Discussion 2-Key Family Processes In Family
We reviewed the Key Family Processes in Family Resilience. Read this week’s journal article by Hackbarth, M., Pavkov, T., Wetchler, J., & Flannery, M. (2012) and compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the elements of resiliency depicted by the families in the article with the key elements addressed in the readings.
Remember to cite the readings (using in-text citations) in your posts and include a reference list APA style at the bottom of the post. Minimum 3 paragraphs
Looking back over your entire life, can you identify the developmental stages as they apply to your family experience? Which stage has been the most significant for you? How can understanding your own experience help you to appreciate the experiences of others? See the Stages of Family Life Cycle Table in the text. The stages are, Leaving home: single young adults, The joining of families through marriage: the new couple, Families with young children, Families with adolescents, Launching children and moving on, Families in later life.
Remember to cite the readings (using in-text citations) in your posts and include a reference list APA style at the bottom of the post. Minimum 3 paragraphs
Copyright Information (bibliographic) Document Type: Book Chapter
Title of book: Family Therapy: An Overview (9th Edition) Author of book: Irene Goldenberg, Mark Stanton, Herbert Goldenberg Chapter Title: Chapter 1 Adopting a Family Relationship Framework Author of Chapter: Irene Goldenberg, Mark Stanton, Herbert Goldenberg Year: 2017 Publisher: Cengage Learning Place of Publishing: United States of America The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted materials. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research. If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of fair use that user may be liable for copyright infringement.
A family is far more than a collection of individuals sharing
a specific physical and psychological space. While families
occur in a diversity of forms, cultures, and complexities in
today’s rapidly changing society, each may be considered a
natural, sustained social system1 with properties:
.. an evolved set of rules
” many assigned and ascribed roles for its members
” an organized power structure
” intricate overt and covert forms of communication
” numerous ways of negotiating and problem solving
that permit various tasks to be performed effectively
The relationships among members of this microculture are
deep and multilayered, and they are based largely on a
shared history, internalized perceptions, and assumptions
about the world, and a sense of purpose . Within such a sys
tem, individuals are tied to one another by powerful, dura
ble, reciprocal, multigenerational emotional attachments and
loyalties that may fluctuate in intensity and psychological dis
tance between members over time yet persist over the life
time of the family.
Each family system is itself embedded in a community
and society at large. It is molded by its existence at a par
ticular place and time in history and shaped further by a
multitude of interlocking phenomena, such as race, ethnic
ity, socioeconomic status, family life cycle stage, number
of generations in this country, immigration status, sexual
1Terms in boldface are defined in the Glossary at the back of the book.
Describe the diversity of contemporary families
Explain the importance of family structure and interactive patterns
LO 3 Justify a resiliency-based understanding of family dynamics
LO 4 Explain how gender, race, and ethnicity influence families and family therapy
LO 5 Discuss the evolution of family therapy from cybernetics to constructivism
2 CHAPTER 1
orientation, religious affiliation, the physical and mental health of its members, level of educa
tional attainment, and family values and belief systems.
All these factors and many others influence the system’s development, beliefs, standards
for acceptable behavior, degree of flexibility in meeting both normal developmental chal
lenges and unanticipated crises, and in general its adaptability and stability over time.
Before turning to these influences, we shall examine several basic ideas that characterize
most family systems.
Family Systems: Fundamental Concepts All families create and socialize new members, and although most ultimately give these mem
bers autonomy and do not expect them to live under the same roof into adulthood, family
membership remains intact for life. The power of the family is such that despite the possi
ble separation of members by vast distances, sometimes even by death, the family’s influence
remains (Kaye, 1985). Even when a family member experiences a temporary or permanent
sense of alienation from the family, he or she can never truly relinquish family membership.
Should divorce occur, co-parenting may continue, and the former marriage continues to be
recognized with the designation of “ex-spouse” (McGoldrick & Shibusawa, 2012). For most
of us, relationships with siblings are likely to represent our longest continuous commitments
As McGoldrick, Carter, and Garcia-Preto (2010) point out, families are subject to unique
constraints. A business organization may fire an employee viewed as dysfunctional, or an em
ployee may resign if the structure or values of the company are not to their liking. The pres
sures of family membership allow few such exits, even for those who move a great geographic
distance from their family of origin. Fuu:her, unlike members of nonfamily systems, who can
generally be replaced if they leave, family members are irreplaceable. Should a parent leave
or die, for example, and another person be brought in to fill a parenting role, the substitute,
regardless of successful effort, can never replace in the same way the lost parent’s personal and
emotional ties to the remaining members.
Growth and change in families and the individual members who compose them occur
concurrently, and understanding their interactions is essential in carrying out any reparative
or preventive work (Nichols & Pace-Nichols, 2000). In the process of growing up, family
members develop individual identities but nevertheless remain attached to the family group,
which in turn maintains an evolving identity or collective image of its own. These family
members do not live in isolation but rather are dependent on one another-not merely for
money, food, clothing, and shelter but also for love, affection, mutual commitment, compan
ionship, socialization, the expectation of long-lasting relationships, and fulfillment of other
intangible needs. They maintain a history by telling and retelling their family “story” from
one generation to the next, thus ensuring a sense of family continuity and shaping the ex
pectations of members regarding the future. To function successfully, members need to adapt
to the changing needs and demands of fellow family members as well as the changing expec
tations of the larger kinship network, the community, and society in general (DeGenova,
Stinnett, & Stinnett, 2011).
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
Apart from its survival as a system, a well-functioning family encourages the realization
of the individual potential of its members-allowing them freedom for exploration and self
discovery along with protection and the instillation of a sense of security.
Constantine (1986) distinguishes between what he calls “enabled” and “disabled” family
systems. The former succeeds at balancing system needs as a family unit while simultaneously
facilitating the interests of all its members as individuals. Enabled families invent procedures
that attempt to satisfy the conflicting interests of their members. Constantine maintains that
to do less, or to prevail at the expense of certain members, reflects family disablement, often
manifested in unstable, rigid, or chaotic family patterns.
Some families, unfortunately, are so depleted as a result of external or internal stress (pov
erty, migration to a country where they lack language skills or understanding of unfamiliar
customs, serious health problems, legal issues, unforeseen accidents) that they may need com
munity support. Low-income families receiving social assistance and working-poor families in
particular may increase their chances for success and self-sufficiency when they receive such
social support. Pigott and Monaco (2004), Canadian community workers in a multiservice
center in Toronto, describe the debilitating effects of poverty and living in inadequate housing
in unsafe neighborhoods. Often led by a lone parent or parents who are unavailable or working
for long periods, with few siblings and limited contact with grandparents, such families feel
isolated and defeated. They need social networks (healthcare facilities, after-school programs,
recreation centers, libraries, community agencies). Being a part of such a social system often
represents a step toward reducing isolation and increasing the possibilities of more effective
self-care and improved quality of life.
LO 1 Today’s Families: A Pluralistic View Traditionally, entrance into a family system has been seen to occur only through birth, adop
tion, or marriage. Today’s outlook, however, makes room for other committed family house
holds beyond legally married heterosexual couples and their children (McGoldrick & Carter,
201 0). There are further divisions and complexities within each type of family structure,
brought about by early or later marriages, interracial coupling, foster parenting, informal
kinship adoptions, social class position, and so forth. In general, an inclusive 21st-century
definition of family must go beyond traditional thinking to include people who choose to
spend their lives together in a kinship relationship despite the lack of legal sanctions or
It no longer is realistic to speak of a typical American family, since contemporary life
is filled with families with differing living arrangements, styles of living, and organizational
patterns. As Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2002) observe:
The idealized, nostalgic portrait of the American nuclear family depicts a carefree, white fam ily with a suburban residence, sole-provider father in a 9-5 job, and a full-time, stay-at-home mother always available when the children return from school. Both parents are dedicated to child-rearing and remain together for life; children are educated in a neighborhood school and attend church with their parents on Sunday; plenty of money and supportive grandparents are available. (p. 10)
4 CHAPTER 1
Not only is such a depiction of intact (middle-class) family life alien to the vast majority
of people today, but there is doubt about whether it ever existed (Coontz, 1992). Although
divorce was less common in the past, families were often disrupted by the early death of a par
ent or by abandonment by a breadwinner. Changes such as remarriage, child placement with
relatives, foster care, and orphanages often followed. So, despite the idealized picture of family
life, the risk of not growing up in an intact family has been a part of American life for some
time (Walsh, 20126).
Marriage and intact family life, as Coontz (2005) observes, may be viewed as a social
invention that in its earliest form emerged from the division of labor between men and women
in early societies and served to ensure family survival and efficiency, as men and women were
assigned different but collaborative, complementary roles. Today’s occupational opportuni
ties, the evolution of women’s rights, a more flexible commitment to marriage as a permanent
union, and the expectation of greater love and intimacy in marriage have changed expectations
regarding marriage. What has broadened our view of family life is the visible impact of working
mothers, single-parent households, dual-earner families, long-term unmarried cohabiting cou
ples, never-married couples with children, stepfamilies, adoptive families, and same-sex couples
living together with or without children. Even our very sense of kinship itself has become more
fluid over the recent past, as suggested by high divorce and remarriage rates (Diderich, 2008).
