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The Family Circle is a product of the Institute for Cognitive Behavior Management which maintains the sole rights to the product, although these may be contracted to participating professionals.



This learning environment is designed to include a meaningful context for pursuing a goal, in which the participant’s activities are both engaging and plausible with respect to the goal being pursued. Goal-Based Scenarios provide an explicit account of instructional environments in which the learner is engaged in pursuing a goal, within a simulated environment, in order to master a set of target skills. The trainee is an active participant in such a scenario, assuming a role in which resources provided by the program are available to help the trainee progress toward completing the task.

Goal-based practice is acknowledged as a strong motivator of learning. Typically, goal-based learning comprises a scenario or context, which includes a trigger or a precipitating event. This event may be presented as a critical event and usually requires an immediate response from participants. The Family Circle Moderator will identify a ‘trigger’ construct for the family to react to in starting the game.


Another critical ingredient of this learning architecture is role-play, both in the sense of playing a role, playing with possibilities and alternative worlds, and playing to ‘have fun’. The strategy of learning through playing is significant, not the least because ‘having fun’ in the process of learning is an extremely useful motivator. More importantly, it gives participants a personal stake in the proceedings.


A distinction is sometimes drawn between a ‘simulation’ and a ‘game’. A game will have a sense of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’. The work described here is primarily a ‘simulation’ in that at the end of the activities, there is no ‘game to win or lose’. However, the construct of a game is very important in that people [children in particular] will inherently learn the rules in order to ‘win’ the game. In fact, it is suggested that if you want two people who hate each other to hold hands of their own volition, a game is a primary way to accomplish this task. Providing each person wants to play and win the game, s/he will choose to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. Winning the game under these circumstance will tend to reinforce the new found ‘hand holding’ value and make it a part of the participants value system. Since we want people to learn the cognitive skills which are required to meet the social context of the Family Circle and to integrate these values into their personal belief systems, we add to the simulation, differing levels of attainment and the potential for a reward to make winning, and therefore, absorbing the rules and values of the Family circle becomes a worthwhile project.

Both the group learning without danger and the reinforcement of winning are offset by losing. However, this simulation is difficult to lose, since there are no set losses nor any identification of losers. Because everyone can accomplish the goal [e.g., win] with the only variable being time [and the personal characteristics which we intend to shape], the construct of loss is not palatable. We expect, therefore, that this experience is at worst, not helpful and at best a super way to learn how families and people inter-relate successfully.


The key organizing principle behind a Goal-Based Scenario is that the instructional goals are distinct from the task goals (called the mission) which are set within some activity (called the context).

The mission of the Family Circle is to create family rules which satisfy all participants. Each individual within the group is autonomous, but must be cooperative for a common cause. Each must be willing (driven by his/her own instincts) to trade certain personal freedoms for the benefits s/he will gain from the group. As a free-spirit, each individual in the group contributes his/her behavior to the culture. The ‘culture1’ of a group is not an entity with certain characteristics. The ‘culture’ of a group is the name given to a descriptive summation of the behavioral characteristics of the group. [ adapted from The History of Culture (unknown)]

The context is family problem solving, which may include the process of family conferencing. Individuals may choose to play this game if the believe that they have had [or are having] a dysfunctional family experience and wish to examine ways in which they might better use the family learning experience or that they simply wish to examine better strategies for child and family management. Thus participants may include children in family situations and adults in parenting situation which they consider to be less than adequate, young adults considering parenthood or people who simply want to examine their own and other people’s family strategies.


The family is a primary place in which children learn how to shape their personal theory of meaning, of which the major components are thoughts about self, others and future prospects.

This is true despite the fact that families are often very unstable places for learning. Since mother and father have each learned their individual child management styles and family problem solving methods in a very imprecise manner from their own families which may also have been unstable, there is a propensity for a breakdown in family management.

Your relationship with authority has its origin in your relationship with the first person who laid down the law to you and backed it up with consequences which you definitely wanted to avoid. This is a definition for the word father: that individual who laid down the ground rules of life and backed them up with consequences with which you could not live.

For most, this person will have been the biological father, however this could also have been a step-father, older brother or sister, or teacher. Even mother can be father by this definition just as father can be mother by definition: the primary caretaker in the earliest years of life. [Ron Kennedy 1998]

Essentially, the roles of authority and caretaking break down into conditional and unconditional love – both of which are required for growth and development. These do not come to the child in pristine condition – father may be authoritarian instead of authoritative. Mother may be laissez faire rather than caring. The impact of these roles and the rebellion or acceptance is contingent not only on who played out the role, but how well they were able to play it in the interpretation of the emerging child.

