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Minuchin's family therapyEdit
As have other family therapy theorists, Salvador Minuchin has developed his own form of family therapy; his includes not only a unique terminology, but also a means of depicting key family parameters diagrammatically. His focus is on the structure of the family, including its various substructures. In this regard he is a follower of systems and communication theory, since his structures are defined by transactions among interrelated systems within the family. He subscribes to the systems notions of wholeness and equifinality, both of which are critical to his notion of change.
According to Minuchin, a family is functional or dysfunctional based upon its ability to adapt to various stressors (extra-familial, idiosyncratic, developmental), which in turn rests upon the clarity and appropriateness of its subsystem boundaries. Boundaries are characterized along a continuum from enmeshment through semi-diffuse permeability to rigidity. In addition, family subsystems are characterized by a hierarchy of power, typically with the parental subsystem “on top” vis-à-vis the offspring subsystem. In healthy families, parent-children boundaries are both clear and semi-diffuse, allowing the parents to interact together with some degree of authority in negotiating between themselves the methods and goals of parenting; from the children’s side the parents are sufficiently unmeshed from the children to allow for the degree of autonomous sibling and peer interactions that produce socialization, yet not so rigid or aloof as to ignore childhood needs for support, nurturance and guidance. Dysfunctional families exhibit mixed subsystems (i.e, coalitions) and improper power hierarchies, as for example when an older child is brought in to the parental subsystem to replace a physically or emotionally absent spouse.
Minuchin’s goal is to promote a restructuring of the family system along more healthy lines, which he does by entering the various family subsystems, “continually causing upheavals by intervening in ways that will produce unstable situations which require change and the restructuring of family organization…. Therapeutic change cannot occur unless some pre-existing frames of reference are modified, flexibility introduced and new ways of functioning developed”. To accelerate such change, Minuchin manipulates the format of the therapy sessions, structuring desired subsystems by isolating them from the remainder of the family, either by the use of space and positioning (seating) within the room, or by having non-members of the desired substructure leave the room (but stay involved by viewing from behind a one-way mirror). He believes that change must be gradual and taken in digestible steps for it to be useful and lasting. Because structures tend to self-perpetuate, especially when there is positive feedback, Minuchin asserts that therapeutic change is likely to be maintained beyond the limits of the therapy session.
One variant or extension of his methodology can be said to move from manipulation of experience toward fostering understanding. When working with families who are not introspective and are oriented toward concrete thinking, Minuchin will use the subsystem isolation—one-way mirror technique to teach those family members on the viewing side of the mirror to move from being an enmeshed participant to being an evaluation observer. He does this by joining them in the viewing room and pointing out the patterns of transaction occurring on the other side of the mirror. While Minuchin doesn’t formally integrate this extension into his view of therapeutic change, it seems that he is requiring a minimal level of insight or understanding for his subsystem restructuring efforts to “take” and to allow for the resultant positive feedback among the subsystems to induce stability and resistance to change.
Change, then, occurs in the subsystem level and is the result of manipulations by the therapist of the existing subsystems, and is maintained by its greater functionality and resulting changed frames of reference and positive feedback.
- Minuchin, S. (1974) Families and Family Therapy, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
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