Contrasting Minuchin, Bowen, Haley, & Whitaker

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Running head: APPROACHES TO FAMILY THERAPY

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Approaches to Family Therapy: Minuchin, Haley, Bowen, & Whitaker

Running head: APPROACHES TO FAMILY THERAPY

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Approaches to Family Therapy: Minuchin, Haley, Bowen, & Whitaker Treating families in therapy can be a complex undertaking for a therapist, as they are dealing not only with a group of individuals but also with an overall system. Throughout history several key theorists have attempted to demystify the challenges families face and construct approaches to treatment. However, there have been key similarities and differences among the theoretical orientations along the way. While some have simply broadened or expanded from existing theories, others have stood in stark contrast to prior thought. Though a variety of approaches exist today, it’s critical for a therapist to understand how to conceptualize a family in these key areas; the belief about the root cause of the family’s problems and the belief about what facilitates change. These foundational concepts will help in determining specific techniques or strategies for treatment. Specifically, in considering Minuchin, Haley, Bowen, and Whitaker as four of the key family theorists, there are overarching, debatable themes that emerge in considering these areas. For example, one theme that seems to emerge for consideration is whether family problems originate due to their interactions and patterns of relating with one another, or their individual characteristics and feelings within the family unit. Similarly, another theme up for debate is whether change happens from the outside in, meaning changing behavior patterns to ultimately change individuals and perceptions in the system, or inside out, meaning the changes must first take place at an individual experience and/or insight level before impacting the overall system and behavior. Though there are certainly differences in conceptualization in these specific areas, there are also many examples of overlapping concepts that perhaps play off of one another in certain cases. The following sections will discuss how these four theorists relate and differentiate themselves from one another in terms of root cause perspectives and the requirements for facilitating change in families. The Root Cause of Family Problems There are a number of theories about where family problems originate. As a family is a complex system of individuals, it has been debated through history whether these problems have to do

Running head: APPROACHES TO FAMILY THERAPY

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with the organization or structure of the family, the interactional patterns between family members, the strength of the individuals that make up the family, or the emotional experiences and processes of the individual family members within the system. At first glance, some key specific differences exist about these perspectives among the key founders of structural (Minuchin), strategic (Haley), systems (Bowen), and experiential (Whitaker) theory. However, from a broader perspective there are many commonalities as well. In his work within structural family theory, Minuchin focused on family structure and patterns of relating within families as well as what these patterns dictated about a broken or lack of authority and organization. He believed that these interactions within a family were managed by boundaries, on a spectrum ranging from rigidly disengaged to completely diffuse and enmeshed, and the patterns were self perpetuating. Interestingly, as Haley spent time working with Minuchin, there are certainly some common themes that overlap in both Minuchin’s structural and Haley’s strategic family therapy (Nichols, 2013). Specifically, both theories point to family interactional patterns as key indicators of problems, and both theorists believe in the existence of unseen, unspoken “rules” that become enforced and repeated within families. Similar to Minuchin, Haley also incorporated structural concepts in that he...
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