Most often the father role comes under fire because of the potential of conflict. The drives which cause the human to gather into groups and sub-groups are instinctive, the product of millions of years of evolution. Human instincts have never been uniform, and many instincts are selfish in nature. Successful group effort requires rules of conduct that everyone follow. Many of these rules require suppression of some instincts and augmentation of others. Behavior which provides benefit to the survival of the group (and ultimately the species) is encouraged and behavior which harms the survival of the group is discouraged. This process of suppression and augmentation is the father role. Suppression is not always accepted by a selfish child or may be carried out too harshly by a selfish father. [ adapted from History of Culture (unknown)]

Intellectual control over instinct (self-discipline) developed as a distinguishing characteristic of the human within this process of unconditional and conditional love. The more disciplined the family, the more focused its work, the better it survived. [ adapted from History of Culture (unknown)]

The child either conforms or rebels to the style of his/her own parent; interpreting the value [emotional content] and utility [pleasure/pain] of that style. From this interpretation s/he creates his/her own ‘parent’ schema for child and family management which, at least before the birth of a child, is untested. In addition to using this untried model for the first time, each parent may also need to have major negotiations with the other parent- not only on how the different roles should be played and who should play them, but on what the balance of the overall child management strategy should be in the first place. While they can talk about their strategies, the actual performance of these strategies is where the family context is ultimately shaped.

Even in parental agreement of the nuances of child management there can be difficulties – e.g., what if both parents choose to provide the same function [conditional or unconditional love]? Is there an automatic problem if mother provides the father function, and father the mother function? Thus, a trial and error process ensues which may or may not be beneficial to the children and the parent’s own learning experiences. From this trial and error process, the next generation forms their own opinions and ultimately tests them out on their own children and the cycle of trial and error goes on. In such a cycle, it seems more likely that the family strategies will deteriorate over time, rather than improve. There is no assurance that either good child management or bad child management will have a direct effect. However, it seems probable that more children raised under good child management strategies will miss the appropriate impact than those raised under bad child management will not feel the impact of this experience. Thus, child management trends, unless culturally supported are likely to deteriorate.

Adding to this problematic context are children, who are notoriously good at identifying gaps between child managers and exploiting them for their own immediate gratification. At the same time, each child is gathering grist for the development of his/her own theory of meaning, and deciding upon the merits of themselves, others and future prospects.

It is important that participants understand that the meaning of any communication they have with their family is the response it elicits. This admonition is designed so that participants begin to reflect on their own words and not on the reactions since we are also aware that we cannot change anyone but ourselves. This will require that the participant change his/her own message [language, behavior] if s/he desires to change the response.


The Family Circle provides a safe environment in which to test messages, learn alternate roles and strategies without any real harm occurring. A father can test various ways of enforcing his suppression and augmentation of behaviors without the availability of actual physical harm – although corporeal punishment can be simulated.

A Mentor is provided to help each participant stay in character and consider alternate actions for reaching their individual and collective goals. If the participant playing a child role is frustrated by the actions of a parent – this is an opportunity to develop strategies for engagement which are not confrontational – and failure creates no real harm.

Thus, the Family Circle is a simulation that can be vital for helping children and adults revisit this learning environment with one or more new families and with a Mentor who will help them think differently about both the roles and their own theory of meaning.

Participants will learn about:

  • child management strategies [authoritative, laissez faire, authoritarian and mixed]
  • the impact of messages and the role of sender/receiver
  • the role of emotional content [integrative and disintegrative shame]
  • the impact of automatic thoughts & mindfulness
  • the consideration of alternative strategies
  • the value and art of negotiation
  • the fact that a family is a system whose members impact on all other members –


While participants can choose to be anyone they want to be, there are certain limitations. Each role selected, for example has an agenda which must be fulfilled. Additionally, selection of membership in certain family may limit the options on the individual profile.

Roles Agendas


Wants own way on selected issue

1) Wants to give as much as possible [unconditional love] considering safety/appropriateness issues

2) Wants to please dad.

1)Wants to control [conditional love] as much as possible

2) Wants to please mom.

Sibling 1
Wants to play one family member against the other

Sibling 2
Wants to conspire with one selected family member

Want to share experiences, give advice and solace

Kids – all kids are at the same time playing one of the three child roles in their own family.