Just as our view of how families are formed has changed, so too has our understanding of
the structure of family life. We turn now to the structural aspects of the family.
/”:LO 2 Family Structure Families typically develop certain basic structural characteristics and interactive patterns that
they utilize to respond to internal and external stresses. These are founded on shared assump
tions and family narratives and determine the manner in which families adapt and cope with
life changes and challenges.
Whether traditional or innovative, adaptive or maladaptive, efficiently or chaotically orga
nized, married or committed life partners with or without children, a family inevitably at
tempts, with varying degrees of success, to arrange itself into as functional or enabling a group
as possible so that it can meet its shared needs and goals without consistently or systemati
cally preventing particular members from meeting their individual needs and goals (Kantor
& Lehr, 1975). To facilitate the cohesive process, a family typically develops rules that outline
and allocate the roles and functions of its members. Those who live together for any length of
time develop repeatable, preferred patterns for negotiating and arranging their lives.
Even in a family crisis situation or where there is severe conflict between members, fam
ilies are typically resistant to change and often engage in corrective maneuvers to reestab
lish familiar interactive patterns. Regardless of format (e.g., nuclear family or stepfamily) or
ultimate success, all families should work at promoting positive relationships among members,
attend to the personal needs of their constituents, and prepare to cope with developmental or
maturational changes (such as children leaving home) as well as unplanned or unexpected
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
crises (job dislocation or loss, divorce, death of a key member, a sudden acute illness). Some
times, families will reorganize to develop their own special styles in order to adjust to the
challenges of life.
Families typically display stable, collaborative, purposeful, and recurring patterns of interac
tive sequences. These largely go unnoticed by oursiders, frequently are unstated, and are not
always understood by the participants themselves. Nonverbal exchange patterns among family
members, in particular, represent subtle, coded transactions that transmit family rules and
functions governing the range of acceptable behaviors tolerated by the family (for instance,
that a son does not speak before his father speaks, and he himself can take his turn only after
his wife has spoken). Such patterned interactions are jointly engaged-in, highly predictable
transactional patterns generated by all family members on cue, as though each participant
feels compelled to play a well-rehearsed part, like it or not.
Minuchin, Lee, and Simon (1996) illustrate this point with the following easily recogniz-
The complementary construction of family members requires long periods of negotiating, compromising, rearranging, and competing. These transactions are usually invisible, not only because context and subject constantly change but also because they are generally the essence of minutiae. Who passes the sugar? Who checks the map for directions, chooses the movie, changes the channel? Who responds to whom, when, and in what manner? This is the cement by which families solidify their relationships. (p. 30)
Shared family rituals-holiday celebrations, christenings, confirmations, bar and bat
mitzvahs, graduations, weddings, funerals, wakes-are part of ongoing family interaction pat
terns that help ensure family identity and continuity. Rituals are symbolic actions that help
families adapt to change rather than struggle against it at the same time that they reaffirm
their group unity in dealing with a life transition. They anchor family members to the past,
providing a sense of family history and rootedness, while at the same time implying future
family interactions. Participating in rituals links the members not only to the family system
but also to the wider community and culture (Imber-Black, 2010).
Family Narratives and Assumptions A family is a maker of meaning (Constantine, 1986), and our individual judgment about what
constitutes reality is a function of the beliefs and stories that the family (as well as the culture)
imparts about their experiences (Becvar, 2000). Throughout the course of its development, a
family fashions and helps instill fundamental and enduring assumptions about the world in
which it lives. As a result, the meanings and understandings we attribute to events and situ
ations we encounter are embedded in our family’s social, cultural, and historical experiences
(Anderson, Burney, & Levin, 1999). Box 1.1: Thinking Like a Clinician is designed to help
you appreciate how therapists might begin to appreciate the importance of family narratives.
The narratives or stories a family recounts help explain or justify their structure and inter
active patterns. Despite any differences or disagreements between members, the core of family
6 CHAPTER 1
Appreciating Family Narratives
Alert therapists pay attention to the unfolding narratives of the families with whom they work. To gain experience in listening to narrative developments, respond to the following prompts as you consider the narrative of your own family.
What family mementos or stories connect your family to a previous generation?
How does your family express its problems or limitations (by anger, attacking the outside world, withdrawing from the outside world, etc.)?
What roles do you find the family has assigned to individual members (such as “brother is the smart one,” “sister is the athlete,” or “father is the depressed one,” etc.)? Can you discuss your role?
Have any losses (of a home, job, family members through death, etc.) affected the way your family values itself?
Does your family strongly identify with an ethnic, racial, or religious heritage?
Has your family retained its socioeconomic position over generations?
Have gender or sexual identity issues been important in your family narrative (gay parents, transgender family member, etc.)? Describe.
What is the role of education in your family?
How important is achievement (monetary, social class, education, athletic, etc.) as a value to your family?
Describe an important family ritual, and explain how it influences the family’s appreciation and understanding of itself.
membership is based on acceptance of and belief in a set of abiding suppositions or shared constructs about
the family itself and its relationship to its social environment. These constructs are often limited by social
class expectations and restraints that influence what members of that class consider to be possible, acceptable,
conceivable, or attainable in their lifetimes. Language and dialogue thus play crucial roles in how human be
ings come to know the world and how they interpret or make sense of their subsequent experiences.
Some families generally view the world as trustworthy, orderly, predictable, masterable; they are likely
to view themselves as competent, to encourage individual input by their members, and to feel comfort
able, perhaps enjoyably challenged, as a group coping with life. Other families perceive their environment
as mostly menacing, unstable, and thus unpredictable and potentially dangerous; in their view, the outside
world appears confusing and at times chaotic, so they band together, insist on agreement from all members
on all issues, and in that way protect themselves against intrusion and threat. Thus, the narrative a family
develops about itself, which is derived largely from its history, passed on from one generation to the next, and
influenced by social class expectations, has a powerful impact on its functioning.
The ways in which individuals and their families characteristically deal with their lives are not based
on some objective or “true” view of reality but rather on family social constructions-unchallenged views
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
of reality created and perpetuated in conversation with one another, possibly carried on over
generations. Such views may act as blinders or restraints-limitations a family places upon
itself by its beliefs and values-that prevent its members from noticing other aspects of their
lives or seeing other behavioral options. Members of these families typically construct a ratio
nale for why undesirable behavior continues and how they have no alternative but to live their
lives in spite of it (Atwood, 1997). In the postmodern outlook, there is no “true” reality, only the family’s collectively agreed
upon set of constructions, created through language and knowledge that is relational and
generatively based, that the family calls reality. As we will illustrate throughout the book, the
postmodern view has had a powerful influence on how many family therapists view family
life-the social basis for acquiring knowledge-and how these therapists work collaboratively
with families to generate new possibilities and co-construct alternative narratives (Gerson,
2010; White, 2007).
3 Family Resiliency One aspect of the family is its resiliency, that is, its ability to thrive and maintain relatively
stable psychological and physical functioning even under adverse conditions. All families face
challenges and upheavals during their life cycle from within and without their structure; some
are expectable strains (brought on by such potential crises as retirement or divorce or remar
riage), while others are sudden and untimely (an unforeseen job loss, the unexpected death of
a key family member or family friend, a holdup or rape or other violent and life-threatening
experience, an earthquake or flood). However, not all families react to these potentially dis
turbing and disruptive events in the same way. Some may experience prolonged distress from
which they seem never to recover; others suffer less intensely and for shorter periods. For some
families, recovery may appear to come quickly, but they later begin to experience unexpected
health problems or somehow never again enjoy life the way they once did. Nevertheless, there
are large numbers who manage to cope with the temporary upheaval or loss, rebound, and
move on to the next challenge. This ability to thrive and maintain relatively stable psycholog
ical and physical functioning after extremely aversive experiences, often showing only minor,
transient disruption, reveals a great deal about a family’s resilience (Bonanno, 2004). Box 1.2
presents such a case.
Few if any families can expect to avoid exposure to stress, loss, or potentially traumatic
events at some points in their life cycle. At the same time, as illustrated in Box 1.2, fami
lies have the potential for growth and repair in response to distress, threat, trauma, or crisis,
emerging stronger and more resourceful than before (Walsh, 2012a). A family as a whole, or
one or more of its members, may manifest dysfunctional behavior during periods of persistent
stress, but family processes may mediate the person’s recovery, allowing the family system to
rally, buffer stress, reduce the chances of dysfunction, and support optimal adaptation.
