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Using “The River” when Working with the Issue of Relationships

For Settings of Group Therapy or Family Therapy

“The River” Set is a useful tool for settings of individual therapy, family therapy and group therapy. The cards offer an additional mode of expression and a way to process of issues. Cards can serve as prompts for discussion or activities involving art techniques, role-play, storytelling and other methods.


Following is an example for using “The River” Set when working with relationships, in settings of group therapy or family therapy:

The therapist places several cards from “The River” Set next to each other so that they create the image of a river made up of several segments. The therapist says: "Let us think of this cards-continuum as representing a relationship over time. I am inviting each of you to think of a relationship that you have with a person either in this group/family or in another setting of your life. Think of one riverbank as representing your side of the relationship and the second riverbank as representing the other person. The river itself is a metaphor for the dynamics of the relationship between the two of you throughout several periods."

Each member in turn mentions which relationship s/he has in mind and describes the reasons that the cards-continuum has made him/her think specifically about that relationship. 

In the second stage, the therapist asks each member to copy the river of cards onto a blank paper. The therapist emphasises that the drawing should not be an exact replica of the illustrated river on the cards, but rather depict any features or objects that the member finds meaningful in the cards. 

In the third stage, the therapist says: “Take a couple of minutes to think about your relationship with that person over the years. Then, think of words or sentences that can describe the river, the banks, the type of flow or any feeling or thought that comes to your mind. Let the associations flow freely and write them down anywhere on that page.”

In the fourth stage, the therapist suggests: “Please circle one word or one sentence from all those you wrote on the page. This word should be one that raises a question or one that you are curious about with regards to the relationship or the river.”

In the fifth stage, the therapist invites the members to put their papers next to each other so that they create a carpet of rivers and rivulets on the floor. The therapist can suggest that the members use additional papers and crayons in order to connect the different rivers in any creative way they prefer. The members are invited to work together to enrich the group’s carpet with details. It is not allowed to erase or to paint over drawings or words of other members.

Through a summarizing group discussion, the therapist raises questions such as:

“What type of a river would the other person choose to represent your relationship?” /

“Does the word that you have chosen to circle today touch upon questions regarding other relationships in your life?” / “What thoughts and feelings come up as you look at your river as a part of the group’s carpet?” /

“Are there words that other members wrote which make you curious?” /

“Which of the relationships described today remind you of relationships in your life?” /

“Did you learn something interesting about yourself or about others today?”

The members are invited to find a name for their group’s carpet. The therapist can suggest that the name will be formulated as a question to indicate a possible direction for future sessions.

“The River” Set includes a Guidebook with suggestions for using the cards when working with various issues in different settings of therapy. 

To learn how to use these cards and others, please join one of our online workshops 

Written by Gali Salpeter - Story & Therapy

Expressive Therapist. Spec. Drama and NarrativeTherapy (M.A.)(NFKUT)(I.C.E.T)

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