Harvard university press, cambridge, massachusetts




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Fig. 5

C

F

Fig. 6

M

C

subsystem thereby becomes diffuse. An inappropriately rigid cross-generational subsystem of mother and son versus father appears, and the boundary around this coalition of mother and son excludes

Families and Family Therapy

the father. A cross-generational dysfunctional transactional pattern has developed.

It is also possible for an entire family to be stressed by one member's extrafamilial contact. For example, if the husband loses his job, the family may have to realign in order to ensure the survival of the family. The wife may have to take on more responsibility for the financial support of the family, thereby changing the nature of the executive subsystem. This change may force changes in the parenting subsystem. The father may take on nurturing functions that were formerly the mother's (Fig. 7). Or a grandmother (G) may be brought

F M

Fig. 7 M F

---- becomes ----

children children

in to take over parenting functions while both parents are job hunting (Fig. 8). If the family responds to the father's loss of his job with

G M

F

Fig. 8 F becomes ----

M G

children children

rigidity, dysfunctional transactional patterns may appear. For example, grandmother is brought in to care for the children, but the parents refuse to cede the authority that would enable her to fulfill her responsibility.

The Wagners reported on some of the stresses of contact with the extrafamilial. Mark's difficulties as a student breadwinner interfered with his ability to relate to his wife. He became critical or withdrawn, and Emily brought Tommy into their endless quarrels as her support.

When a family enters therapy because of one member's stressful contact with the extrafamilial, the family therapist's goals and interventions are oriented by his assessment of the situation and of the flexibility of the family structure. If the family has made adaptive changes to support the stressed member but the problem continues, the therapist's main input may be directed toward the interaction of that member with the stressing agent. If the family has not been able to make adaptive changes, his main input may be directed toward the family.

A Family Model

For example, if a child is having trouble in school, the problem may be related basically to the school. If the therapist's assessment indicates that the family is supporting the child adequately, his major interventions will be directed toward the child in the school context. He may act as the child's advocate, arrange a transfer, or arrange for tutoring. But if the child's problems in school seem to be an expression of family problems, the therapist's major interventions will be directed toward the family. Both types of intervention may often be necessary.

Stressful Contact of the Whole Family with Extrafamilial Forces. A family system may be overloaded by the effects of an economic depression. Or stress may be generated by a relocation caused by transfer or urban renewal. Family coping mechanisms are particularly threatened by poverty and discrimination. For example, a poor family may be in contact with so many societal agencies that its coping mechanisms become overloaded. Or a Puerto Rican family may have problems adapting to mainland culture.

Here again, a therapist's interventions will be oriented by his assessment of the family. If he analyzes the family organization and determines that it is basically viable but is overloaded by the impingement of many uncoordinated agencies, he may act as the family's ombudsman. He may teach the family how to manipulate the institutions for its own benefit. Or he may work to coordinate the efforts of the agencies vis-a-vis the family. With a Puerto Rican family overwhelmed by relocation, the family therapist would do well to locate Puerto Rican resources in the community—the church, schools with a large Puerto Rican enrollment, Puerto Rican parents active in the PTA, or social and civic agencies dedicated to helping this ethnic group. His functions as a family therapist will be complemented by his actions as a social matchmaker.

Stress at Transitional Points in the Family. There are many phases in a family's own natural evolution that require the negotiation of new family rules. New subsystems must appear, and new lines of differentiation must be drawn. In this process, conflicts inevitably arise. Ideally, the conflicts will be resolved by negotiations of transition, and the family will adapt successfully. These conflicts offer an opportunity for growth by all family members. However, if such conflicts are not resolved, the transitional problems may give rise to further problems.

Problems of transition occur in a number of situations. They may be produced by developmental changes in family members and by

Families and Family Therapy

changes in family composition. One of the most common precipitators is the emergence of a child into adolescence. At that time the child's participation in the extrafamilial world and his status in that world increase. The relationship between child and parents is dislocated. The adolescent should be moved a little away from the sibling subsystem and given increased autonomy and responsibility appropriate to his age. The parental subsystem's transactions with him should change from parents-child to parents-young adult. The result will be a successful adaptation (Fig. 9).