Rather than view resiliency as a rare or special set of qualities a family may or may not
possess, Masten (2001) contends that such recuperative skills are common phenomena aris
ing from ordinary adaptive processes successfully mastered by most children in the process of
development. She maintains that a relatively small set of global factors support resilience in
8 CHAPTER 1
A Traumatized Family Rebounds from a Sudden Crisis
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, thousands of lives were disrupted as people lost their homes and possessions, their jobs, and sometimes loved ones who were caught up in the subsequent floods. Paul and Margaret, both in their early 30s and near the beginning of their ca reers, had come to New Orleans 3 years earlier, he as an architect, she as a real estate broker. When forced to leave their newly purchased home, which had been devastated by the hurricane, they were unable to recover any articles or possessions.
I With their 1-year-old daughter, Christine, they fled I in their car to the West Coast to move in with his I
parents for an indefinite period as they planned 1. their suddenly disrupted future. � Although their marriage had been a relatively I � stable one, it now faced several crises simultane- 1 ously: addressing questions of how to earn a living,I where to live, how to arrange child care, how to re l sume a social life, and so forth. Living with Paul’s� parents was difficult, since the house was crowded, i his mother was ill, his father was upset by the in I trusion of the baby, and Paul and Margaret felt tooI old to now be living with and be largely supported I by his parents. Arguments broke out between fam� ily members, and in general the home was filled I � with tensions between the couples. § Despite the strain on their relationship, Paul!._.:·_: __ and Margaret, each with a history of personal ! as well as professional achievement, ultimately 11.
retained their belief that together they would meet the challenge. After a short period in which both felt downcast and despondent, Paul looked up old high school friends, finally landing a job ata construction company, where his architectural skills made him a desired employee. Margaret, no longer able to afford child care and struggling with the responsibilities of being a full-time mom, began to recognize some of the satisfactions that came with being a stay-at-home mother, something she had not contemplated in the past. With no choice but to make decisions regarding where Iand how they would live, they reassessed their pri- iorities, recognized how much being together as .1,……. .a family meant to them, and acknowledged that �they were young people with resources who would ilearn to adapt. �Initially confused and despairing, feeling des- I
fl perate at times during their first months in a new fl environment, they gradually realized that they I needed to reorganize their lives to face the new Ichallenges. The new situation was hardly to their ! �i�i��’ bt. th�y �ad h
�ac� oth_er, theirf �hili, h
�nd Ia,t ,n t e,r re at,ons 1p. orm,ng new nen s 1ps, iretaining a sense of humor, and recasting the crisis �they faced as a challenge rather than a defeat all Ihelped. As they moved into their new small apart- l! ment, they retained the dream of returning to New ! Orleans soon, better prepared as a family to deal Iwith future adversity.
children: connection to competent and caring adults in the family and community, cognitive and self-regulating skills, a positive view of oneself, and motivation to be effective in the envi ronment. Moving away from a search for deficits or pathology in families in favor of seeking its strengths and potentials-family resiliencies-is part of the evolving movement of positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Sheldon & King, 2001). Here, researchers and therapists have begun to study the nature of effective functioning and adaptation, paying close attention to human capabilities and adaptive systems in individuals and families.
Walsh (2012a) identifies some key family processes in family resilience: (a) a consistent and positive belief system that provides shared values and assumptions so as to offer guide lines for meaning and future action (e.g., viewing disruptions as milestones on their shared life passages without assigning blame and recasting a crisis as a manageable challenge);
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
(b) the family’s organizational processes (how effectively it organizes its resources) that provide
the “shock absorbers” when confronted with stress (e.g., remaining flexible, open to change,
connected to each other); and (c) a set of family communication/problem-solving processes that
are clear, consistent, and congruent and that establish a climate of mutual trust and open
expression among its members (maintaining a shared range of feeling, shared decisions, cre
ative brainstorming). Boyd-Franklin (2010) notes that working with ethnic minority families
during trauma requires culturally sensitive interventions (see Box 1.3).
While some families may be (temporarily) shattered by crises, others emerge strength
ened and more resourceful. Rather than view a symptomatic family member as a vulnerable
victim, thus pathologizing the family, the emerging viewpoint is that while problems may cer
tainly exist within the family, family competencies nevertheless can be harnessed to promote
self-corrective changes. Resilience should not be considered a static set of strengths or qualities
but as a developmental process unique to each family that enables families to create adaptive
responses to stress and, in some cases, to thrive and grow in their response to the stressors
(Hawley, 2000). Adopting a resiliency-based approach in working with families calls for iden
tifying and fortifying those key interactional processes that enable families to withstand and
rebound from disruptive challenges.
How the family organizes itself, how it retains its cohesion, how openly it communicates
and problem solves together to cope with the threat largely forecasts its ability to recover.
An affirming belief system aids the process. The support of a network of friends, extended
family, clergy, neighbors, employers, and fellow employees and the availability of community
Therapy for ethnic minority families following disasters
Boyd-Franklin (2010) explored how African-American families adapted to Hurricane Katrina in order to inform family therapists as they provide services to ethnic minority families following disasters. Her key points include:
• Disasters require cultural sensitivity and re spectful treatment that understands the differ ent perspectives of cultural and racial groups. For example, many African Americans believed that race contributed to slow government response to the tragedy while few Whites en dorsed that rationale
• Therapist insensitivity to perceived racism may exacerbate the trauma for African-American families
• Family therapists need to recognize that an ger in the face of perceived racism may be a healthy response and facilitate coping
• Disasters that require relocation may fragment kin networks in collectivistic cultures, upsetting the support mechanisms typically used by the families
• Ethnic minority children, adolescents, and the elderly may have special needs in the aftermath of trauma and therapists must pay attention to these concerns
• Spirituality and religion may be especially important to some ethnic minority families in coping with tragedy
• Family systems therapy is appropriate for col lectivistic ethnic minority families because it is strengths-based and facilitates resilience
• Family systems approaches recognize the need to assist families as they interface with a variety of agencies and organizations in the aftermath of trauma
10 CHAPTER 1
resources often contribute to family recovery. See Box 1.3 for a discussion of the role of spiri
tuality within the family as an affirming belief system.
As Karpel (1986) emphasizes, even chaotic, disorganized, abusive, and multiproblem fami
lies have resources. Here he is referring to the rootedness, intimacy, support, and meaning a fam
ily can provide. In poor families, especially, the members need to feel their self-worth, dignity,
and purpose; resilience is facilitated for them if they experience a sense of control over their lives
rather than viewing themselves as helpless victims of an uncaring society (Aponte, 1994, 1999).
In general, what factors increase the likelihood of greater family resiliency? Goldenberg
and Goldenberg (2002) suggest the following:
All families possess the resources, and thus the potential, for resilience. In traditional fami lies, usually organized according to some form of generational hierarchy, those with greater resilience are able to balance intergenerational continuity and change and to maintain ties among the past, the present, and the future without getting stuck in the past or cut off from it. Clarity and ease of communication also characterize such families; a clear set of expectations about roles and relationships within the family is provided. In whatever type of family form whether led by never-married mothers, stepfathers, two working parents, or grandparents resilient families respect individual differences and the separate needs of family members. These families have mastered successful problem-solving strategies by developing reparative, resiliency-enabling processes that promote endurance and survival. (p. 12)
The resiliency construct challenges the family therapist to attend to the family’s resources that
can be mobilized to deal with a present crisis or adversity (as opposed to a deficit-focusing model
directed at detecting what’s wrong with the family). It is intended to have an empowering or en
abling effect as it encourages the family to search for resiliencies, including previously untapped
resources, within its network of relationships. Successfully managing a crisis together deepens the
family bond and strengthens its confidence in its capacity to prevent or manage future adversities.
4 Gender, Race, and Ethnicity and Family Therapy In our discussion of resiliency, we noted that often strains on the family occur from outside
the family system. Indeed, and much more broadly, the structure, interactive patterns, nar
ratives, and assumptions of a given family have many and varied influences from the outside
world. As we note throughout the book, the family and the social universe within which
the family finds itself are mutually informing in a complex and ever-changing relationship.
Two of the most influential social forces that affect the creation, development, and meaning
making of a family are gender and cultural diversity, to which we now turn.
Typically, indoctrination into different socially based gender role behavior in the family begins
early in life for males and females. While biology undoubtedly plays a determining role in gen
der differences, most of the differences (value systems, personality characteristics, roles, prob
lem-solving techniques, attitudes toward sexuality, etc.) result from learning that is reinforced
by society and passed down across generations (Philpot, 2000). As a result of their differ
ing socialization experiences, supported by general societal (and specific cultural) stereotypes,
members of each sex for the most part develop distinct behavioral expectations and are granted
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
disparate opportunities and privileges. Males and females typically grow up with different
senses of entitlement, exercise differing degrees of power, and have differing life experiences.