Moms & Dads are playing the same roles in their own families. NOTE: the mother or father role has a predefined function of conditional/unconditional love, which is not the case in real life. Real mothers or children deciding to play the father role will have an opportunity to see if they can find an effective method to be authoritative without being authoritarian or laissez faire &/or real fathers or children can see to provide unconditional love.

Any person of any age/sex can choose to play any of the roles.

All roles are anonymous.



Role: Uncle Charlie/Aunt Gertrude – teacher/ elder

Participation: The Mentor will provide information at two times:

  1. when asked
  2. when s/he sees a stalemate occurring.

Provides information on cognitive options, raises significant questions about personal processes and schema of the role players, offers skill teaching lesson, tell social stories and challenges with unsolvable koans.


The purpose of the Mentor is to enable the individual participant to find a way to solve his/her own dilemmas, rather than to correct and direct the action. What is required in each case is that the individual think differently about the problem. Thus, a Socratic discussion of open ended options – leaving the selection to the individual, or the overwhelming of the left or logical hemisphere in order to free the right or intuitive hemisphere to consider the problem, or the insight of a social story may prod the individual to think differently about the problem. The use of conversational reframing, cognitive qualifers and internal attributions may be valid as well.


The purpose of the Moderator, who may or may not be a different person than the Mentor, is to assist in keeping the Circle going. S/he will address issues such as 1) an individual who gets out of character – e.g., a simulant father who provides unconditional rather than conditional love, 2) an individual who chooses to default on the game, and/or 3) the assignment to families.


The Moderator will provide specific scenarios to enable family action to occur. This could, for example, include the plan of a family trip, the death of a relative or close friend, a marriage, a new school or the advent of a crisis. For example, when a player defaults on the game, a scenario can be developed which the family must then deal with – e.g., divorce, death, etc.

The Moderator has the ability to read all messages within the Circle. However, s/he does not exist in the message recipient list and is therefore ‘invisible’ to all the other roles.


Doctors, teachers, clinicians and the like could be added to the game in operational roles. If social agencies are referring people to play the game, the clinicians could participate in these roles in lieu of an ‘entry fee’. However, these operating entities should never be apprised of the name of ‘their’ family and their role playing may become a part of the ‘problem’ to be solved by the family.


Because of the need for a person to be available as the Moderator and the Mentor while the game is going on, it may be necessary to schedule the game at specific hours of the day when such people are available.



A family may be comprised of from two to five people, as long as one of the people is a parent. If a single parent has four children, the fourth will have as an agenda the desire to work out compromise.

The family will be home during regular school time, go on vacation or be home during the summer as determined by the Moderator. This context is stated up front.

Initial role positions are to be provided by the participants themselves through the composition of their ‘role profiles’ which are shared with the rest of the family before the experience starts. That participants are asked to write the role profile at the start of the simulation as an important design of this learning environment, these facts give indication of their meaning of a family experience.

A family gets started by a participant indicating that s/he wants to enter the game, but sees no unfinished family with a role s/he wants to play. She will then select a name for a new family and list it on the directory of new or forming families. She will also provide a profile of who s/he is in the role. For example, the person may decide to be the mother. S/he will then need to identify the characteristics of this person and his/her expectation of the family make up as based on the following characteristics.

Personal characteristics: age, sex, ethnicity, body type, personality type

Marital status: married, divorced, separated, never married

Family characteristics: name [ must be different than any name included on the community directory], number and type of family members

Living arrangements: homeless, apartment [one, two, three bedroom, house [type, size], etc.

Employment/Income characteristics: welfare, working [blue collar, white collar – management, labor], independently wealthy

Transportation characteristics: own car [excellent, good, fair, poor], do not own a car – take public transportation. Own bicycle, motor bike, motor cycle. Walk.

Medical, psychological and social issues: the individual my be addicted, have physical or mental health issues, etc.

For example:

I am a thirty year old heavy set Scotch/English female who is outgoing and fun loving. I have never been married. I have some concerns about obesity and diabetes, I also have some degree of self esteem concern about my body image. Despite this, I socialize well. As the Jones family, I expect to be cast as a single parent family with two children – kid #1 and sibling #2. I am a stay-at-home, welfare mother, and have never worked. I live in a two bedroom Section 8 apartment. I do not have a car, although I do drive. I have a high school education. I have never been married.

