leg. He was struggling with flashbacks of the trauma in school and was angry and irritable. He found concentrating difficult and was struggling to socialise with his peers. We completed trauma focused therapy with Joe individually, but his anger and anxiety continued. It soon became evident that Joe’s anger stemmed from the ongoing loss and struggles within the family and so with some discussion, the family agreed to have family consultation sessions.

How many consultations and who attended?

We had a total of five family sessions, every two to three weeks. Both parents and two of their four children attended all the sessions; Joe, 12 and his sister, 15. Another sister, 22, also joined for two of the sessions. The last child, an older brother of 15 years, who also struggled with aggressive and anti-social behaviour both at school and at home, decided not to join. Nevertheless, we kept him involved by thinking about him in the sessions and passing on thoughts and ideas through other present family members.

What did we do in the consultations?

  1. Family Mapping – the children explored how the household was structured before the accident. They picked objects to represent each family member and arranged them on the table, explaining how relationships used to be in the family. We then drew out how the house looked after the accident and considered whether we needed to choose different characters to represent family members. We discovered how things had changed in the family, including roles, rules, responsibilities, relationships, and the way people spent their time.
  2. Therapeutic story – we wrote a therapeutic story about Joe’s sadness and loss. It led to important realisations around the emotional impact of the accident on different family members in an easily digestible way.
  3. Changing roles – we started to understand that certain roles were left empty as everyone struggled to adapt to life after the accident. Joe and his sister both missed individual time with their dad while the parents missed time together as a couple. Joe’s dad panicked to do things he had previously done alone while Joe’s mum had taken a step back, worried that another accident would be waiting to happen. Her logic was if she cared less, then it would make things less painful. During the sessions, Joe’s mum made a plan to step back up and take charge while Joe’s dad scheduled more time in to spend with each child individually. The domino effect bought other positive adjustments in the family, including fewer angry outbursts from Joe’s older brother.

What did the client have to say about the experience and outcome of the consultation?

“Things got better in the family after we had the sessions. My big brother is less scary now and I don’t have any more flashbacks. I feel less worried and I am more confident hanging out with my friends. Thank you.”

"Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative"

“Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative. During the second period of lockdown and home-schooling; parents and children found themselves again in a period of upheaval and transition. Many parents and carers were extremely worried about their children’s mental health and their own ability to be present and engaged whilst also playing the role of teacher and care giver. Dr Shortland gave attendees an insight into how many parents were feeling; tips on supporting children and helping them cope whilst studying from home and also managing their mental health. She also helped us realise the importance of taking care of ourselves in order to effectively support our children. It was such a useful session that we realise it was also pertinent for not only children’s mental health but also adults! We will be holding another session with Dr Andrea and MediaCom soon.”

Avelon Thompson, MediaCom (following a parenting workshop)