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A Mom Uses BioGraffs

I wanted to write in more detail about one of the video's I made with volunteers who agreed to have me video their actual experience using BioGraffs. I'm so grateful to these bold people who were willing to be vulnerable in this way! Although they were doing it as a favor to me, many of them went quite deep and gain real insight and dare I say, revelation? The quotes are direct quotes from the recorded session, used with permission. The names and identifying details have been changed to protect identity.

Jean knew a bit about BioGraffs but had never made one. She decides to make one about the troubled relationship she has with her child: something they are both really struggling with right now. I explain that the first task is to think of the main thoughts or feelings that come to mind when she thinks about that relationship in conflict. Each thing will get a colored cube associated with it. Jean begins listing things: sadness, my ability to help, my desire to fix, disappointment in myself, and disappointment in Sawyer.

That last one takes her back a bit. She seemed surprised she wrote that. She comments, “That makes me feel really bad. Yeah, I almost want to erase that, but that just came up. I've talked about this a million times and that's never come up before.” This is a good example of how breaking a complex story down into component parts can help a client tease apart complexities and think independently about things that are mentally intertwined. ​

As she starts assigning colors, Jean spontaneously brings metaphor and abstraction into play. She says “my desire to fix” is red hot; she makes “disappointment in Sawyer” orange because “I really don’t like that color.” She adds “acceptance” and “patience” to her legend.

Now I ask her: “How would you arrange cubes in those colors to show how all those thoughts and feelings relate to each other? I suggest she build a mosaic, and show Jean the Mosaic Storyboard Style card. I point out how the cubes are arranged to express metaphorical relationships – could Jean try something like that? Jean begins playing with the cubes. ​She puts a cluster of sadness down on the board - three purple cubes to represent each person in the family. She puts down two cubes that represent “my ability to help” above and below the family cluster, and then surrounds the cluster with a ring of red, saying “my desire to fix is all around.” She places the “patience” and “acceptance” cubes apart from the cluster and sits back to observe her work.

She comments, “This is ironic because I came in here thinking that sadness was the problem. But I don't think sadness is the problem. This is showing me that sadness is only a little part of the center. And the bigger problem is my desire to fix it.” As she talks, she touches the cubes, connecting with the feeling. At this point she realizes that she left out the “disappointment in myself” cube. She makes another circle around the “desire to fix” circle, saying, “I can't fix it. So I get disappointed and they go hand in hand and they are the most prominent killers. Jeez, that's deep. Yeah, that is deep. My poor kid!” ​

After regarding the arrangement a bit more, she says, “I think I've been working on the wrong thing. Because acceptance is one tiny little cube all the way out here. And if we did another BioGraff of what I would like it to look like, that would be valuable. To see the different colors, I think I would see a lot more pink, a lot more acceptance.I now suggest that she could make another BioGraff about what she would like to see in her response to Sawyer. Jean eagerly pushes the cluster she has made out of the way, to clear room for her vision of a better way with her child. Now she makes a large cluster of acceptance (pink) surrounded by patience (blue). She does it with a lot of excitement, saying “Because I'm actually like this. This is what I want. This is what I want.”

Regarding her work again she says, “And I'm actually tempted to not even bring the other things in because they're sort of irrelevant. I feel like that stuff will fix itself if I have this stuff.”

Her final thoughts about the experience: “It is kind of mind blowing. I feel like my heart opened up a little bit in a good way, which kind of makes me a little emotional. I actually I wasn't expecting this result. The truth is that there was a lot that I couldn't figure out. I have been talking this issue to death. I talk to my friends about it. I talked to you about it. I talked to my family about it. And we're just stuck. I'm stuck. So doing this, I just see things that I've talked about a ton, but just to see them this way, it has... I mean, it's opened my heart, I'll tell you that. Like I'm having a lot of emotions, which I guess is part of the best therapy. And I also feel like my mind has been blown and I have some hope that I can work on this problem."

This illustrates the experiential nature of making a BioGraff. When we pick up the cubes and start representing our experience in a visual, spatial way, one-step removed from language, people get less caught up the standard every day "selfing" that happens when we talk. Ideas flow freer detached from the need to make sentences and segues. Jean connected more to her emotional sides through the five-senses way that she approached the process: the feel of the cubes, the sounds they make on the board, the colors and the shapes she made with them. Making the BioGraff created a much more connected and integrated way of contacting her experience and communicating her experience. She "drilled down" into her experience to better access what was happening, and what she wanted. In this case example, I was an audience to her experience, but choose a moment to suggest ways to continue interacting with the cubes and the metaphors Jean had created, with the suggestion to make another BioGraff of how she wanted to be with Sawyer. This came very naturally out of Jean's comment about what another BioGraff might look like. Any suggestion about moving or changing the arrangements gives the client another opportunity to have an experiential relationship with the metaphors they have established.

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