Gender shapes our individual identity and expectations, our role and status within our
family, and the real and perceived life choices open to us (Haddock, Zimmerman, & Lyness,
2003). Men traditionally have played the more powerful role in most heterosexual families: a
man’s career moves and personal interests were apt to be prioritized; less was expected of him
in carrying out household chores; he was likely to be granted the major (or final) influence
in family decisions; his leisure time and discretionary spending were given primary attention;
and he was expected to have less emotional investment in family relationships.
However, as society’s awareness of the crucial role of gender-as a determinant of per
sonal identity, sociocultural privilege, or oppression-has grown in recent decades, largely be
cause of women’s increased employment and the feminist movement, so has recognition of the
need to overcome gender inequalities and stereotypes that limit psychological functioning for
both sexes (see Chapter 3) and for men and women to co-construct new interactive patterns
(Avis, 1996). As a consequence, gender-role changes in recent decades have had a powerful
impact on family structure and functioning. As the percentage of women in paid employment
has risen, couples have needed to redefine at-home responsibilities of men and women; and
overall, the pattern of gender-linked behaviors, expectations, and attitudes regarding a family’s
sex-defined roles has begun to change. See Box 1.4: Evidence-Based Practice to learn more
Dual Work Families
Today ‘s average American family is apt to have two working adults and to rely on the income of both partners for economic survival. Typically, they face a major challenge in determining how best to balance work and nonwork tasks (Barnett & Hyde, 2001 ). Employed married women now spend
less time in child care and household tasks than they did 30 years ago, and correspondingly, their employed husbands spend more time on those home-based activities. Inevitably, such shifts have caused striking changes in the relationships be tween men and women; in many cases, they have
resulted in family instability as couples try to work out differences in their gender-role ideologies (the extent to which they hold traditional or nontradi tional views of the social roles of men and women). Fraenkel and Capstick (2012) have examined the
challenges of navigating work and family respon sibilities in two-parent, two-income families, rec ognizing that race, ethnicity, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and social
class play a decisive role in how such families man age best to cope. In single-parent households, the sole parent is almost certain to be working outside the home (Galinsky, 1999).
Barnett and Hyde (2001) suggest that the fa ther who spends long hours caring for his children while his wife works a different shift may resent child caregiving because he perceives it as a “woman’s job” and thus may get little benefit from his new father role. Similarly, if a wife works out side the home but prefers to be at home because she believes it is a woman’s duty to be a full-time mother, she may not benefit from her new work role. Men have often been socialized to believe they are carrying out their role within the family by working, while working women sometimes worry that they are being bad mothers (Coltrane, 1998). In general, those who adopt a more egalitarian attitude benefit more from combining work and family roles than do those with more traditional gender-role ideologies.
12 CHAPTER 1
about how contemporary two-income families and gender ideology affect each other. Male
and female role differences have become less clearly defined today as many families, especially
those led by the younger generations, struggle to find more flexible, if not yet fully worked
out, patterns for living together harmoniously in a dual-working household. Time pressures,
how best to juggle work and family obligations, who takes time off from work to care for a
sick child-these are some of the day-to-day issues two-income families typically face. In the
case of working-class dual earners, a sick child may become a family crisis if their jobs do not
permit time off for either parent.
Cultural Diversity and the Family Cultural factors, largely overlooked by family therapists in the past, now play a central role
in our understanding of family life. Increased immigration, particularly over the last 20
years-the largest two-decade influx in American history-has added substantially to our
appreciation of the primacy of cultural diversity in our society. Values, rituals, common trans
actional patterns, ways of communicating-even the very definition of “family” in different
cultures-all require examination if unbiased and comprehensive family assessment and ef
fective counseling are to be provided (Aponte & Wohl, 2000). The importance of kinship
networks, the roles of extended family members, expectations regarding male and female be
havioral patterns, levels of acculturation and ethnic identification, and socioeconomic power
or lack thereof vary for different groups and have an impact on how (and how well) families
For example, while the historically dominant American (Anglo) definition of family
typically focuses on the intact nuclear family, Italians tend to refer to family as the entire
network of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents-all of whom are likely to be involved
in family decision making. African Americans are apt to think of family as a wide network
of kin plus long-time friends and other community members. For the Chinese, family
includes all their ancestors and descendants (Hines, Garcia-Preto, McGoldrick, Almeida, &
In Ethnicity and Family Therapy, McGoldrick, Giordano, and Pearce (2005) present
descriptions of common structural patterns between families from more than 40
different ethnic groups, underscoring that family therapy clients from each group may
make different assumptions about the therapeutic process, emphasize different family
issues of importance to them, and bring different problem-solving tools and resources
in dealing with those issues. Boyd-Franklin (2003a) has elaborated on African-American
life experiences, as has Hayden (2001) in describing Irish-American life and Falicov
(2013) in offering guidance in considering the cultural context while working with
McGoldrick and Ashton (2012) emphasize the need for clinicians to examine the various
facets of their own identity, their own ethnicity and cultural heritage-and to become
aware of their own cultural biases and prejudices-in order to increase their flexibility and
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
competence to work with clients they are likely to encounter in our multicultural society. As
Cultural competence requires not a cookbook approach to cultural differences but an appreci ation for the often hidden cultural aspects of our psychological, spiritual, and physical selves, a profound respect for the limitations of our own cultural perspective and the ability to deal respectfully with those whose values differ from our own. (p. 239)
Social class differences also add to diversity between families, shaping the resources, ex
pectations, opportunities, privileges, and options of their members (Kliman, 2010). Depend
ing to a large extent on social class membership, work may be fulfilling or demoralizing; a
means to achieving upward mobility or a dead end; filled with satisfactions or boredom; or, in
the case of the underclass, frequently nonexistent (Wilson, 1996).
Kliman and Madsen (1999) emphasize that more than family income is involved in class
definitions; the interplay of ethnicity, religion, and education also influences perceived social
status. As they illustrate:
A professor is seen as being in a higher class than a contractor who has equal income-unless the professor is a Latina single mother and the contractor is an Anglo-American man from “an old family.” Women’s and children’s class standing plummets after divorce. A Black executive has less effective class standing than White subordinates when trying to hail a cab, join a coun try club, buy an elegant house, or insure his children’s class stability. In restaurants and hotels, Whites may ask him to serve them. (p. 89)
Boyd-Franklin and Karger (2012) draw attention to the complex interplay of race and so
cial class. Beyond the simplistic equation of Whites as middle class and Blacks as poor, consid
erable variety occurs within each group. They note, for example, that a Black family classified
as poor because of low income may have middle-class values, aspirations, and expectations for
In describing a complex interaction of ethnicity, social class, and gender, Sarmiento and
Cardenal (2009) note how differently the relationship between depression and poor fam
ily functioning are experienced by Latino men and women. Further, they indicate that the
pressure to acculturate affects Latinos differently. Non-Latino therapists will need to appre
ciate a very wide range of factors to work successfully with members of this population. See
Chapter 3 for more details.
Social class and a family ‘s socioeconomic status have only recently been given sus
tained scholarly attention. In addition to the impact of material wealth or its absence on
the family, the experience of classism-a bias against people from social classes different
from one’s own-may also have an impact on family functioning. Liu (2010) notes that
the impact of social class and classism on mental health functioning crosses racial, eth
nic, and social lines and significantly contributes to a sense of well-being. He argues that
any attempt to understand individuals must include an understanding of how economic
issues contribute to experienced difficulties. As with any other bias, therapists need to
explore their own reactions to working with people of social classes and economic statuses
different from their own.
14 CHAPTER 1
Those most vulnerable to poverty are nonwhite minorities, single mothers, children under
18, and the elderly (Lott & Bullock, 2001). As we describe family behavior patterns through
out this text, it is important to bear in mind how client lives are constrained by the larger
forces of racial, cultural, sexual, and class-based inequalities (McGoldrick & Hardy, 2008). In
addition to these forces, we may add the impact of differences in terms of religion, sexual ori
entation, gender, and immigration status. Indeed, it no longer makes sense to consider any of
these forces as separate influences when working with people therapeutically. They all interact
and contribute to the context within which therapists may begin to understand both clients
and themselves (Rastogi & Thomas, 2009).
Impact of Gender and Cultural Influences on the Therapist and Therapy As we have noted throughout this chapter and will continue to do throughout the book, an
expanded view of family life compels therapists to broaden their own understanding of what
life is like for those whose backgrounds may be quite different from their own. Culturally com
petent therapists continually reexamine their thoughts and feelings about others (Ponterotto,
Casas, Suzuki, & Alexander, 2010).
