Deliberate practice exercises allow students and trainees to rehearse systemic family therapy (SFT) skills to develop basic competence and hone their own personal therapeutic style.
In these exercises, two or more trainees role-play couples or family therapy sessions with one trainee acting as the therapist and the others acting as clients, rotating through these roles under a supervisor’s guidance. The trainee playing the therapist improvises appropriate and authentic responses to client statements organized into three difficulty levels—beginner, intermediate, and advanced—that reflect common problems and concerns encountered by SFT practitioners.
The first 12 exercises each focus on a single skill, such as building a therapeutic alliance, deescalating conflicts, establishing rules and boundaries, and addressing diversity issues. These are followed by two comprehensive exercises—an annotated transcript and free-form mock therapy sessions—in which trainees integrate these essential skills into a single SFT session.
Step-by-step instructions guide participants through the exercises, identify criteria for mastering each skill, and explain how to monitor and adjust difficulty. Guidelines to help trainers and trainees get the most out of training are also provided.
Table of Contents:
Tony Rousmaniere and Alexandre Vaz
Part I: Overview and Instructions
Chapter 1. Introduction and Overview of Deliberate Practice in Systemic Family Therapy
Chapter 2. Instructions for the Systemic Family Therapy Deliberate Practice Exercises
Part II: Deliberate Practice Exercises for Systemic Family Therapy Skills
Exercises for Beginner Systemic Family Therapy Skills
Exercise 1. Providing a Systemic Rationale for Treatment
Exercise 2. Building the Therapeutic Alliance: Establishing Bonds and Joining the System
Exercise 3. Reframing the Problem
Exercise 4. Interactional Structuring: Deescalation
Exercises for Intermediate Systemic Family Therapy Skills
Exercise 5. Avoiding Triangulation
Exercise 6. Highlighting Boundaries
Exercise 7. Systemic Questions - Fostering Perspective Taking
Exercise 8. Engendering Hope
Exercises for Advanced Systemic Family Therapy Skills
Exercise 9. Attention to Diversity
Exercise 10. Building the Therapeutic Alliance: Establishing Therapeutic Goals
Exercise 11. Tracking the Interactional Cycle
Exercise 12. Interactional Structuring: Initiating Enactments
Exercise 13. Annotated Systemic Family Therapy Practice Session Transcript
Exercise 14. Mock Systemic Family Therapy Session
Part III: Strategies for Enhancing the Deliberate Practice Exercises
Chapter 3. Additional Guidance for Trainers and Trainees: How to Get the Most Out of Deliberate Practice
Appendix A. Difficulty Assessments and Adjustments
Appendix B. Deliberate Practice Diary Form
Appendix C. Sample Systemic Family Therapy Syllabus With Embedded Deliberate Practice Exercises
About the Authors:
Adrian Blow, PhD, is a professor and chair in the human development and family studies department and a core faculty in the Couple and Family Therapy Program at Michigan State University. His research focuses on families and trauma, military families, and change processes in systemic family therapy.
Dr. Blow was coassociate editor of The Handbook of Systemic Family Therapy, Volume 3, which focuses on clinical work with couples.
In 2017, he was awarded the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Training Award. He was also the AAMFT board secretary (2012–2014) and board treasurer (2016–2019).
Ryan Seedall, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and associate professor at Utah State University (USU) in the department of human development and family studies. He is the associate director in the marriage and family therapy program at USU.
Dr. Seedall has published close to 40 peer-reviewed articles and seven book chapters on topics related to understanding and improving relationship processes (couple and therapeutic) as well as enhancing prevention and intervention efforts. He was also coassociate editor of The Handbook of Systemic Family Therapy, Volume 1, which focuses on the profession of systemic family therapy.
Debra Miller, PhD, LMSW, is a licensed social worker and clinical researcher on the faculty of Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI, where she serves as the director of the University’s couple and family therapy clinic training program. Her research is centered on supporting systemic family therapists with skill development, particularly as it relates to learning evidence-based approaches to treatment.
Since 2012, she has served on the faculty of the Family Therapy Training Institute of Miami, providing training throughout the United States in the brief strategic family therapy model.
Tony Rousmaniere, PsyD, is cofounder and program director of Sentio Institute. He provides workshops, webinars, and clinical training and supervision around the world.
He is the author/coeditor of six books on deliberate practice and psychotherapy training and two book series: The Essentials of Deliberate Practice (APA Books) and Advanced Therapeutics, Clinical and Interpersonal Skills (Elsevier).
In 2017, he published the widely cited article in The Atlantic Monthly, “What Your Therapist Doesn’t Know.”
Dr. Rousmaniere supports the open-data movement and publishes clinical outcome data on his website. He was awarded the Early Career Award by the Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy.
Alexandre Vaz, PhD, is cofounder and chief academic officer of Sentio Institute. He provides deliberate practice workshops and clinical training and supervision around the world.
Dr. Vaz is the author/coeditor of four books on deliberate practice and psychotherapy training and two book series: The Essentials of Deliberate Practice (APA Books) and Advanced Therapeutics, Clinical and Interpersonal Skills (Elsevier).
He has held multiple committee roles for the Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration (SEPI) and the Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR). Dr. Vaz is founder and host of “Psychotherapy Expert Talks,” an acclaimed interview series with distinguished psychotherapists and researchers.