Others can then opt to play the two roles as child #1 and sibling #2. Please note that the profile of the first family member may impinge upon the profile of other family members. While Ms. Jones could have become a mother as early as twelve, eighteen is clearly the upper limit on the oldest child and is perhaps unrealistic. The Moderator will intervene to ‘clean up’ such issues if they occur.

Once the family circle is formulated, the first occurrence is a family conference in which Moderator will start the action with a review of the family and individual profiles and with the provision a situation on which the family must take action.

While waiting for others to fill these roles, the individual can register as a single person who is available to advise and provide solace to operational families.


A neighborhood or community is a ‘community of interest’ and includes all roles who interact to share information, experiences, advice and solace. Individuals can select to share information or ask for advice by asking a member of another family listed in the game directory. For purposes of context, such families will be grouped in the same school district and each child will be placed into a classroom by age.


Each family characteristic is weighted so that the family scenario will have a number which designates the degree of difficulty or level of the game being played.

Family scenarios can be weighted from 1 to 10; 11 to 20; 21 to 30; etc. The higher the level, the more difficult it is thought to be able to reach a consensus with family members on a family strategy. Obviously families with resources [education, work, income, housing,etc.] are likely to find reaching consensus easier and those with complexities [medical, psychological or social problems] may find reaching consensus more difficult.

Members of the family can ‘win’ the game by reaching an agreement on family strategies with of all family members and with the concordance of the Mentor and the Moderator [consider a role for ‘neighbors]’. Each individual participant will also be rated for ‘irrational thoughts; as manifested by the characters they play within the context of the scenario. Thus moderators will be looking for:

1. Automatic thoughts that indicate:

  • Messages about life a character sends to him/herself that keep him/her from developing emotionally.
  • Scripts s/he has in his/her mind about how s/he believes life “should” be for him/herself and for others.
  • Unfounded attitudes, opinions, and values held to that are out of synchrony with the way the world really is.
  • Negative sets of habitual responses held to when faced with stressful events or situations.
  • Stereotypic ways of problem solving used to deal with life’s pressures.
  • Cognitive errors which are persistent, pervasive and distressful.

2. Patterns of thinking [schema] that indicate:

  • Ideas, feelings, beliefs, ways of thinking, attitudes, opinions, biases, prejudices, or values with which the participants were raised and have become accustomed to using when faced with problems in our current life experience, even when they are not productive in helping us reach a positive, growth-enhancing solution.
  • Self-defeating ways of acting which on the surface may look appropriate for the occasion, but actually result in a neutral or negative consequence.
  • Habitual ways of thinking, feeling, or acting that are, in the long run ineffectual.
  • Counterproductive ways of thinking, which give comfort and security in the short run, but either do not resolve or actually exacerbate the problem in the long run.
  • Negative or pessimistic ways of looking at necessary life experiences such as loss, conflict, risk taking, rejection or acceptance of change.
  • Overly optimistic or idealistic ways of looking at necessary life experiences such as loss, conflict, risk taking, rejection, or accepting change.
  • Emotional arguments for taking or not taking action in the face of a challenge. When followed they result in no personal gain, but rather in greater personal hardship or loss.
  • Patterns of thinking that make the character appear to others as stubborn, bullheaded, intemperate, argumentative, or aloof.
  • Ways of thinking about themselves that are out of context with the real facts, resulting in either under-valuing or over-valuing themselves.
  • Means by which participants become confused about the intentions of others when they are enmeshed in interpersonal problems with them.
  • Conclusions about life that participants have developed over time, living in an irrational environment not identified as being irrational (e.g., beliefs developed as a member of a high-stress family).
  • Standards by which participants were reared and from which they have learned how to act, what to believe, and how to express or experience feelings which when followed,do not result in a satisfactory resolution of our current problems.
  • Ritualistic ways by which participants pursue relationships with others, resulting in nonproductive relationships and increased emotional stress.
  • Outmoded, unproductive, unrealistic expectations exacted on ourselves and/or others, guaranteed to be unattainable and to result in continuing negative self-concepts.
Some examples of irrational beliefs might include
Irrational beliefs (negative) about self:
  • I do not deserve positive attention from others.
  • I should never burden others with my problems or fears.
  • I am junk.
  • I am uncreative, nonproductive, ineffective, and untalented.
  • I am worthless.
  • I am the worst example on earth of a person.
  • I am powerless to solve my problems.
  • I have so many problems, I might as well give up right now.
  • I am so dumb about things, I can never solve anything as complex as this.
  • I am the ugliest, most unattractive, unappealing, fat slob in the world.
Irrational beliefs (negative) about others:
  • No one cares about anyone else.
  • All men (or women) are dishonest and are never to be trusted.
  • Successful relationships are a trick; you have no control over how they turn out.
  • People are out to get whatever they can from you; you always end up being used.
  • People are so opinionated; they are never willing to listen to other’s points of view.
  • You are bound to get hurt in a relationship; it makes no difference how you try to change it.
  • There is a loser in every fight, so avoid fights at all costs.
  • All people are out for #1; you need to know you’ll always be #2, no matter what.
  • It’s not who you are but what you do that makes you attractive to another person.
  • What counts in life is others’ opinions of you.
  • There is a need to be on guard in dealing with others to insure that you don’t get hurt.
Irrational beliefs on other topics:
  • There is only one way of doing things.
  • Work is the punishment man must endure for being human.
  • A family that plays (prays) together always stays together.
  • Always protecting against the forces of evil in life is the only way to live.
  • There are always two choices: right or wrong; black or white; win or lose; pass or fail; grow or stagnate.
  • Once you are married and have children, you join the normal human race.
  • A handicapped person is imperfect, to be pitied, and to be dropped along the path of life.
  • Admitting to a mistake or to failure is a sign of weakness.
  • The showing of any kind of emotion is wrong, a sign of weakness, and not allowable.
  • Asking for help from someone else is a way of admitting your weakness; it denies the reality that only you can solve your problems.

