Relationship Overviews

Using figures and objects to talk about relationships

This website is written and administered by Steven Balmbra, a family therapist working in Bodø, Norway


Relationship overviews are formed when people sets out an arrangement of figures or objects representing the people who are influencing their lives.  They are very helpful in professional consultations with people who are experiencing difficulties in their relationships.  The figure arrangements lead easily to constructive dialogues about dilemmas, difficulties, understandings and resources.  Relationship overviews are varied in form and size, are can be used in many kinds of consultations in a variety of settings with individuals, families, and groups. 

On the pages of the website, I describe various kinds of relation overviews, I look into the influence they have on conversations and the kinds of dialogue they can lead to. There is also a page about resources for professional work with relationship overviews and a blog for feedback and discussion.

Working with relationship overview is different from therapy with puppets, but there are some links to that way of working on the Resources page.

A relationship overview can be very small, a couple or a family, or large - a whole social network.  Smaller relationship overviews can be made easily with all kinds of objects - chess pieces, buttons, stones, etc.  A collection of figures is better suited for representing broader social contexts and will open for a greater range of uses and approaches. 

Figures and objects can be set out and arranged to show the people who are important to a person and how they influence their life.  This is an unusual form of expression for most people which is capable of bringing out new perspectives to dilemmas and difficulties that they are facing. Relationship overviews stimulate fresh ideas and are effective in bringing out stories about the ways people get on together and how various relationships influence each other, seen in a broader social context. 

Making and discussing a relationship overview is an active and creative process that easily engages people of all ages.  The arrangenments of figures and objects capture and focus attention and usually bring an element of playfulness to conversations that can free peoples thinking from their preconseptions. People ‘listen’ with both their ears and eyes while they reconsider their own understandings and those of other people who are important to them. Because figures and objects can be easily be moved around, relationship overviews are very flexibile aids to dialogue. 

Relationship overviews can be used in all sorts of conversations: with children and adults, individuals, couples, families and groups.  They can be a helpful aid to professionals in many different settings where issues around relationships need to be talked about.  This may be the therapy room, consultation office, hospital ward, care centre, school room, work place or at home visits.  

This website looks at twelve ways that relationship overviews can contribute to conversations about relationships and at six areas of dialogue where they are particularly useful. 

A model with Dialogue at the centre

This model illustrates how relationship overviews can contributes to conversations about relationships.  It is based on a corolla pattern of coloured hexagons surrounding a central principle of dialogue.  The inner ring indicates six conversational themes that are enhanced by using arrangements of figures, and the outer ring showing twelve ways that using figures arrangements influence conversations.

Contributions to this site are very welcome

This website is also intended to function as forum for discussion about the use of figures and objects in talking about relationships, with a blog including contributions from other counsellors and therapists.  Your thoughts and examples of using figures and objects in conversations are very welcome.  If you register your e-mail, I will be able to keep in touch and send information about news, updates, etc.  I will not share your details.   Steven Balmbra