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An Overview Of The Study Of Family

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Family Systems Therapy

An Overview of the Study of Family

By Christie Takбcs

PSYC 4315

I. Smith Noland

14 December 2005

Situational comedies are a brilliant example of family systems. Not only do current television shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, Yes, Dear, and Two and A Half Men portray different kinds of families, but they are also wildly successful. Even older sitcoms like Home Improvement, Full House, Roseanne, and The Cosby Show were well received and watched for many years. The aspect that makes family sitcoms so appealing to the public is that they usually represent a majority of households. Comfort lies in the idea that there are other people and other families out there like the viewers'. More probable than not, people relate well to a character in a sitcom and are able to identify events in the character's life which make him the way he is. The following logical conclusion is that the viewer realizes things in his own family life which have made him the way he is. In essence, he begins to develop his own family systems theory.

Family systems therapy relies almost solely on the actions and interactions among family members and individuals. Within families, individuals discover who they are, develop and change, and give and receive the support needed for survival. Individuals create, maintain, and live by often unspoken rules and routines that they hope will keep the family and each of its members functional (Corey 423). "The aim of family systems therapy is for family members to understand and accept their individual responsibility in the emotional functioning of the family unit. By learning to recognize the emotional relationship patterns and how anxiety is handled in the family, individual family members can manage themselves in more functional ways. Relationships change and symptoms decrease as family members improve their emotional functioning" (Blackburn).

There are several therapists known for their affiliation with the family systems school. Best known for his pioneering efforts in the field is psychologist Alfred Adler. His approach was systematic so it is understandable that his concepts are still running through the principles and practices of other models (Corey 426). Adler was aware of and put theoretical stock in the idea of birth order and its effect on individuals (426). Today there are numerous books and seminars regarding birth order and its suggested meaning to individuals. Dr. Kevin Leman's The Birth Order Book: Why you Are the Way You Are has sold over half a million copies (Leman website). Claims made about that book read "Birth order powerfully influences who you are, who you marry, the job you choose, and the kind of parent you are. With insight and wit, Dr. Leman's classic book will help you understand yourself, get along better with others, overcome ingrained tendencies you never thought you could get rid of, and be more successful in the workplace" (Leman iii.) Though there are skeptics of the insight of birth order, it is a theory executed daily by family systems therapists, especially those influenced by Adler.

Many other therapists have expanded, reorganized, and enhanced Adler's concepts. Rudolf Dreikurs was operative in refining Adler's models into a more organized approach to family therapy (Corey 426). The revised versions of his theories all include notions that individuals in family units become locked in repetitive, negative interactions based on mistaken goals (426). Some Adlerians counsel in public groups in an open forum for educational purposes. Adler himself practiced this method as he believed problems in one family were common to most or all other families (421).

Murray Bowen and the development of multigenerational family therapy suggest there are emotional and relational similarities, differences, and patterns present over multiple generations (Corey 427). The transmission of these patterns occurs through the process of consciously taught and learned information and unconscious programming of emotional reactions and behaviors (Georgetown). Individuals innately respond to their parents' moods, attitudes, and actions, embodying bits and pieces of their parents' emotional makeup. Most visible of these are the negative and harmful aspects of the family members. Until they are understood and directly challenged, these patterns will not change significantly (Corey 427).

Virginia Satir, also called "the Mother of Family System Therapy," lent her insight to Adler's foundational theories via the incorporation of other family members in therapy sessions. Though others had done this before, she realized, noted, and built upon the fact that communication and meta-communication changed drastically when different members of the family were present (Corey 428). Basing her therapy on the concentrated efforts to form bonds of love, have family members show affection, and facilitate open communication, Satir made enormous contributions to family therapy in her clinical practice and training. She began treating families in the early 1950's and established a training program for psychiatric residents at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute in 1955" (Abacon).

Other notable names in family systems therapy are Carl Whitaker, Salvador Minuchin, Jay Haley, and Cloй Mandanes. Whitaker was a pioneer in experiential family therapy, stressing freedom, choice, self-determination, growth and actualization (Corey 428). His goal was to allow personal freedom to reign in the minds and actions of each member of the family. His approach with families also helped him in his own development. He believed the interaction between the family and the therapist was what caused change and growth (Corey 428).

Minuchin and Haley's research were almost identical. The significant difference is that Minuchin saw family problems as symptoms of a greater problem, but that the correction of the small family problems would lend rectification to the greater problem. Haley treated each family problem as real problems which must be directly and strategically addressed. Their research and practice, called structural-strategic


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