These cognitive processes and structures give indication of cognitive errors – which can be corrected if the individual will use certain cognitive behavior management skills. The Moderator will provide essential data to the Mentor to have available for use when asked to provide consultation.

Cognitive Errors

  1. Filtering: The person focuses on the negative details while ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation.
  2. Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. The person has to be perfect or s/he’s a failure. There’s no middle ground, no room for mistakes.
  3. Overgeneralization: The person reaches a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. S/he exaggerates the frequency of problems and uses negative global labels.
  4. Mind Reading: Without them saying, the person knows what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, s/he has certain knowledge of how people think and feel about him/her.
  5. Catastrophizing: The person expects, even visualizes disaster. S/he notices or hears about a problem and start asking, “What if?” What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to me?
  6. Magnifying: The person exaggerates the degree or intensity of a problem. S/he turns up the volume on anything bad, making it loud, large, and overwhelming.
  7. Personalization: The person assumes that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to them. S/he also compares him/herself to others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking, and so on.
  8. Shoulds: The person has a list of ironclad rules about how s/he and other people should act. People who break the rules anger him/her, and s/he feels guilty when s/he violates the rules.
  9. Externalizing: The person expains the cause of success and/or failure as external forces such as task difficulty or luck over which s/he has no control, instead of to his/her own effort. “It’s his fault! She doesn’t like me.”
  10. Prophesizing: The person has negative and relatively stable expectatancy or generalized beliefs about a lack of self competence in achievement situations. “I’m going to fail this test. Nobody is going to talk to me.” Prophesizes negative outcomes.
  11. Canceling the positive [usually occurs when someone gives a compliment]: I should have done better. This wasn’t my best work.

The Mentor will provide the basic cognitive behavior management skills by leading the participant through a process of awareness, attendance, analysis, alternatives and adaptation, though dialogue with the individual participant.


The goal of the Family Circle is to have participants achieve a group agreement and to improve their own cognitive processes and structures in the process.

The outcome sought by the Family Circle is therefore at two levels: the group and the individual. The group attains their goal by the attainment of a level of agreement by all indicated parties. The individual attains a rating based on the number, frequency and intensity of cognitive errors as indicated by the automatic thoughts that occur in dialogue with participants [family & neighbors] and Mentor. It should be noted that we all make these cognitive errors at times. The question of rigidity and the distress caused by the inability to find alternative solutions is the real criteria of whether irrational thoughts are the cause of a problem in living.

A person can only move up in family skill level by addressing each group level of difficulty in turn [however, s/he could enter at the most difficult level and achieve success – should we bar such jumps?]. However, as an individual, they can also attain ‘power’ points by diminishing their own cognitive errors. Thus it is possible that a participant is cast with a very difficult group of people and cannot reach agreement, but increases his/her own Interpersonal Effectiveness Rating [IEP] though their own individual cognitive processes and structures.