MF

becomes ----------

siblings | adolescent

M F

Pig 9 children

However, the mother may resist any change in her relationship with the adolescent because it would require a change in her relationship with her husband. She may attack the adolescent and undermine his autonomy, instead of changing her own attitude. If the father then enters the conflict on the child's side, an inappropriate cross-generational coalition is formed (Fig. 10). The situation may

Fig. 10

M

adolescent

generalize until the whole family is involved in the conflict. If there is no family change, dysfunctional sets will appear, to be repeated every time a conflict occurs.

When a family absorbs a new member, that new member must adapt to the system's rules, and the old system must be modified to include the new member. There is a tendency to maintain the old patterns, which places a stress on the new member and may cause him to increase his demands. The kinds of increased membership that may produce stress during the period of adaptation are the birth of a child, the marriage of a member of an extended family, the merging of two families through the marriage of single parents, or the inclusion of a relative, friend, or foster child.

A Family Model

Stresses are also produced by adaptation to a decreased membership in a family, caused by such circumstances as the death of a family member, separation or divorce, imprisonment, institutionalization, or a child's leaving for school. For example, when a couple separates, new subsystems and lines of differentiation must develop. The unit of two parents and children must now become a unit of one parent and children, with the other parent excluded.

Families often go into therapy because the negotiations leading to a successful transition have been blocked. A family having problems around a recent transition is easier to help than a family that has blocked adaptive negotiations over a long period.

Stresses Around Idiosyncratic Problems. A family therapist must take all circumstances into account and be aware of the possibility of dysfunctional transactional patterns appearing around idiosyncratic areas of family stress. For example, a family with a retarded child may have been able to adapt to the problems posed while the child was young. But the reality of retardation, which the parents were able to avoid while the child was young, must be faced as he grows older and the disparity of development between the child and his peers becomes more evident.

The same increase of stress may occur when a child with a physical handicap, such as a harelip, grows older. The family may have been able to adapt to the child's needs while he was young, but as the child grows and experiences difficulties in interacting with an extrafamilial peer group that does not accept him, this stress may overload the family system.

Transitory idiosyncratic problems may also overload coping mechanisms. If a family member becomes seriously ill, some of his functions and power must be allocated to other family members. This redistribution requires adaptation in the family. When the sick member recovers, a readaptation to include him in his old position or to help him take a new position in the system becomes necessary.

In summary, the conceptual scheme of a normal family has three facets. First, a family is transformed over time, adapting and restructuring itself so as to continue functioning. A family that has been functioning effectively may nevertheless respond to develop­mental stresses by adhering inappropriately to previous structural schemas.

Second, the family has a structure, which can be seen only in movement. Certain patterns are preferred, which suffice in response to

Families and Family Therapy

ordinary demands. But the strength of the system depends on its ability to mobilize alternative transactional patterns when internal or external conditions of the family demand its restructuring. The boundaries of the subsystems must be firm, yet flexible enough to allow realignment when circumstances change.

Finally, a family adapts to stress in a way that maintains family continuity while making restructuring possible. If a family responds to stress with rigidity, dysfunctional patterns occur. These may eventually bring the family into therapy.

H: A Kibbutz Family: The Rabins and Mordecai Kaffman

Esther and Michael Rabin were born in Israel at neighboring kibbutzim and met each other while they were both studying at the regional high school. Up to the age of twelve or thirteen, children study at elementary classes in the kibbutz where they were born and where their parents live. The transfer to a regional high school, called in Hebrew a "Mossad Chinuchi," where youngsters from a number of neighboring kibbutzim study, is an important step in the gradual process of granting independence to the kibbutz younger generation. These schools for adolescents lie near the kibbutzim of the region but not inside them. Like the children's houses for the younger ages, the Mossad is a complete, autonomous unit, providing all the necessary services to its students. They not only study at the Mossad but have a kitchen, dining-room, bedrooms, and clothing services. The frequency of visits by the Mossad students to their parents depends on a number of factors, such as geographical distance, the tradition and custom of the kibbutzim of the specific region, the scholastic load and chores for which the student is responsible, and last but not least, the youngster's own free will. The present trend is for strengthening the contact and increasing the number of visits by the Mossad students to the kibbutzim where their parents live.

