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February 23, 2017

Building Your Relationship One Block At A Time

By Dr. Richard Boyum

I recently spoke with a college student/client who was having difficulty understanding why a relationship between her and a young man was not working. When our talking together didnít seem to get the point across, I switched to a metaphor. I had her sit with me at a table with a set of blocks from a game that can be purchased in game stores called Blockhead. The game Teeter Towers would work the same way. The purpose behind Blockhead is either to place blocks one on top of each other in a competitive way such that you try to make your partner make a mistake and the pile falls. The second way to play the game is to build the blocks cooperatively to see how high you can get the pile.

I did not tell the young woman anything more than the rules but we played the game both ways. The first way took longer because we each strategized to see how we could get the pile to fall when it was our partnerís turn. We managed to get 13 blocks high (I lost, the client won). The second time the game went much faster. When we got to 17 I suggested that we stop. What I explained to her was that when people have common goals and they are understood, and they work together they can make progress faster. When people are doing things for their own self-interest and trying to come out ahead of someone else things usually do not work out so well. It was very clear to her in this little exercise what was going on between her and the young man that she had been seeing.

Our former discussions had been occurring using formal operational thought. When we reverted to an activity that involved concrete operational thought through play she was able to better understand what she was experiencing. By playing with a metaphor we were able to more quickly achieve the work that we were trying to accomplish in our counseling relationship. See if this or a similar activity might not work for you.