Each level is worth 100 points toward a perfect Family Member Award [FMA] of 1000 points – implying ten levels of family resource/problems with the highest resources and the least problems being at the low end of the game and the least resources and the most problems at the top. One who is able to reach agreement at all levels is able to negotiate even in the most difficult of circumstances – without resources and with complex problems to be solved. The FMA award may include monetary benefits for each participant depending on the presence of a charitable sponsor.

There may also be ‘community’ activities set up by the Moderator in which the individuals may participate. The Moderator can also provide a Good Neighbor Award for the support and advise given to another.

We could also consider having community groups nominate individual or families for community awards as a means of participating in the scoring process.


Roles in the simulation are played via a messaging system that utilizes a general-purpose messaging to roles within the same community. The general-purpose message is very similar to email. However, since it is not a ‘real’ email system, roles can only communicate with other roles by selecting role names in the recipient list. The real name of individual participants is not recognized by the mailing system, although the Moderator can monitor all messages passing through the general-purpose message system. The simulation mail system operates within the context of the role-play simulation and removes the risk of confusing the role with real life, which is an important aspect of this simulation. The anonymity of participants is enforced by the simulation mail system automatically.


There may be two distinct types of participants in the simulation. The first is any person who decides for whatever reason to enter into the Family Circle. These are hereinafter identified as random players. The second group are serious players in the sense that they are entered into a counseling or parenting program because of existing or potential problems in living. These are hereinafter referred to as selected players.

Regardless of origin, participants in this web-based simulation are organized into families playing particular roles. Participants play out their assigned roles within the context of the given crises or situation. In order to play out their roles effectively they may need to do research. Data for this research may available through contact with neighbors in the simulation or via a large number of links on the role-play website. But selected participants may also find it helpful to do traditional library research as well as attend individual or group dialogues [these may occur in a chat room2 ] – particularly if these entrants are in counselling or parenting programs.


This simulation is designed to create a safe and authentic environment to situate participant learning in the area of interpersonal relationships. It has sufficient richness in it to reflect the complexity and authenticity of the ‘real world’ as well as additional ‘fictional’ or ‘what if’ type of variables. The ‘authenticity’ in the simulation is necessary in order to ensure that there is a ‘personal stake’ in the decisions taken in the simulation.

However, it is important to recognize that some participants could suffer intense psychological stress during the simulation exercise because the complexity of the roles they play puts pressure on the individuals to act in unfamiliar ways. Participants ought to know that they are able to ‘escape’ from this artificial world and return to the ‘real world’ and the Moderator should be ready to help them quickly access that outlet. The simulation used here makes this possible. It provides a clear separation of the simulation from the real world. This escape from, and re-entry into the simulated world is an important element for situating learning by providing distinctly different environments for experiential learning and reflective thinking.

A third critical ingredient of this learning architecture is the internet. The internet houses the virtual space for the role-play, enables communication and collaboration among participants, and between the participants and the operational roles. The internet also enables access to ‘just-in-time’ resources by making available to participants resources when they need them. Without this capability the content of the role-play would be significantly weaker.

A fourth critical ingredient, at least for the ‘selected’ players who may be in either a counseling or parenting program, is the traditional teaching method of face-to-face dialogue and tutorials. The importance of incorporating these techniques into the learning architecture is not only for their utility in the presentation of facts, cases and theories. They also provide communicative events that stimulate reflection about actions undertaken and strategies pursued by comparing real world events with the simulated ones.


People with problems in living may be assigned to play Family Circle by their counselors. The counselor, acting as creator or moderator, may set up a participant list, group the participants into different families and then, assign participants (either in small groups or as individuals) different roles. Participants play the simulation as the assigned roles. The real identity of each participant can remain anonymous throughout the simulation.

If there is collaboration outside the simulation (e.g., having more than one participant playing the same role within a family), the simulation does not distinguish between different participants playing the same role. However one of the tools available to the participants is a “notepad” where private communication between participants of the same role may be shared without fear of leaking to other players. Another tool is the “chat-room” for both inter and intra role communication.

Different roles have different rights in the simulated conferences reflecting the hierarchy and parameters of interaction. Special types of roles such as the moderator role are ‘hidden’ in the role-play simulation. The moderator, whether a clinician playing this role for his clients or the Family Circle assigned moderator, has the ability to read all messages within the community where the family lives. The FC Moderator can read the messages of both the random and selected participants, but the Moderator of the selected participants can only read those for whom s/he is responsible.