For example, therapists need to consider how gender has influenced their personal devel
opment. Knudson-Martin and Laughlin (2005) note, for example, that it is not unusual for
heterosexual therapists working with families led by same-sex partners to experience uninten
tional bias. They suggest that family therapy has been based on a view of sex and gender that
creates a dichotomous sense of self and other (therapist and gay person) in which the “other”
becomes a “type” rather than a living and breathing person. They note that the unintentional
creation of categories may limit flexibility in working together and advocate a “postgender”
approach organized around a relationship model based on equity rather than gender. Alterna
tively, the emergence of polyamory, a multiple-partner form of family in which adults openly
consent to intimate relationships with more than one person, may challenge family therapists
who identify with monogamy (Anapol, 2010).
Therapists also need to consider whether the gender of the therapist matters in therapeu
tic outcomes. Clients select therapists based on many criteria such as the therapist’s age, race,
religion, and sexual orientation. Of course, gender is also a factor in selecting a therapist. In
family therapy the gender of the therapist may cause difficulties as when, for example, the fa
ther insists on seeing a male therapist when his wife and daughter would prefer a female ther
apist. While gender choice might affect the beginning of therapy, research suggests that the
gender of the therapist does not appear to influence clinical outcomes, except in some cases
involving adolescents. However, other criteria may moderate or mediate the impact of gender
(Blow, Timm, & Cox, 2008).
An additional element in this process of self-discovery is for therapists to learn how biases
felt toward people from backgrounds different from their own may influence the therapy.
Even well-intending therapists may encounter obstacles to effective work when an unexpected
bias emerges. See Box 1.5: Thinking Like a Clinician to help explore your own possible biases.
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
Assessing One’s Own Possible Biases
Imagine that each of the following “clients” enters your therapy office. Try to picture each one in turn, and then write down any thoughts and feelings about the person or people that occur to you. T his ex ercise is personal and need not be shared with anyone, so be as honest with yourself as possible. Do any of your reactions surprise you? In what way or ways? Could any of your reactions interfere with your
ability to work with the client? If so, how?
• An extremely underweight 15-year-old girl
• A father with tattoos of naked women on his arms
• A boy wearing eye makeup and lipstick
• Parents of a 12-year-old boy who are in their 60s
• (If you are straight) A lesbian couple who kiss each other just as they sit down
• (If you are gay) A straight couple who kiss each other just as they sit down
• A family with seven children
• An African-American man with his White girlfriend
• A transgender individual considering gender-related surgery
• A severely overweight boy eating an ice cream cone
• A pregnant mother who is obviously intoxicated
• Two gay men with their adopted Asian-American daughter
• A client obviously much wealthier or much poorer than you
The impact of such forces as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and
so forth on client and therapist identity development are so important that we take them up
in greater detail in Chapter 3.
Shifting Perspectives of Family Therapy Scientific models help shape the boundaries of a discipline and set the agenda regarding the
subject matter and methodology to be followed in seeking answers. When one set of attitudes,
philosophies, viewpoints, procedures, or methodologies dominates scientific thinking
known as a paradigm-solutions to problems are sought within the perspective of that school
of thought. However, should serious problems arise that do not appear to be explained by
the prevailing paradigm, scientific efforts typically occur in an attempt to replace the existing
system with a more appropriate rationale.
Shifting Paradigm: From Individual Psyche to Family System During the first half of the 20th century, psychotherapy, most often in the form of Freudian,
or classical, psychoanalysis, tended to focus on the inner world-the intrapsychic world-of
an individual, even as family relationships were seen as influencing it. Although Freud wrote
extensively on the family’s influence on an individual’s personality, he generally advocated
16 CHAPTER 1
not involving family members in the treatment of his patients (see Chapter 7), preferring
instead to explore the patient’s unconscious fantasy world. In time, however, some therapists
and theorists came to believe that the singular focus on the individual’s unconscious life was
sometimes inadequate for understanding or treating the individual’s problems. The old belief
system started to yield to a newer one that took into account actual rather than just fantasied
family relationships in the therapeutic experience.
Once an old belief system is replaced, perspectives shift, and previous events take on new
meaning (Stanton, 2009). The resulting transition to a new paradigm, according to Capra
(2002), constitutes a scientific revolution. Precisely such a revolution in the thinking of many
psychotherapists took place in the 1950s, considered the period when family therapy began
(Goldenberg, Goldenberg, & Goldenberg Pelavin, 2014).
The Origins of Family Therapy: A New Paradigm Begins to Take Shape
More than simply another treatment method, family therapy represents a “whole new way of
conceptualizing human problems, of understanding behavior, the development of symptoms,
and their resolution” (Sluzki, 1978, p. 366). The perspective of family therapy demonstrates a
paradigm shift calling for a new set of premises and methods for collecting and interpreting fam
ily data. Beyond a concern with the individual’s personality characteristics or repetitive behavior
patterns, beyond even a concern with what transpires between people (where individuals remain
the unit of study), this conceptual leap focuses attention on the family as subject matter. It is
the family as a functioning transactional system, as an entity in itself, more than the sum of the
inputs of its participants, that provides the context for understanding individual functioning.
By bringing systems theory to the study of families, family therapy represents a major
epistemological revolution in the behavioral sciences. Put simply, epistemology refers to how
one goes about gaining knowledge and drawing conclusions about the world. Family thera
pists commonly use the term to indicate a conceptual framework or belief system. Epistemol
ogy refers to the rules used to make sense of experience and the descriptive language used to
interpret incoming information. Such rules, not necessarily consciously stated, determine the
underlying assumptions we make in our day-to-day behavior as therapists and theorists as we
attempt to understand what is happening around us and how we can bring about change.
Without negating the significance of individual intrapsychic dynamics, today’s broader
view of human problems focuses on the family context in which individual behavior cur
rently occurs (rather than as recalled from the past). While bearing in mind the often com
plex ways in which individual behavior contributes to that interaction, such an interpersonal
perspective-as opposed to an intrapsychic one-regards all behavior as part of a sequence
of ongoing, interactional, recursive, or recurring events with no obvious beginning or end.
Rather than attempt to discover the answer to why something occurred by searching the past
of each of the players, the family relational view directs the clinician’s attention beyond the
individual to transaction patterns currently taking place within the family.
People and events are assumed to exist in a context of mutual influence and interaction,
as participants share in each other’s destiny. Within such a framework, all family members are
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
embedded in a network of relationships, and helping families change their structure, typical
interactive patterns, or belief systems alters each member’s behavior. Clinicians with a systems
outlook concern themselves with understanding what is occurring (say, conflict between a
troubled marital pair), how it occurs (observing its current repetitive patterns), and when it
occurs (whenever issues over power and control arise) rather than searching for why it is oc
curring. That is, systems-oriented clinicians are more interested in the process of what they are
observing in the couple’s interactions than in the content of those transactions. For example, a
therapist working with a couple quarreling over spending money is likely to draw their atten
tion to the trouble they are having making decisions together rather than focusing specifically
on finances. How power and control in the family are distributed, who does or does not feel
heard, what gender roles influence their outlooks, where these differences transfer to other
areas of their relationship, what past resentments poison their ability to work in partnership to
resolve problems-answers to these questions reveal how they relate to one another more than
the specific problems around spending money. Box 1.6 illustrates such a situation.
A Couple in Conflict Seek Help over Money Issues
Bob and Tess had been married for 10 years and had two children, an 8-year-old boy and a 6-year old girl, when they contacted a family therapist. They were immediately hostile to one another in the first session, calling each other names, threat ening divorce. She said she could no longer deal with her husband’s “pinchpenny” behavior-his checking on the groceries she brought home to see if she had bought something he thought un necessary, yelling if she bought the children toys or planned “expensive” birthday parties, refusing to send them to after-school activities because of the cost.
Bob had his own list of grievances. He worked hard for his money, he argued, and she never seemed to have enough. Although he claimed to be giving her a generous amount each month, she managed to spend it all, whereupon she would run up a credit card bill she could not pay and then came to him each month to be “bailed out” with additional cash. According to Bob, if she wanted special activities for the children, he did not ob ject, but she would have to give up other things to
live within her budget. Needless to say, they did not agree on what the size of that budget should be. He insisted that it was his right to control the budget because he was the man and the wage earner.
As they talked about themselves, the therapist noted that while Tess came from a middle-class family whose father had gone bankrupt several times, Bob was brought up in a working-class family, where he learned to live frugally and watch expenditures. In their early years together, before the children were born, Tess worked in an office, kept her earnings separate from his, and used her own money to buy what she needed. There was little conflict. No thought was given to combin ing incomes, nor did they see any need to do so since the system they had worked out didn’t seem to need fixing. The couple got along well, had a good sexual relationship, spent time with a large social circle, and considered themselves reason ably content and working in partnership.
That changed very soon after the children ar rived. Bob complained about his wife’s lack of
18 CHAPTER 1
sexual interest and what he considered her rejec tion of him in favor of the children. He shouted about her “spendthrift” ways and became livid about the children being overindulged with “things.” Tess resented his unwillingness to help with the children and especially his eating alone, in front of the television set, when he arrived home from work. Soon they slept in separate rooms
she in their bed (in which the children frequently joined her), he on the living room couch, hav ing fallen asleep watching late-night television. Each began to complain to the children about the other, trying to elicit their help to change the other’s behavior and to prevent the couple from divorcing.