Michael is twenty-seven years old and Esther is twenty-six; their only son is nearing three. The young people have known each other since they both joined the same Mossad. The formal wedding took

Families and Family Therapy

place in 1967. The parents on both sides live in different kibbutzim and belong to the first generation of the founders of their respective kibbutzim.

Kaffman: First, I want to thank you for coming. I have been asked to interview a normal and ordinary family of kibbutz members, so as to find out how this family was formed, to hear how it met, how it acts and gets along, etc. We are interested in knowing how you came to be attached to each other and in what way you approach the com­mon matters of family life. I hope you will talk freely and spontane­ously between yourselves or to me. I shall also feel free to talk and interrupt your conversation. The main thing is for everyone to feel free to express whatever he thinks and feels. I wonder what you think about this whole matter?

Mrs. Rabin: Perhaps you will ask questions and then it will be easier.

Kaffman: I have no specific questions. After all, I don't know you. I would simply like to know how you would describe your family life.

Mrs. Rabin: I would prefer Michael to start talking. Otherwise . . .

Kaffman: Ah, it's a hint that he likes to listen a lot and say a little.

Mrs. Rabin: Well, we'd better start. First of all, I don't think that our case is an example of an ordinary couple meeting by accident. We are from the same Mossad; since the eighth class we studied in the same class and since the tenth class, we've been together.

Kaffman: What age was that?

Mrs. Rabin: He was I6V2 and I was 15V2.

Kaffman: So actually you've got a lot of experience.

Mrs. Rabin: Sure, we're an old family. According to the wedding date, we've been a couple for four years, but in fact a relationship of friendship and love developed between us almost 10 years ago.

Kaffman: So what is unusual about it?

Mrs. Rabin: There was not a situation of a chance meeting or any­thing sudden; we went around together for quite some time and it wasn't from one day to the next. I think that from the minute it started until the moment it was clear to us that we are a couple, it took about half a year—I mean, until we reached the point of going around together, spending our time together.

Kaffman: In other words, if I understand you correctly, you reached the common feeling that you fitted each other as a couple about half a year after you got to know each other.

Mr. Rabin: It went slowly. I don't think that after half a year we knew we were going to be a couple.

A Kibbutz Family

Mrs. Rabin: It was around the end of the tenth class—oh, I get mixed up with the dates—somewhere around Passover that it was said clearly between us that we are attached. Later there were three more years in which we lived together within the same framework the whole day together. In fact, it was worse than family life.

Kaffman: So you say it's not so simple to live too much together.

Mrs. Rabin: It's really not so simple. There are many problems about the relation between the solitary couple and society, and we didn't have the same status in the class, and this period is very critical to the future of the relationship.

Kaffman: I see you are smiling, Michael.

Mr. Rabin: Today we smile at problems that at the time seemed very serious; for example, when we had to take up a stand about social affairs inside the group. It wasn't simple when we had opposite opin­ions and it wasn't simple when our opinions were uniform. It's difficult to be the first and only couple within such a small framework.

Mrs. Rabin: I think that's right. We never got down to analyzing the situation, but I think that is right. Our situation in class was like this: I was better in studies, but socially my place wasn't so firm, compared to Michael's. You don't think so?

Mr. Rabin: Yes, quite.

Mrs. Rabin: And then, just because of it, a good balance emerged. In anything to do with the social sphere, he held us firmly, and in the area of study, I helped more. Here there were some problems, because our relations were built and destroyed from time to time in this field of studies.

Kaffman: How?

Mrs. Rabin: Well, more than once we used to say, "Business before pleasure," and we had to sit down like good kids to do our homework first, before finding the time for our private affairs. Sometimes it was quite oppressive.

Kaffman: Oppressive in what way? Did you both decide together, or was there a conflict between you about this matter of business before pleasure?

Mrs. Rabin: Many times we both knew in our minds that we had to sit down and study, but our wills weren't so ready for it. But if we finally restrained ourselves and sat down to study, then I, as the better student, had to help him. Well, sometimes you just don't feel like it, and then this sitting together ended up in irritation. Anyway, my atti­tude then was that I waited impatiently for the moment when we should stop studying, when we should finish high school, so that this

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