Family Circle is based on the abstraction that human interactions are communicative events requiring information exchange. By providing a safe, controlled and authentic simulated communication environment, students can play different roles in a complex social situation.

There are four types of information interacting in the simulation:

1. The information provided to each role by the clinician.

The initial game scenario is typically setup by this type of information. There are four sub-types of such information:

  • Information presented to the persons before login: Everyone who knows the URL and the simulation ID will see this information and hence it can be used as general orientation of the game.
  • General information after login: To reduce the amount of repetitive work, this is the material presented to all participants. The overall goal of the community, or the initial community scenario itself, may be established at this point.
  • Information specific to the individual family: When required, different families may run slightly different scenarios which are set up using this subtype of information.
  • Information specific to the role: By creating different information for different roles, there will be genuine need for the participant to communicate in order to achieve a common goal. However, this information type may be used to create individual learning goals for the participants. The creator may use this type of information to give specific instructions to particular roles in order to steer the direction of the game.

2. Structured and prepared information by roles (in the form of formal writing).

Initial role positions can be set up either by the creator or provided by the participants through the composition of their ‘role profiles’.

That the participants are asked to write the role profile at the start of the simulation is an important design of this learning environment in line with the dynamic goal-based scenarios described above. This establishes the need for conducting research, formulating the position of the roles and acting as the bases for the continuous evolution of the goals throughout the simulation.

3. Information entered and/or read by the participants in simulated conferences, and

4. Information exchange between participants via simulated e-mail and the ‘private chat-rooms’.


This simulation is driven by ‘tasks’. The creator can pre-set ‘tasks’ for specific roles and the moderator can also add tasks. These tasks can serve as scaffolding for the participants guiding them progressively towards the final overall goal of the learning experience. When necessary, such as in the case of the interpersonal family relationship simulations, these tasks can be used for assessment purposes.

These tasks can have time limits. When a role acts on a task, the output of that action may become a task for other roles.

Implementation supports the following types of tasks:

  • Participant writing to be read by other participants,
  • Participant writing to be submitted to the moderator via e-mail,
  • Special instruction to roles by the moderator or creator, and/or
  • Linkages to other resources including reading material, news sites, and so on.


Like any group process, role-play simulations have different stages: formation, development, and closures. During the formation stage, players get to know the system, the characteristics of their roles, understand the goals of the simulation (not necessarily the same as the learning objectives) and start the communication process.

The development stage may consist of several learning episodes, each triggered by events either created from communication in the previous stage or injected into the simulation by the moderator (and/or designer). A lot of learning experiences occurs at this stage. Usually, this is the longest stage.

The closure stage (or debriefing stage) is equally important, if not the most important stage. Closure does not mean a natural end to the activities in a simulation. At some point, the moderator has to ask the learners to stop, step out of the simulation and reflect upon the experiences in the simulation to draw conclusions, compare it to the real world, apply different theories to explain the activity and develop understanding and insight. It is true that the players will routinely reflect upon their actions during the simulation in all stages. It is the closure stage that formally consolidates the experience into concrete understanding – the ‘a-ha’ phenomenon. The potential of behavior modification and learning is a combination of the experiences AND consolidated reflection.


The Institute for Cognitive Behavior Management has as its purpose the improvement of human services through the propagation of cognitive behavior skill both in the human services professional and the population as a whole. It is believed that this simulation has the potential to provide these cognitive resources to a broad spectrum of people. The ability to use the internet as a resource to a) cause people of varying backgrounds to meet and discuss important issues of interpersonal relationships, b) allow people to test out different roles and attitudes in a safe environment and c) to provide to this pseudo-culture research demonstrated skills which can improve interpersonal relationships makes this an exciting demonstration.

We encourage others to address thought to improve the model or to create their own competitive models for teaching these skills.

  1. Much is made about the culture of various ethnic groups in relations to the roles of mother and father and other aspects of family life. One advantage of the Family Circle is that you can be whoever you want to be and experience the development of a family culture with other people who may be of differing ethnic or religious backgrounds.
  2. We will refer to both General and Contracted participants. Contracted participants are those who are in counseling or parent groups and the sponsors of those groups are running the simulation providing the Mentor, running the Chat Rooms, etc. For the general population who my select to run the simulation for any number of reasons, the ICBM will provide these variables