Couples Therapy: Using the Talking Stick for Better Communication


Private practice, Arvada, Colorado

Key Points

  1. A talking stick was implemented as a tool to improve communication in couples therapy, helping Lisa and Mark to address interruptions and impatience during conversations.
  2. They decided to use a whisk as their talking stick due to its comfort, safety, colorful nature, sturdiness, and association with their shared pleasure in cooking.
  3. The couple committed to using the active listening skills they already employed at work when at home and/or when feeling highly emotional, and this proved effective.

Now that Lisa and Mark could handle autonomic hyperarousal better, the problem became talking over and interrupting each other. Each grew impatient when the other spent too much time defending their position or explaining without seeking or allowing any input.

The Talking Stick

The couple’s homework assignment was to find a talking stick to help with traffic control when talking with each other. Each partner had to select three items that could be used as a talking stick. Whoever was holding the talking stick got to speak, and the other could not speak until they were holding it.

They had a lot of fun scavenging around their house for potential talking sticks. Mark’s choices were the engraved cake knife from their wedding; a fountain pen he’d received from his parents as a college graduation gift; and a big fat candy cane. Lisa chose a sparkly pink magic wand with ribbon streamers she’d received as a gag gift; a big silk sunflower; and a rainbow-colored whisk. In session, each presented and made a case for the items they’d chosen.

Mark said the cake knife represented one of the happiest days of their lives. Lisa countered that a knife didn’t send the best message and, though the edge was dull, it could still cut them. She thought the fountain pen was an excellent idea, but was afraid it might get lost when it was precious to Mark. She found the candy cane funny, but it would get decrepit and sticky if its wrapper came loose.

Holding a sparkly magic wand felt silly to Mark and would make it hard for him to concentrate. He thought the silk flower was on the right track but not sturdy enough. He liked the whisk: its attractiveness, sturdiness, and safety, and how comfortable its handle was to hold. It also reminded him of their pleasure in cooking together. It took up a ceremonial spot on the kitchen , and they moved it to the coffee table or night stand when they left the room.

In Dr. Squyres Groubert’s office a long glass wand was used as the talking stick, by all three parties. It’s filled with colored oil and pieces of glitter that swirl when the wand is flipped over.

Active Listening Skills

Once the talking stick and traffic rules were established, there was some brief work on active listening skills. Lisa and Mark were in professions requiring frequent and excellent use of them. Both found this to be harder at home than at work, and when emotions were running high. They agreed to remind themselves to use the listening skills they employed in the workplace when at home, and that worked well.

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Couples Therapy: Using the Talking Stick for Better Communication

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