The University of the West Indies
NAME OF TEACHER: Mr. De Cotou
NAME OF STUDENT: Gabriella James
SUBJECT: Principles and Practices of Social Work lll
Harry Aponte, ACSW, is currently a Professor at Hahneman University in Philadelphia, and is the Director of the Family Therapy Training Program of Philadelphia. Mr. Aponte is a family therapist with a special interest in the treatment of the poor, and many of the problems associated with poverty, including the single parent family, sexual and physical abuse in families, school failure, and crime. His eco-structural approach combines family therapy with a community perspective. Focusing on the social disadvantaged has led him to explore and write about the relationship between therapist’s personal lives and their therapy. He trains therapist to work with the differences between themselves and their clients in ethnicity, values, socioeconomic status and personal life experience. Mr. Aponte has published extensively in relation to family treatment pertaining to ethnic minorities and the economically disadvantaged. He is an advisory editor to journals in this country and abroad, and lectures and conducts training in the United States, Europe, and South America.
STRUCTURAL FAMILY DEFINED
Structural family therapy is an aspect of systems thinking. You have to understand the origins of structural family therapy in order to appreciate its contribution to systems thinking. The work originated, of course, with Salvador Minuchin, Braulio Montalvo, and other people who were working together at the Wiltwyck School for Boys in New York. They were working primarily with all these youngsters who were black and Latino, and who were institutionalized. These therapists began to include the families of these boys in their efforts to be helpful to the boys, because they found that working with them in an institution, outside of the context of their families, they were not achieving the success that they hoped to achieve. As they included the families, they found their success rate change significantly.
Well, what happened? Because they were working with boys and families that came from seriously disadvantaged circumstances, they found themselves working with families that were, more often than not, poorly organized, in that they didn't have the kind of structure that normally helps families to cope with the challenges that life brings. A typical story for a therapist working with the families I'm describing is you find that when you begin to talk with them, they interrupt each other, they speak over each other, and very often it's unclear who's really in charge of the family. And if there is somebody in charge, they may be so totally in charge that other people don't have a voice in the family. You don't have an organization there that can identify a problem and come together in a way that can solve it.
It's really no different from what one would be thinking of in another kind of system, such as a business, where when you see a problem in how that business is operating, you're going to be thinking of the structure and organization of the people who are working within that business. If they're not effectively communicating with one another, they don't have a clear hierarchy, and they don't have clear responsibilities, you're going to find that things fall through the cracks and the system fails.
Well, that happens with families, and it particularly happens with families that come from disadvantaged circumstances because they also come from disadvantaged communities that are poorly organized. These families, then, suffer the effects of their community, and they're not able to organize themselves in a way that normally enables families to meet problems and solve them. Every family has problems, but when you don't have an effective organization, then it's hard to talk about the problem, it's hard to identify the problem, it's hard to cooperate...
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