The therapist reminded them that they once had been able to resolve problems together and wondered what each needed in order to be able to do so again. He redirected them to consider previous struggles for power and control, rec ognizing that this was an unresolved issue they had never faced. While they were encouraged to work on a budget-regarding their money as “family” income and outlay they needed to work on collaboratively-the major focus of the therapy turned to helping them gain greater awareness of the process taking place between them. They began to examine how they under mined each other, how seeking alliances with
the children was destructive, how their sex life stalemate reflected their unresolved power
issues, how they needed to work in partnership if they wished to keep their marriage from self destructing. Bob began to comprehend Tess’s sense of fatigue and loneliness in raising the children by herself, and she tried to understand his sense of powerlessness and despair in mak ing her hear his point of view. As they listened,
fought, defended themselves, each slowly began to understand the viewpoint of the other and to feel less victimized. T he therapist continued to build upon their earlier success together, em phasizing their resiliency.
Bob returned to their bed, tried to get home early from work on the day of the children’s after-school sports events, and said he was will ing, if not eager, to provide more money and not try to control her spending about specific items. She, in turn, offered to be more careful about living within a budget they worked on to gether. Tess gained a better understanding of their financial situation, and Bob came to realize that the money belonged to them both and that together they could decide how best to spend it. As they felt supported by one another, they were able to give up their underlying power struggle and resist reverting to stereotypic gen der roles.
Recasting the individual as a unit of a larger system, such as the family,2 enables us to
search for recurring patterns of interaction in which that person might engage. Our concep
tualization of what that person does, what his or her motives are for doing so, and how that
behavior can be changed therapeutically takes on new dimensions as we shift our attention to
the broader context in which that person functions. From this new wide-angle perspective,
psychopathology or dysfunctional behavior can be redefined as more the product of a strug
gle between persons than simply the result of opposing forces within each of the participants.
2The family, in rum, is itself part of a larger system, and its experiences are often profoundly influenced by involvements with the workplace, the school system, the healthcare system, the legal system, and so forth, in addition to reflecting aspects of the particular family’s cultural background, ethnicity, race, and social class. An
ecosystemic approach (McDaniel, Lusterman, & Philpot, 2001) in assessment and treatment takes into account the multiple systems in which the family is embedded. We’ll elaborate on some of these systems-within-systems issues in Chapter 4.
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
Various therapeutic consequences follow from such a shift of perspective. When the locus
of pathology is defined as internal, the property of a single individual or monad, the therapist
focuses on individual processes and behavior patterns. If the dysfunctional behavior is viewed
as a reflection of a flawed relationship between members of a dyad or triad, then it is the
relationship that becomes the center of therapeutic attention and the target of intervention
strategies. The role of therapist as collaborator with couples or entire families as they alter
their transactional patterns replaces the therapist as psychological sleuth seeking to uncover
and decipher what goes on within the mind of the individual.
If successful, family therapy alters the system, helping families replace their previously
limiting and self-defeating repetitive interactive patterns or opening up the style and manner
of communicating with one another across generations through a consideration of new op
tions or beliefs. Within this changed family context, enriched relationship skills, improved
communication abilities, and enhanced problem-solving capabilities may lead to more
rewarding interpersonal experiences, in most cases extending beyond the family.
LO 5 Cybernetics: The Paradigm Shift Continues With the shift from focusing on the individual to the family system came many new episte
mological approaches to theory and clinical practice. One of vital importance to the history
of family therapy is the theory of cybernetics. Concerned with patterns and processes, the
systems outlook proposes a cybernetic epistemology as an alternative to our habitual ways
of knowing and thinking. Historically, the science of cybernetics was born during the early
1940s in a series of wartime interdisciplinary conferences in New York City sponsored by
the Josiah Macy Foundation and attended by a cross-section of the leading scientists, engi
neers, mathematicians, and social scientists of the time. The conferees addressed, among other
things, the study of communication in reference to regulation and control (e.g., the wartime
problems of guided missiles and rockets) through the operation of feedback mechanisms.
Norbert Wiener (1948), the mathematician who coined the term cybernetics and who
was to become a principal player in the development of computers, was especially interested
in information processing and how feedback mechanisms operate in controlling both simple
and complex systems. Wiener chose the term cybernetics from the Greek word for “steersman,”
suggestive of an overall governing or regulating system or organization for guiding or piloting
a ship by means of feedback cycles. To Wiener, cybernetics represented the science of commu
nication and control in humans as well as in machines.
These Macy conferences made an important breakthrough by providing a new and excit
ing epistemology-a new paradigm-for conceptualizing how systems retain their stability
through self-regulation as a result of reinserting the results of past performance into current
functioning. Perhaps even more significant, a way to change patterns of future performance
by altering feedback information was emerging. Researchers from both the physical and so
cial sciences began to explore how these systems or cybernetics notions could be applied to
various fields in which both living and nonliving entities could be governed by self-regulating
20 CHAPTER 1
feedback loops that become activated to correct errors or deviations in the system and thus
restore stability in the process of reaching its preprogrammed goal.
Thus, what we now think of as simple or first-order cybernetics grew out of communi
cation engineering and computer science as a means of understanding the general principles
of how systems of all kinds are self-regulated and thus maintain their stability. Attention was
directed toward structure-patterns of organization-and control through feedback cycles.
Universal laws or codes were sought to explain what governs all systems. It was assumed fur
ther that the system being observed was separate from the observer, who could objectively
study and carry out changes in the system while remaining outside of the system itself
It was Gregory Bateson, an English-born anthropologist and ethnologist who worked for
the U.S. Office of Strategic Services in India during World War II, who took away from these
conferences some of these mathematical and engineering concepts and applied them to the so
cial and behavioral sciences. Bateson (1972), increasingly concerned with epistemological is
sues, understood that cybernetics, with its emphasis on self-correcting feedback mechanisms,
pointed to the inseparable relationship between stability and change when he later noted:
All changes can be understood as the effort to maintain some constancy and all constancy as maintained through change. (p. 381)
Although Wiener himself had begun to reformulate psychological constructs (e.g., Freud’s
idea of an unconscious) in information-processing terms, Bateson (1972) deserves the major
credit for seeing how cybernetic principles apply to human communication processes, includ
ing those associated with psychopathology. Attempting to understand how families in various
cultures sustain stability, he introduced the notion that a family might be analogous to a
cybernetic system in its use of self-regulating feedback mechanisms to maintain balance and
constancy. While Bateson himself remained outside the realm of family therapy, his cybernetic
ideas are generally considered to have provided the field of family therapy with its intellectual
Bateson’s later (1956) contributions to a daring double-bind theory of schizophrenia
as a relationship phenomenon rather than an intrapsychic disorder were monumental in
describing an important psychiatric entity in transactional communication terms, specifically
in drawing attention to the family context that gave the symptoms
meaning. Although this theory regarding the origin of schizophrenia
later proved to be incomplete, if not inaccurate, its effort to look beyond
the symptomatic person to family transactions was groundbreaking
in directing researchers to examine what occurs in the exchange of
information and the process of relationships between persons, as in
a family. We will return to Bateson and the “double-bind” theory in
Gregory Bateson, Ph.D.
Adopting a relationship outlook inevitably shifts attention from content
to process. Rather than dwelling on historical facts as explanations for
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
current problems (Felicite: “Our problem began when my husband, Enrique, lost his job and
our son Jorge went to work”), this new perspective focuses on the sequence of linked com
munication exchanges within a cybernetic family system (“With Enrique out of work, our
son Jorge is contributing more money and seems to be dominating us; I submit to Jorge’s
demands more and more, and I suppose Enrique is resentful”). Note how the latter statement
shifts attention from the linear sequential actions of individuals to the transactions occurring
among them. The “facts” of the case (content) are static and not nearly as clinically illuminat
ing as is the family interactional pattern (process) and its cultural context.
Content is the language of linear causality-the view that one event causes the next in
unidirectional stimulus-response fashion. While such a view may be appropriate for under
standing simple mechanical situations (where the machinery does not have too many parts
and the parts do not interact much), it is woefully inadequate for dealing with situations ex
hibiting organized complexity, such as what transpires within a family.
From a cybernetic or systems standpoint, concerned with wholes, a precise part-by-part
analysis (such as searching for specific childhood traumatic events as causes of current adult
problems) is viewed as too reductionistic and inferential to be of much explanatory value.
Instead, argue opponents of linear thinking, parts are better understood by the functions they
serve in the whole.
