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May 8, 2023

The Invitation Step in Family Life:

"Dad! Don't give me that psychology crap!"

Today we are joined by our beloved Mike Christensen and his wonderful daughter, Caelyn, for a discussion of one of the humblest but most important and challenging tools in TEAM-CBT, the Invitation Step. We will focus on how this can be important in family life as well.

Caelyn will be entering college in the fall, and plans to major in psychology, but she has already picked up a lot of TEAM-CBT from her dad. We’ll tell you more about her at the end of the show notes.

The invitation step is the bridge from the E = Empathy phase of TEAM-CBT to the A = Assessment of Resistance, but you don’t issue an invitation until you get an “A” in Empathy from your patient. This generally takes about 25 minutes or so with a new patient if you empathize skillfully using the Five Secrets of Effective Communication.

There are two types of Invitations: the Straightforward and the Paradoxical. The Straightforward Invitation is for reasonably cooperative and motivated individuals who are struggling with individual mood problems, like depression and anxiety, and it’s fairly simple. You simply say something along these lines:

Jim (or whatever the patient’s name is), you’ve told me some pretty heartbreaking and painful problems you’re confronting, including X, Y, and Z, and I’d love to help you change the way you’ve been thinking and feeling. I’m wondering if this might be a good time to roll up our sleeves and get to work, or if you need more time to talk and vent, because that’s important and I don’t want to jump in before you’re ready.

Typically, the person will say “I’m ready,” and you’re all set to set the agenda for the session and reduce the patient’s resistance to change using the many familiar TEAM-CBT techniques, like Miracle Cure Question, Magic Button, Positive Reframing, Magic Dial, and more.

The Paradoxical Invitation is for patients who seem unmotivated or even oppositional, and is intended for patients who are struggling with Relationship Problems or Habits and Addictions. Unlike the Straightforward Invitation, your assumption is that the patient probably is NOT asking for help, but just wants to vent, so you might say something along these lines:

Sarah (or whatever the patient’s name is), you’ve told me some pretty upsetting things about your conflict with your sister ever since you were young. You say she constantly criticizes you and says things that aren’t really true, and that you’ve tried everything, but nothing works.

For example, she insists that you look down on her because you have a PhD, and she didn’t graduate from college, and when you tell her that’s not true she just gets enraged. I can understand how frustrating that must be for you.

I’ve got some really cool tools that might help you turn things around and develop a more loving relationship with her, and I think you’d really learn these tools quickly because you’re clearly very smart, but I’m not hearing that you’re asking for that. I’m thinking that you mainly wanted to let me know how difficult and impossible she is.

Am I reading you right? I’d love to work with you on your relationship, but would totally understand if that isn’t what you’re looking for.

So, in the Paradoxical Invitation, you’re asking the patient to put their cards on the table and acknowledge that they’re NOT looking for help. This prevents a power struggle and you can ask them if there’s something they DO want help with.

At the start of today’s podcast, Mike pointed out that the Invitation Step is not only important in therapy, but in family life as well. For example, a lot of parents ask him, “How do I help my teen?”

Well, the first answer is to stop trying to help and use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication to listen and understand where your teen is coming from. This is actually hard to do, because so many parents struggle with the compulsion to throw “help” at their kids, and this usually just creates a lot of tension.

At the same time, Mike emphasizes that many parents ask, “Well, what do I do when I’m doing empathizing?”

Mike says, “That’s the time to issue your invitation. If I don’t do that, Caelyn gets irritated and says, “Don’t’ give me that psychology crap!” If I jump in and try to help or give advice (which is what all parents do almost all of the time) it just ends up in a power struggle.

Mike sometimes asks this question: “Did you just want to get that off your chest? What do you want going forward?”

Mike and Caelyn did some role-playing to illustrate how this is done, including bad parent technique and excellent parent technique. Caelyn described a disturbing interaction with an angry customer where she works, and Mike first played the “bad dad” and then the “good dad”. Caelyn was delightfully wise and skillful and is heading for a great career in counseling or psychology.

For more on this topic, you might want to listen to the podcast #164 on “How to help and how NOT to help!” LINK: How to HELP, and how NOT to Help!

Rhonda and I love Mike, and Caelyn as well, and were touched by getting to take a look inside of a real and beautiful father-daughter relationship!

Caelyn Bio Sketch

Caelyn is a keen student of psychology and is starting her university career in the fall of 2023 She loves animals (her Cat Evie and horse Tulio top the list) and has studied positive reinforcement focused training with horses, under Adele Shaw, at The Willing Equine in Texas. She has read a number of Doctor Burns's books and  implements his CBT principles into her writing. Currently she works full time in customer service at a beauty salon and part time at a garden center where she gets regular opportunities to practice  her 5 secrets skills.  She is a big fan of Taylor Swift.

Thank you, Mike and Caelyn, for an awesome interview today!


Rhonda and David