Mental health problems can be a strain not only on the individual patient, but on his or her family as well. And often, whole families can be called in for counseling to ensure harmony among all parties. In this guide to psychology resources for families, we examine the relationship between psychology and family, and light the way to links to help families deal with psychological issues.
While therapy is often thought of as an individual exercise, it can be practiced on a family level as well. Family counselors work with couples and with families to resolve problems on a group scale. In the United States, family therapy methods are at present the second most popular technique for working psychotherapists; only cognitive-behavioral therapy has more adherents.
The history of family therapy can be traced back to the early 20th Century, when the field of marriage counseling emerged as a profession. The American Association of Marriage Counselors (the forerunner of the modern American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the principal professional organization for family therapists) was established in 1942. In the ’50s and ’60s, psychotherapists became strongly influenced by new theories being developed in cybernetics and semantics, and family therapists took up this mantle. Theories were developed about the role of communication within the family and the family as an organizational unit. In sharp contrast to this model, another group of therapists began to apply the psychoanalytic model to the family as a whole. These therapists were far more interested in subconscious drives and subjective feeling than in the cool formulas of semiotic and functional theory.
In the 1970s, both of these models entered into crisis. Influenced by both overwhelming empirical evidence running counter to pre-existing models and by feminist critiques of academic psychology, psychotherapists began to revise their approaches. At present, a diversity of methods are used by family therapists. Some are strongly influenced by cognitive-behavioral therapy, others are more influenced by psychoanalysis, and others are interested in a transpersonal, holistic style.
While family therapists may meet with patients on an individual basis, they generally prefer to meet the family as a group. Much as the individual-scale psychologist deals with the processes at work inside the individual mind, the family therapist deals with the processes at work in the family. Consequently, they need to observe the dynamic between the various family members.
The Family’s Role in Individual Psychotherapy
Even in individual psychotherapy, the relationship between the patient and the family plays a major role. In the determinations of classical Freudian analysis, the relationship between mother, father, and child is critical to the development of subconscious drives. To a Freudian, our present neuroses are a direct result of complexes developed during childhood and psychosexual maturation.
In other forms of therapy more rooted in one’s conscious life, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and Rogerian therapy, the individual patient’s relation to his or her family plays a major role. The family plays a major part in the context of the patient, is a major recipient of the patient’s positive and negative behaviors, and frequently figures into the patient’s mindset.
Further Reading and Resources
We’ve included resources ranging from the highly scholarly to the highly informal, with a focus on resources from professional therapists and academic psychologists. We’ve included professional organizations, educational sites, and peer-reviewed journals.
- The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) is the oldest organization of family therapists.
- A more academic organization, the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA) sponsors conferences advancing the practice of family therapy.
- The Association for Family Therapy is the British equivalent of AAMFT and AFTA.
- And the European Family Therapy Association is the mirror organization in continental Europe.
- The Society for Family Psychology is the American Psychological Association’s family therapist division.
- The Ackerman Institute for the Family is a New York-based research institute covering family therapy.
- Working with psychotherapists, social workers, and others, the National Council on Family Relations is an interdisciplinary professional organization of people working with families.
- The Journal of Family Psychology is a leading academic journal in the field.
- The Journal of Child and Family Studies discusses child psychology and family therapy.
- A more interdisciplinary approach is offered by the Journal of Family Studies.
- A timeline of family therapy giving an overview of how the discipline evolved.
- Psychotherapy Networker magazine has assembled a list of the ten most influential psychotherapists of the century, including a number of notable family therapists.
- Mind for Therapy is an educational portal on family therapy and how it relates to fields like analysis and cybernetics.
- The Minuchin Center is a research institute working in the tradition of the influential Argentinean family therapist Salvador Minuchin.
- The Family Process Institute discusses the relationship between the individual and the family.
- The Multicultural Family Institute is another research group.
- TherapistLocator.net is a service of the AAMFT to help interested parties find family therapists.
- Social Construction Therapies is an online textbook taking a postmodernist approach to family therapy.
- Video of lectures on families from Benjamin Karney and Thomas Bradbury at the University of California, Los Angeles.
- Ideas to Action is a blog discussing the ideas of Murray Bowen, a ’50s-era family therapist incorporating systems theory into his therapeutic practice.
- An introduction to Milan systems therapy, a rival school of systems theory-influenced psychotherapeutic practice dealing with families.
- To strict Freudians, psychosexual development within the family is paramount when understanding the individual. Purdue University explains this theory.
- A larger database of links to articles dealing with therapy in a more general fashion.
- Psychiatry Journal Watch is a news update site regularly featuring the latest literature in psychotherapy studies.
- The University of Miami Center for Family Studies is housed within the medical school, and covers both family therapy and public health.
- The Center for Diverse Families and Communities researches how families work in multiple cultural contexts.
IMAGE: A San family in Namibia. One of the many questions that family psychologists ask is whether family relations change across the variable of culture. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)