In the physical world, the world of Newton, it makes some sense to talk of causality in
linear terms: A causes B, which acts upon C, causing D. In human relationships, however,
this “billiard ball” model, which proposes that a force moves in one direction only and
affects objects in its path, rarely-if ever-applies. Consequently, any search for the “real”
or ultimate cause of any interpersonal event is pointless. A does not cause B, nor does B cause
A; both cause each other. Explanations cannot be found in the action of the parts but in
the system as a whole-its communication patterns, complex relationships, and mutual
If content is the language of linear causality, then process is the language of circular
causality. The emphasis here is on forces moving in many directions simultaneously, not sim
ply a single event caused by a previous one. Within a family, any action by one member affects
all other members and the family as a whole; each member’s response in turn prompts other
responses that affect all other members, whose further reactions provoke still other responses,
and so forth. Such a reverberating effect in turn affects the first person, in a continuous series
of circular loops or recurring chains of influence.
Problems are not caused by past situations in this view, but rather by ongoing, interactive,
mutually influencingfamily processes. Parents who ask quarreling children, “Who started the
fight?” are almost certain to hear, “He (she) started it; I’m only hitting back.” Both children are
correct, both are incorrect; it all depends on where in the communication loop the parent be
gins the investigation. Nor is such mutual participation limited to pairs. Within a large family,
for example, a multitude of such chains exist. Who started what is usually impossible to deci
pher and really of little consequence in resolving the interpersonal conflict. Reciprocity is the
underlying principle in all relationships. Change calls for altering the process, not discovering
the original culprit. See Box 1.7 for an example contrasting linear and circular causality.
22 CHAPTER 1
Contrasting Linear and Circular Causality
Note the following contrasts between statements based on linear and circular causality:
LINEAR: A disturbed mother produces disturbed children.
IMPLICATION: Mother’s emotional problems cause similar problems in other family members.
CIRCULAR: A middle-aged woman, struggling with what she perceives as an inattentive husband, forms an alliance with her 20-year-
from friends, remaining at home with his mother as much as possible, and the daughter by pulling away from the family and leaning on a rebellious peer group as models.
IMPLICATION: Behavior has at least as much to do with the interactional context in which it occurs as with the inner mental processes or emotional problems of any of the players.
old son, paying less attention to her teenage daughter. The daughter, feeling rejected, turns to her peers and flirts with promiscuous behavior, to the considerable distress of her parents. The son, not quite ready to become independent, feels he must remain at home because his mother needs his attention. The mother blames her problems on what she considers a distant husband, who in turn feels criticized and excluded from the family. As he protects himself by further distancing himself from her, their sexual relationship suffers. The children respond to the ensuing coldness between the parents in different ways: the son by withdrawing further
What should be clear from this example is that family processes affect individual behavior, and individuals within the family system affect family processes, in a recursive manner. Within the family context, every action provokes a circular sequence that in turn helps change the original action. The family who brings a defiant adolescent to therapy and wonders why the therapist wants to see all the family members together is learning that the therapist believes all participants must look at the family context as the locus of the difficulty. To point a finger at one family member as the cause of the family’s distress is to ignore dysfunctional patterns between members that perpetuate the problem.
Second-Order Cybernetics and Postmodernism The theoretical movement from linear or causal to cybernetic or circular epistemology has
been influenced by postmodernism. The postmodern view, increasingly popular today among
family therapists, is a philosophical outlook that rejects the notion that there exists an ob
jectively knowable universe discoverable by objective science and instead argues that there
are multiple views of reality ungoverned by universal laws. Postmodernism in family therapy
represents a break with first-order cybernetically based notions, raising skepticism regarding
the meaning attached to symptomatic behavior. Postmodernists reject the notion that a family
member’s problems necessarily reflect underlying family conflict. From their constructivist3
-‘Constructivism and its related postmodern theory of social constructionism (Becvar, 2000) offer new, influential epistemological explanations regarding how we know what we know. The former argues that each of our percep tions is not an exact replica of the world but rather a point of view seen through the limiting lens of assumptions we make about people. The latter argues that we cannot perceive a true, objective reality, adding that the reality
each of us does construct is mediated through language and is socially determined through our relationships with others and the culture’s shared set of assumptions. That is, we experience reality in and through language in terms of the prepackaged thoughts of our society.
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
perspective, families tell themselves stories (narratives) and develop beliefs about themselves.
These constructions, in turn, organize their experiences and play a powerful role in shap
ing their lives. In some cases, such stories come to represent dominant and burdensome dis
courses that lead them to believe they have limited options and are doomed to repeat their
The clinical thrust of the postmodern perspective calls for creating a therapeutic
environment in which therapist and family members together can share the subjective ideas,
perceptions, beliefs, and interpretations each participant gives to family experiences. As its
members explore new information, the family is free to create a new perception of reality,
allowing itself to experiment with alternative family narratives. Postmodern family therapists
such as social worker Lynn Hoffman (2002) are advocates of second-order cybernetics,
a postsystems reappraisal of cybernetic theorizing that insists there can be no outside,
independent observer of a system, since anyone attempting to observe and change a system
is by definition a participant who both influences and in turn is influenced by that system.
(In contrast, the first-order cybernetic paradigm conceives of two separate systems-the
therapist system and the problem-client family system-in which the therapist remains an
external observer, an expert who attempts to effect changes by means of interventions from
Second-order cyberneticists contend that in doing family therapy, the therapist must be
aware that several individuals are present, each with his or her own view of reality and descrip
tion of the family. Thus, these cyberneticists emphasize that objectivity per se does not exist;
so-called objective descriptions of families are merely social constructions that may say more
about the describer than about the family. Rather than be discovered through so-called objec
tive means, the family’s “reality” is nothing more than the agreed-upon consensus that occurs
through the social interaction of its members (Real, 1990).
From this new perspective, a family is composed of multiple perspectives-multiple
realities-and the therapist, no longer seen as an outside observer of (or expert on) the prob
lem situation, has a part in constructing the reality being observed. The therapist does not
operate as if she or he or any single family member can reveal the “truth” about the family
or its problems. Just as with the other participants, what the therapist sees as existing in
the family is a product of his or her particular set of assumptions about families and their
problems. There are multiple “truths” about every family, not one universal “truth.” The
therapist, then, can no longer consider any member’s viewpoint as a distortion of some pre
sumably correct interpretation of reality that the therapist (or that a particular family mem
ber) alone can see.
In this view, humans are seen as observing systems who describe, distinguish, and delin
eate through the use of language. But since none of us sees an objective universe, each family’s
interpretation of reality is limited by the “stories” members tell themselves about themselves
as individuals or as a family. These “stories” not only reflect but, more importantly, define and
give meaning to the family’s experiences, and in that sense they are self-perpetuating. Rather
than talk of a family’s “reality testing,” advocates of this view argue that we should speak of
“consensus testing.” Family therapy in the postmodern era, then, becomes a form of family
24 CHAPTER 1
“conversation” to which the therapist is invited. The therapist and family together generate
a new narrative, in effect transforming the pathologizing tale that presumably brought the
family to therapy (Doherty, 1991). According to Weingarten (1998), to benefit from the un
folding conversation or narrative, therapists and family members should pay attention to the
“small and the ordinary” interactions that come up during a session. By attending to specific words, gestures, minor asides, trivial actions, and so forth, participants gain new opportunities
to generate new meaning. Beginning in the late 1970s, some family therapists sympathetic to the cybernetic ideas
of Bateson (1972) began to pay attention to the theories of Chilean biologist Humberto
Maturana (1978), cognitive scientist Francisco Varela (1979), cyberneticist Heinz von Fo
erster (1981), and cognitive psychologist Ernst von Glaserfeld (1987), all of whom urged the abandonment of the simple cybernetic notion that a living system could be observed,
studied objectively, and changed from the outside. Instead, they placed the observer in that which was being observed. Family therapists such as Hoffman (1990) applied many of these
ideas to their work, adopting a second-order cybernetic model-one in which the observing
therapist is an integral and recursive part of the family system being observed, co-constructing
with family members the meaning of their lives. Instead of providing answers to the family’s
problems, the therapist and family members together search for meaning and in the process “re-author” lives and relationships.
While first-order cybernetics might well remain the primary focus for many therapists
who see family systems as analogous to mechanical systems, these second-order cyberneticists
argue that living systems should not be seen as objects that can be programmed from the
outside but rather as self-creating, independent entities. Slovik and Griffith (1992) maintain
that the latter group’s efforts represent a backlash against what critics perceive as the potential dangers of controlling, manipulative, and authoritarian intervention tactics and strategies. As
Hoffman (1990) illustrates:
A first-order view in family therapy would assume that it is possible to influence another per son or family by using this or that technique: I program you; I teach you; I instruct you. A second-order view would mean that therapists include themselves as part of what must change; they do not stand outside. (p. 5)
So considerable controversy exists over how a troubled and dysfunctional family is best
helped to change. Is the family therapist an outside expert, a powerful, take-charge change agent
who enters a family to observe, disrupt its customary interactive patterns, and then design strat
egies to alter the family’s self-defeating, repetitive patterns? Or is the family therapist a part of the process necessa1y for change, with his or her own “reality,” who creates a context for change
through therapeutic conversation and dialogue in the hope of evolving new meaning by chang
ing family premises and assumptions? Should family therapists be action oriented and push for behavioral change or focus attention on how language creates a reality for people? Minuchin (1991) questions the extent to which constructivist approaches recognize the instituti.ons and
socioeconomic conditions that influence how people live, pointing out that families living in
poverty, for example, have been stripped of much of the power to write their own stories.
