Friends of CityU Canada – Jeff Chang

Picture3It is such a pleasure to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Jeff Chang. To say that Jeff is a friend of CityU in Canada is to seriously understate the situation. Jeff was the founding Director of CityU programs in Alberta and grew the programs from several students in Calgary in 1999 to the fully subscribed and exciting programs in Calgary and Edmonton today. He continues to be a valued advisor to program leadership in Alberta.

An original thinker and accomplished practitioner, Jeff has learned from and worked with many of the leading figures in counselling and therapy including Insoo Kim Berg, Steve de Shazer, Michael White and David Epston, and continuing today, David Nylund and Karl Tomm. Jeff has a unique ability to synthesize ideas and translate them into helpful practices. Everyone who knows Jeff is continually amazed at the depth and breadth of his accomplishments in the field. Jeff is an Associate Professor in the Graduate Centre for Applied Psychology, Athabasca University and Director of The Family Psychology Centre, in Calgary, AB.

The following remarks are based on the introductory chapter of Jeff’s recent book, Creative Interventions with Children: A Transtheoretical Approach:

I’ve been through several seasons during my thirty-year career. Reflecting on my work as a frontline therapist, clinical supervisor, program director, and professor, I’ve distinguished six interconnected threads that guide my work.

I work to think discursively and deconstructively. The ideas in which we are immersed did not just come from nowhere. Our ideas about what is “normal,” and “the way things should be” come from discourses that run deep in our culture. It’s useful to step back and consider their provenance.

I invite you to think coherently – not that you don’t already. I happen to have been immersed in narrative and solution-focused ideas since they emerged, but whatever your therapeutic ideas, learn them well enough so they inhabit your thinking and experience, and guide your practice.

I’ve developed the habit of thinking relationally. Whether I’m doing therapy, brainstorming with a school superintendent to develop a new service, or attending a settlement meeting with lawyers and clients in a high-conflict divorce, anything I suggest must be supported by my relationship with the participants. The most important and useful thing we can do as practitioners is match our “intervention” with readiness of participants.

Thinking developmentally will help us tailor our work to those whom we serve. It’s obvious that we should approach a toddler differently from an adolescent, and an adolescent differently from a senior. Developmental ideas (e.g., the ages at which children can purportedly think abstractly, or family tasks involved in launching an adolescent or adapting to a senior’s decline in functioning), can help, as long they are not a straightjacket that invite us to pigeonhole clients.

Thinking positively is not simply spouting affirmations. It’s focusing on strengths, asking about preferred futures. Learning narrative and solution-focused therapy, I endlessly practiced asking change-amplifying questions until I became proficient. But more importantly, I learned to listen for openings. The more I listen for what people treasure and the shifts in their lives, the less I have to use the clever questions I spent all that time and energy learning.

Finally, I learned to think ecologically and systemically. Our clients are embedded in families, communities, schools, workplaces. Our models of change must reflect this, and we must be purposeful about tailoring our interventions to the part of the system that harbors momentum for change.

Jeff can be contacted at

Other Publications: Basic Family Therapy, 6th Edition