by Danie Beaulieu, Ph.D.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 33 seconds.
Impact Therapy is an approach that is growing in popularity both in the United States and Canada. The founder, Ed Jacobs, Ph.D., professor at West Virginia University, has already written three books on the subject (Jacobs, 1988, 1992, 1995). The creativity and dynamism emerging from this model of therapy were largely inspired by Milton Erickson’s methods.
People learn, grow and change mainly with what they hear, what they see, or through the kinesthetic system which processes all informations coming from the body. Neurophysiologists agree that the kinesthetic system is more important than the visual system which is more important than the auditory system. When we limit therapy to the audio system, simply talking to the clients, we restrict our interventions to a small part of the brain. Dr Jacobs recognized that the more systems involved, the greater the therapeutic impact.
It is said that “a picture can be worth a thousand words.” For example, I can present a sponge to portray how kids absorb everything parents do or say. This visual aid helps make it clear to parents that everything the children’s “sponge” absorbs will eventually leak out. The same visual imagery can be used for couples, especially those who come in saying that they are not getting anything, anymore, from their marriage. Showing them the sponge and asking them what they put on it in the last months often helps bring the focus back on each person instead of each accusing the other. They realize they can’t expect the ‘sponge’ of their couple relationship to remain flexible, nourishing and rich if they don’t give it healthy input.
Concrete tools can help the psychotherapeutic process in at least five ways. First, the difficulty is brought outside the client providing him a chance to look at it as an observer. Second, by using a simple object that already has a meaning in the person’s life, the quality of simpleness dilutes the intensity and the gravity of the more problematic connections. Third, the concrete intervention by the therapist facilitates a more rapid rapport with the client and gives a healthy model with an understandable solution for a piece of the difficulty. Fourth, it offers opportunities to the therapist to explore in a clearer and more detailed way the client’s inner universe. And fifth, the use of visual stimuli helps arouse other relevant material and helps the client focus. These important conditions help to get more done within each session.
Impact Therapy also can be used as an adjunct to other therapeutic modalities, especially with TA and Gestalt. For example, a woman had felt guilt ever since her mom led her to believe she was responsible for being sexually abused by her father and for the disturbances it created in the family. I put a child’s chair in front of her and had her recall how she was as a little girl. Then I added an adult chair and had her describe her dad sitting there. I took the adult chair and turned it upside down on the top of the small one. Looking at the scene she began to cry. We explored her feelings, and the decisions she had made following the abuse. I then took an audiotape, wrote her parent’s name on it, the date of the abuse, and put it on the small chair to represent the messages she had been listening to for years. I then asked her, “Do you think that little girl could have escaped her father no matter how hard she tried?” She realized, as never before that she couldn’t have avoided it. She was simply trapped and the visual stimulus showed her in an inescapable way.
I believe that therapy can and should be fun, for us and for the clients. As Paul Watzlawick, Ph.D., said in one of his workshops, clients are there for a few sessions but we are there for most of our lives, so we better have fun doing what we do if we want our lives to be rich and interesting. Impact Therapy is a framework, that can make therapy more interesting, effective, and enjoyable.
Jacobs, E.E. (1992). Creative counseling: An illustrated guide. Florida: Par.
Jacobs, E.E. (1995). Impact Therapy. Florida: Par.
Jacobs, E.E., Harvill, R.L. & Masson. R.L. (1988). Group counseling: Strategies and skills.
Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.