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK
The Identified Patient as Seen from the Different Family Therapy Perspectives In family therapy, the family member with the presenting problem or symptom is called the
identified patient (IP). Family therapists were among the first to recognize that when the
IP came for help, his or her entire family was hurting and also needed assistance. As we have
seen, different family therapy perspectives would “see” the IP in different ways. Early classical
psychoanalytic therapists, for example, might understand the IP’s symptoms as an expression
of intrapsychic conflict with origins in family dynamics and would likely work with her or
him in one-on-one therapy. Family members likely would not be included in treatment.
Early family therapists started to understand the IP’s symptoms from a systems perspec
tive. Family therapy pioneer Virginia Satir (1964), for example, contended that the IP was
expressing the family’s disequilibrium or, in her terms, the family’s “pain.” Perhaps the IP was
expressing what other family members were thinking or feeling but were unable (or afraid) to
acknowledge. Or was the IP’s symptomatic behavior (drug addiction, failure to leave home,
temper tantrums, dropping out of school) diverting attention from other family problems?
The therapist’s task became one of refocusing attention, not allowing the symptomatic behav
ior to obscure other conflicts within the family.
Another early thesis was that symptoms had a function: they represented a sign that the
family had become destabilized and was attempting to reestablish equilibrium. This view that
symptoms have a protective purpose in helping maintain family stability-in effect, that dys
functional families need a “sick” member and are willing to sacrifice that person for the sake
of family well-being-was initially a mainstay of many family therapy founders. They con
cluded that the IP’s symptoms represented stabilizing devices used to help relieve family stress
and bring the family back into the normal range of its customary behavior. In this sense, the
IP’s actions may be based on a desire, although not usually a planned or premeditated one, to
“help” other family members. For example, Haley (1979) described disturbed young people
who do not leave home as willingly sacrificing themselves in order to protect and maintain
family stability. According to Boszormenyi-Nagy and Ulrich (1981), family loyalty may evoke
symptomatic behavior when a child “feels obligated to save the parents and their marriage
from the threat of destruction” (p. 169).
Other family therapy pioneers, such as Salvador Minuchin (Minuchin & Fishman,
1981), viewed symptomatic behavior as a reaction to a family under stress and unable to
accommodate to changing circumstances and not particularly as a protective solution to
retain family balance. In this view, all family members are equally “symptomatic,” despite
efforts by the family to locate the problem as residing in one family member. Minuchin
sees the IP’s symptoms as rooted in dysfunctional family transactions; it is the flawed fam
ily structure or inflexibility when new behavior is called for that maintains the symptom
atic behavior in the IP. Change calls for the therapist to understand the family context in
which the dysfunctional transactions transpire and then to attempt with family members
as a group to change that existing context in order to permit new interactional possibilities to emerge.
26 CHAPTER 1
A less purposeful or deterministic view of the appearance and maintenance of symptoms
in a family member was offered by Watzlawick, Weakland, and Fisch (1974), who contend
that symptoms or problems arise from repeated use of the same flawed solutions rather than
being a sign of family system dysfunction. It was their belief that problems (or symptoms)
are created and maintained because of the repeated attempt to apply an unworkable solution
that only serves to make matters worse and that ultimately the attempted solution, repeated
without variation, becomes the problem. These authors argue that the family therapist must
help the family find new solutions to the original problem if the symptomatic behavior is to
As mentioned earlier, postmodern family therapists believe that the therapist is implicated
in the work of therapy. Their physical presence and verbal interventions contribute to the
exploration of existing family stories and the “writing” of new stories that change the fami
ly’s understanding of itself An important exponent of postmodern family therapy is Michael
White (1989, 2007; White & Morgan, 2006), who believes that the stories struggling families
tell themselves contribute to a feeling of oppression rather than protection or stabilization by
symptomatic behavior in the family. His therapeutic efforts-a form of narrative therapy
(see Chapter 14), especially his posing of deconstructing questions-represent a collaboration
with the family directed at helping explore their ongoing stories and, together with them,
co-constructing new stories that hold new possibilities. By rewriting family stories in such a
way that new experiences become possible, White gets family members to unite in order to
take back control of their lives from the oppressive set of symptoms. In the process, he be
lieves families are freed to view themselves as a healthy unit struggling against a troublesome
external problem rather than seeing themselves as an inherently flawed and disabled group of
Barnes (2004) seeks to explain what all systemic approaches to family therapy have in
common, however they are further conceptualized, by identifying four principles that under
lie all of them, as follows:
• People in families are intimately connected, and focusing on the beliefs different
members hold about these connections can be a more valid way of understanding and
promoting change in problem-related behavior than by focusing on the perspective of
any one individual.
” Family members living in close proximity over time set up patterns of interacting
made up of relatively stable sequences of speech and behavior.
• Patterns of interactions, beliefs, and behaviors that therapists observe and engage with
can be understood as the context of the presenting problems and can be considered
both the “cause” and the “effect,” acting as feedback loops that create the “flt” between
problem and family. Here we see how circular patterns of interaction rather than
linear models of cause and effect influence mutual influence and mutually regulated
• Problems within patterns of family life are often related to dilemmas in adapting to
some environmental influence or change.
ADOPTING A FAMILY RELATIONSHIP FRAMEWORK 27
From this perspective, family therapy looks at the current family context that includes experiences of
the here-and-now among members and how members speak about the past. Therapists listen to the ways in
which current and past relationships form patterns and “conversations” within each person’s mind that in
fluence their beliefs and daily practices. They also listen to the ways in which each member’s inner and outer
conversations (i.e., inner dialogues and outer conversations with other people) are arranged, privileged, and
expressed as an important way of understanding how individuals behave in families, experience intimate rela
tionships, and engage in wider social situations. For Barnes, individual identity is “self-negotiated” in relation
A family is a natural social system that occurs in a
diversity of forms today and represents a diversity
of cultural heritages. Embedded in society at large,
it is shaped by a multitude of factors, such as its
place and time in history, race, ethnicity, socioeco
nomic status, religious affiliation, and number of
generations in this country. The way it functions
establishes rules, communicates, and negotiates
differences among members-has numerous im
plications for the development and well-being of
its members. Families display a recurring pattern
of interactional sequences in which all members
Those considered to be enabled families suc
ceed at balancing the needs of their members and
the family system as a whole. Gender roles and
ideologies, cultural background, and social class
considerations play decisive roles in behavioral
expectations and anitudes. The meanings, under
standings, and assumptions a family makes about
the world reflect the narratives and stories it has
created about itself. Its relational resiliency may
enable it to confront and manage disruptive expe
riences; that resiliency is forged through adversity,
not despite it.
Adopting a relationship perspective, family
therapists do not negate the significance of indi
vidual intrapsychic processes but take the broader
view that individual behavior is better understood
as occurring within the primary network of a fam
ily’s social system. Such a paradigm shift from tra
ditional ways of understanding a person’s behavior
calls for a systemic epistemology in which feed
back mechanisms are seen to operate to produce
both stability and change. The circular causality
involved in what transpires between people within
a family forces the family therapist to focus on un
derstanding family processes rather than to seek
While most family therapists adhere to some
form of a systemic epistemology, there is a devel
oping schism between those who operate from a
first- to a second-order cybernetic model. The lat
ter represents the increasingly influential theories of
constructivism and social constructionism.
Different models of family therapy consider the
identified patients in different ways. Early family
therapists believed the symptom itself acts to sta
bilize the system and relieve family stress. Others
viewed symptomatic behavior more as a reaction to
family stress than as a protective solution to restore
family balance. In another view, it is the repeated
but unworkable solutions that themselves become
the problem. From a postmodern perspective, break
ing with traditional cybernetic notions, symptoms
are seen as oppressive, and the family is urged to
unite to take back control of its members’ lives from
these burdensome symptoms.
28 CHAPTER 1
Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York: Dutton.
Coontz, S. (2005). Marriage, a history: From obedience to intimacy or how love conquered marriage. New York: Viking.
Gergen, K. J. (2009). An invitation to social construction (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
McGoldrick, M., & Hardy K. V. (2008). Re-visioning family therapy: Race, culture, and gender in clinical practice. New York: Guilford Press.
Walsh, F. (2006). Strengtheningfamily resilience (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Walsh, F. (2009). Spiritual resources in family therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.