By Gercide Luc, Yemisi Olotu and Terry Marshall

(from the Recovery Circle, United Youth of Boston, 1998)

This exercise comes out of the psycho-therapeutic community. We at UYB’s recovery circles adapted it to our ways, Africanist ways. In Family Sculpture one person in the circle becomes the director of a scene out of the play of their life. This person takes three or four other people out of the circle and describes a scene in their lives which was “character forming.” In other words, they describe an event in their lives, something traumatic or maybe a recurring scene in their lives which had a very big effect on their sense of who they are today.

Then “the director” chooses someone in the group to play themselves. Following this the subject of the skit chooses other people to play the roles of the other people in the scene — whether it is family members, mother, father, or other significant figures in this event such as police, doctors, landlords or other people who may have tormented the persons in a traumatic life situation.

The key to family sculpture working is for everyone who is playing a role in the scene and for the audience (the rest of the people in the circle) to care. When we play these roles for this person, they are getting a chance to watch the recreation of a very significant event in their lives. They are getting a chance to see themselves in this event from the outside — someone else is playing their part. If the people doing the acting really throw themselves into the emotion of the situation it can be extremely powerful and healing.

One of the girls in our group said her life was so terrible that no one would want to see any of her scenes. We told her that we were all interested in her life. So, she told us a scene which involved her sister who was in jail, her mother who had passed, and her father who had lost custody of her, and her little brother from whom she was separated. The scene was so powerful that half of us were in tears by the time it was over. She got the chance to witness from the outside what this scene looked like — this exercise released emotions that had been stuffed inside her — because we were all there to receive them.

And this is how we changed the exercise from the way it is done in therapy. In therapy this exercise is usually done with strangers who will never see each other again. Or else they see each other once a week for the twelve weeks of the therapy group. At UYB and in our recovery circle we have sisters, brothers, cousins some blood, some not. We have extended family and we are committed to creating family with each other. After the recovery circle we walk our lives with each other. The circle is not practicing for real life as is done in the therapy group model. The circle is ritual space, a sacred part of our real lives.