Glorious sunshine greeted us last Saturday for Graham’s workshop on Family Therapy and Family Dynamics.


Graham treated us to a wonderfully prepared slide pack so we could note important things along the way.  The day was filled with a mix of theory, along with some videos of those considered the founding folk of family therapy in action.


Family Therapy is viewed as having developed in stages, the first being around the 1950’s with Minuchin, Erickson and Jackson as key theorists. The process of assessing the issues was a very scientific one, the problems were mapped out, and solutions to resolve the issues prescribed as a result.  Jackson alluded to the fact that it was the dynamics of the family that were key rather than the focus being on one select individual (scapegoat).


Erikson’s goal was always to get the life cycle of the family shifted forwarded, as this shift often resolved the challenging dynamics between a couple or a family.  A classic example we used on the day was a couple, where the husband was not deemed good enough by his mother in law, was resolved by the news of their daughter being pregnant. The daughter needed a husband to provide proper social etiquette and to provide for the child. The husband who had not attained work since leaving the services, then had to find work to provide for his family. The shift in the life cycle, forced many other shifts.


We watched videos from the 1970s and then 2004, both with Salvador Minuchin at the helm. A very different style of therapy had evolved over the years. The style over the years greatly changed from directive (almost play like) with a large family of 6, where a younger family member was residing in a mental health institute struggling with schizophrenia.  Minuchin stood whilst he encouraged/directed the family members to express various aspects of their observations as directed by him.  The family members all sat.  In the later years, Minuchin was dealing with a blended family where stepfather (defacto) and adult son had a challenging relationship and the mother was stuck in between.  Minuchin seemed more confronting here and had at times, both stepfather and son, stand side by side in the process (son being considerably taller than step-father).


What fascinated me as much as the diversity in the videos was the different reactions the group of therapists in the room had.  What many saw as a much gentler style of therapy, others (including myself) found the later therapeutic style to be abrupt and direct, to the point of being borderline rude.  Some participants said they liked the direct or challenging approach, they would appreciate that themselves. I think we could have spent much of the day discussing this aspect alone!


The depth of research done by Graham was clearly evident and gave a full and intriguing overview of how things have evolved over the years.


Experiential interludes in the day allowed for nice diversions and practical application.  Case studies presented were incredibly interesting and I loved the style of presentation where Graham allowed us to examine the situation in stages and added further information to the scenario, which was perfect because that truly is how things unfold in therapy, we can only work with what we know.


The section on anorexia nervosa once again allowed diverging opinions on cause and effect to be highlighted.  In a previous case, we looked at how a hand tremor had appeared as a young woman was struggling with the challenges of a jobless husband and a mother who thought the marriage partner wasn’t good enough.  Similarly many believe that family dynamics ‘create’ illnesses, physical or emotional, none more so than anorexia nervosa.  Some in the medical fraternity are adamant it is purely a brain disorder, whilst family therapists believe the problem emerges long before the evidence of an eating disorder is apparent.


We touched on Adler’s birth order towards the end of the day.  Once again – divergence between theory versus practical application.  My partner and I in the experiential exercise shared the same place in birth order – one of us partially fitted Adler’s theory, the other didn’t.  Adler claimed that the 2nd child was more likely to seek to achieve in the same way as the 1st child (keep up as it were). This was a fit for my partner, but not for me whereas being seen as the more rebellious child was a fit for me not my partner. Sharing stories around the room, there was interesting tales of larger families.  Some families where there was a gap are almost like 2 families, the youngest of the first 3 children playing that ‘youngest child role’, where technically the child was 3rd of 6 children.  Similarly absence of parents made significant difference to the roles taken on in the families, where it was more a case of [not quite] survival, but definitely seen as a very different experience.


With most of these things ‘more time’ was the only thing lacking.


The only thing I missed in hindsight was perhaps a role play using participants -perhaps ‘next time’ Graham.  It felt like we had so much more we could discuss and learn.


A thoroughly comprehensive and enjoyable day – thank you so much Graham

Sinead Mitchell