Family therapy models of psychotherapy can be divided into three classifications—ahistorical, historical, and experiential (Griffin & Greene, 1998, p. 3). The ahistorical classification includes structural family therapy, strategic family therapy, behavioral family therapy, psychoeducational family therapy, and communication models (Griffin & Greene, 1998, p. 3). The historical classification includes object relations theory and Bowen systems theory (Griffin & Greene, 1998, p. 3).
The experiential classification contains only one model—the experiential family therapy model (Griffin & Greene, 1998, p. 3). While the historical models focus on changing the family’s patterns of interaction as a means of removing the presenting problems, the historical models are rooted in psychoanalysis, with a longer therapy intervention in which the therapist is less involved than in the other classifications (Griffin & Greene, 1998, p. 3).
Experiential models, on the other hand, are more concerned with the patient’s growth, a process of both experiencing and monitoring internal problems, and the patient’s self-identity development within the family context (Griffin & Greene, 1998, p. 3).
The history of the models and the therapist’s role in each differs, so given the size limitations of this paper, a separate history on each is not feasible. Each theory has its own major contributors. Among the ahistorical models, structural family theory, for example, was influenced by Gregory Bateson, who focused on verbal and nonverbal communication; the Palo Alto Team, which developed the concept of “family homeostasis;” and Salvador Minuchin, who saw families as functioning to socialize children and facilitate the mutual support of married couples, suffering problems when boundaries were either too porous or too rigid (Werner-Wilson, n.d., pp. 2-4).
Of the historical models, object relations theory was influenced by Melanie Klein and later by Otto Kernberg, who focused on drives and the consolidation of Freudian and non-Freudian object relations theory, respectively (Griffin & Greene, 1998, p. 3; Tribich, 1981, p. 27). In the experiential model, Whitaker redefined symptoms as “attempts at growth” and used modeling to offer “fantasy alternatives to actual stressors” (Griffin & Greene, 1998, p. 12). Three of the five key concepts of family therapy models are embodied in Schutz’s Fundamental Interpersonal Relationship Orientation, or FIRO model—inclusion, control, and affection (Hafner & Ross, 1989, p. 974).
Parr (2000, p. 256) refers to the affection concept as “intimacy” when she states, “The family FIRO model hypothesizes a paradigmatic view of the family’s relationship organization around the three interrelated core needs of inclusion, control, and intimacy.” Inclusion involves a feeling of belonging within the family context, and it requires a sense of connectedness, a shared belief system, and an organized structure that the family incorporates to handle issues of roles and boundaries (Parr, 2000, p. 255).
The concept of control involves the way the family interacts in terms of power and influence, as when these are used to resolve conflict in the areas of “discipline, role negotiations, and problem solving” (Parr, 2000, p. 256). The affection or intimacy concept demonstrates the family members’ needs for interactions that allow them to be open with each other about their feelings and areas of vulnerability (Parr, 2000, p. 256). Another key concept is communication theory.
There are varied types of communication theory, but the one that is most appropriate to family therapy is family communication patterns theory, which serves as a model of family communication based on relational connections among communication behaviors (Fitzpatrick, 2004, p. 175). Finally, the concept of networks is an integral part of the family therapy approach. Networks provide support during family therapy when the family itself is under stress.
As Goldenberg and Goldenberg (p. 12) point out, “The support of a network of friends, extended family, clergy, neighbors, employers, and fellow employees and the availability of community resources often contribute to family recovery,” and “even chaotic, disorganized, abusive, and multi-problem families have resources.” An evaluation of family therapy from the Christian perspective reveals that it is compatible with Christian principles.
Because it is a mode of therapy predicated mainly on understanding the dynamics of family life and helping family members to change their dysfunctional behavior, there is little in family therapy that runs at cross-purposes with Christian thinking. Inclusion, control, and affection are all Christian concepts as well. Everyone is included in the group of those eligible to be Christians, and one only needs to choose to belong. Control of one’s actions is integral to the Christian perspective, with manifestations of a lack of control being regarded as problems.
Affection is a hallmark of Christianity, and Jesus displayed genuine affection to people, urging his disciples to do the same. Communication theory is more than relevant to Christianity, as evidenced by the vast amount of communication that takes place in the Bible and the many interactions that are recorded there to help believers understand both desirable and undesirable forms of communication. Moreover, Christianity is a community-oriented religion in many ways, urging believers to help those in need and to love others, so its precepts fit neatly into the concept of the support network, as well.
Jesus traveled about the countryside, as did His disciples, taking help to people in various towns along the way, and there is a palpable sense of community in the Christian way of life, which considers other people’s feelings, welfare, and interests as well as one’s own. Finally, there is in Christianity a strong family model, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are essentially a divine family unit, and thus family therapy models are intrinsically structured to relate to the Christian model.
Fitzpatrick, M.A. (2004). Family Communication Patterns Theory: Observations on its Development and Application. The Journal of Family Communication, 4(3/4), 167-179. EBSCO Host. Goldenberg, H., Goldenberg, I. (2007).
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