Take Home Documents Part 1.

A tradition here in Canada is to take home a ‘goodie bag’ from a children's birthday party.  It's usually a bag of candy or small toy that reflects the theme of the birthday.  My children love this ritual because they re-live the fun of the party as they sort through and devour the candy and play with the toy.  I see take home documents at the walk-in as serving a similar purpose. Take home documents are crafted archives of the session created in session along with the participants.  They can take many forms such as summaries, pictures, statements, poems, letters to oneself, lists, or booklets.  When they are consulted far after the session people can re-experience and become re-acquainted with the conversation we have had.  Narrative practice (White, Epston, 1990) has a long history of utilizing therapeutic documents as a way to extend the influence of the conversation, to assist conversations to endure in memory.  Specific take home documents assist the 'story in the making' to endure, inoculate it against easy assimilation by the problem story, and can keep the conversation fresh in people's minds when they need it.  

Conversation Summaries:

One such co-developed document created most often at our walk-in is the Conversation Summary (Page 1Page 2, Prompts).  Upon that form I will archive what I have heard during the session, key points, stories, phrases, wonderings, statements, etc., that are particularly meaningful to the process.  As a way to organize the archiving and to create a visual aid for the practitioner I have formatted my recording to include headings with various sections.  These sections include on the top right quadrant of the paper ‘Concern’ with a line for recording ‘Hopes for today’.  The top left quadrant is titled ‘Background’, the lower left is titled ‘Initiatives’ while the last quadrant, the lower right is called ‘Next Steps/ Recommendations’.  

Each quadrant directs the therapists attention to various questions that could elicit the information relevant to the quadrant.    For instance within the Concern/Problem quadrant I will note the description of the problem, who what, where, when as well as the effects of the problem such as, “Gets in the way of Joey doing the things he wants to do like having fun, being with friends, and liking himself”.  As the conversation unfolds I may even have opportunity to archive the co-developed name of the problem if we have began an externalizing conversation.  On the line that is titled Hopes for today…, I will do my best to highlight what was most important to be discussed for the family.  The benefit of noting this is to keep the purpose or focus present throughout the conversation.  This is important as if we stray conversationally or topically too far from what the participant came to address we risk eroding therapeutic alliance and usefulness of the conversation.  By keeping it present on the conversation summary we can be reminded of what the participants want most which serves as an inoculation against the many pulls that invite therapists to pursue their own agendas, interests, and wishes in conversation. 

Background: Under this heading I will record elements of the story that are particularly meaningful and contribute to story expansion.  This may include particular skills of living employed, interests, hobbies, threads of cherished stories, values, hopes, wishes for things to be different, etc.  Very often what is noted in this section provides a foundation for addressing concerns and feeds the articulation of what people have to put up against the problems in their lives.  Inquiry informing this section may be related to meeting people away from the problem, inquiry about specific values or beliefs that people hold that have guided their lives, inquiry about  people’s significant relationships and cultural or spiritual influences.  

Initiatives: Within this quadrant I will note the telling of times when the problem had less influence or was not around, counter steps people have taken in the face of the problem such as counter thoughts, feelings and actions as well as the steps leading to those developments.  Material in this section often provides the elements that can be brought into counter-story themes or names for the journey or life project the participant has begun. 

Next Steps: The last quadrant provides a recording of the co-created plan or next steps the person will leave with and begin to employ.  These steps can include ideas to keep with them after the session, or specific actions to experiment with to move their life more in harmony with their preferences for living.  

Organizing the note taking in this way assists the therapist to track the conversation visually.  If only the problem quadrant is filing up it provides a visual cue that perhaps the therapist should begin to inquire about initiatives and times when life was more congruent with preferences.  Recording in this way also serves to organize the information drawing distinctions between the problem story and the emerging elements that when linked provide an alternate story.  

The document is then photocopied and offered to the participants to take home with them for review. The conversation summary then serves as the required recording of the session that many agencies call for.  In this practice participants have an exact copy of the information that is retained in their file at the agency.  They have the ability to circulate the document should they wish to and can ask for corrections if our translation from the spoken to the written is not as accurate as it should be.  I'll share more about these take home documents another time.

In Curiosity,


© Scot J. Cooper Inc. 2019