Chapter 9: Growth Resources in Family Systems Therapies
The diverse cluster of therapies whose aim is to facilitate creative change in relationships and in social systems represents a highly significant development in contemporary therapies. These relational-systems approaches reflect fundamental changes in our understanding of both the nature of human growth and the central focus of therapy. The shift in their therapeutic focus is away from a primary concern with what occurs within individuals (the preoccupation of the mainstream of therapy since Freud) and toward enhancing interpersonal relationships and small social systems such as families. This conceptual reorientation has given rise to therapies that are a veritable gold mine of resources for enriching the quality of relationships and helping institutions, organizations, and communities become more growth-nurturing for everyone.
There are four broad categories of systemic approaches to personal-social change: The first category, ad hoc group therapies, includes the many types of group counseling and therapy, growth groups, and self-help groups that are flourishing today. All of these create and use small ad hoc groups to help individuals experience healing and growth. From a systems perspective, this is a hybrid category. It retains the primary goal of the individualistic therapies — transforming what goes on within individuals — but also introduces a new systems methodology that uses a growthful quality of group experience to enable individuals to change.
The second category of systemic therapies aims at changing ongoing, natural systems such as marriages and families. This category includes the many forms of conjoint marriage counseling and therapy, marriage and family enrichment, and the multiple-family and extended family approaches to therapy and family enrichment. The common goal of these methodologies is to enhance the quality of relationships within these natural systems so that they will become environments of healing and growth for everyone within them.
The third category of systemic approaches includes all those which aim at making the emotional climate of larger face-to-face systems (such as churches, schools, industries, and social agencies) more growth-enabling. Included are the therapeutic community approaches and what is called “organizational development.” These approaches intervene directly in larger social organisms to increase their growthfulness for individuals. Organizational development seeks to increase the effectiveness of organizations in fulfilling their institutional objectives in ways that also fulfill the needs of individuals.
The fourth category of systemic approaches includes all those which aim at making larger, non-face-to-face systems such as governments, institutions, and economic and legal systems more responsive to the real needs of people and therefore more supportive of human development. The radical therapies, which aim at empowering persons to engage in effective institutional-societal change action, belong in this category, as do other social action approaches (which ordinarily are not called therapies). Feminist therapies (chapter 10) combine the goals of the first and fourth categories. They seek to heal the psychological wounds of women caused by our sexist society, and (as an essential part of this healing) to empower them to work together to eliminate the collective growth-constriction of all women by all our social systems and institutions. The therapies in this fourth category are beginning to bridge the chasm that has existed between most therapies, with their exclusive concern for personal and rational growth, and social action aimed at social-political change.
All the therapies in these four categories, though differing widely, share one guiding motif — a commitment to the central therapeutic importance of the systemic perspective. All of them see groups as the place where healing and growth can be facilitated most effectively. All share the implicit assumption that the degree of wholeness that individuals are able to maintain is strongly influenced, if not determined, by the relative wholeness of their need-satisfying interpersonal systems. All four types seek to create growth systems that will provide a nurturing environment within which people will develop more competence, creativity, and power to live effectively.
This chapter will highlight some growth resources in systemic therapies by focusing on the principles of family therapy. (I will not attempt to describe in detail the significant differences among the various family therapies.) Growth groups are the most widely applicable systemic methodology for nurturing human growth. Obviously, they should have a central place in the work of any growth-oriented professional or institution. Conjoint marriage counseling and enrichment offer superb opportunities for nurturing growth in marriage systems. These approaches also should be a prominent part of any growth program. Self-help groups (many of which are modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous) represent one of the most hopeful developments in the whole field of contemporary therapeutic groups. Because I have discussed growth groups, marriage counseling and enrichment, and self-help groups in some detail elsewhere,(1) I will not deal with these important methodologies here. In the next chapter I will explore growth resources in feminist therapies.
The Systems Conception of Growth in Family Therapies
To understand the nature and goals of growth in family therapies, one must understand the systemic perspective as a way of perceiving human beings.(2) This perspective in itself is the most important growth resource available in these therapies. Like the growth perspective, the systemic perspective functions like a new set of glasses for growth-enablers. When counselors and therapists put on these glasses, a new world becomes visible as the glasses provide fresh ways of seeing and understanding people. The growth resistances, needs, and possibilities of individuals often are illuminated dramatically as they are perceived in their interpersonal context. As clients are helped to put on these glasses, they sometimes get a new understanding of both the growth problems and the growth opportunities they face. The systems perspective can help all of us be more aware that both our brokenness and our wholeness are the consequences, to a considerable degree, of the quality of our systems of need-satisfying relationships.
For those of us who have invested years of professional training in putting on the intrapsychic glasses, it usually requires strenuous effort to learn to also see people through the interpersonal-systemic glasses. But the glasses for seeing intrapsychic dynamics, which we have learned to wear, provide a much more meaningful picture of human beings when the interpersonal-systemic way of perceiving is added.
As was pointed out in chapter 3, interpersonalism was the central motif of the thinking of Harry Stack Sullivan, the foreparent of systems therapies. The systemic therapies presuppose an interpersonal view of human beings. In a profound sense, we human beings are our relationships. The within and the between of persons’ lives are two interdependent aspects of their personalities.
Intrapsychic dynamics reflect the individual’s pattern of interpersonal relationships and vice versa. Systems theory developed beyond Sullivan’s view by showing how individuals can be understood fully only when they are seen in the context of all the social systems — the family, extended family, institutional and cultural systems — of which they are a part and which shape their personal identity, behavior, and relationships. Building on this awareness, systemic therapies took the crucial step methodologically by intervening directly in interpersonal systems to help them become more growth-enabling as systems.
Using family systems as illustrative, let’s look at the dynamics of social systems and how they nurture or negate human growth. Families are the basic system of “people making” (Satir) in all human societies. A family is a primary social organism with a distinctive identity or “personality” of its own, which is more than the sum of its parts. There is an organic interdependency among members of any primary social system that is somewhat analogous to the parts of one’s body. The functioning of any one part of such a system reflects and influences, to some degree, the interaction of all the parts of the whole organism. To illustrate, family therapists have discovered that children who are “identified patients” (to use family therapist Virginia Satir’s term for family members who are emotionally disturbed, delinquent, or psychosomatically ill) often are expressing, in their dysfunction, the hidden conflicts in their parents’ marriage. The identified patient’s dysfunction actually serves a function in the family system in that it allows other family members to avoid facing and taking responsibility for their own pain.
The behavior, attitudes, values, and pattern of relating of individual family members are shaped by the family structure — that is, by the unconscious family rules, expectations, values, taboos, beliefs, patterns of communication, and distribution of power among its members. This dynamic family structure can frustrate or facilitate the potentializing of all its members. Because of a family’s organic interdependency and its unconscious structure, it often is difficult for one person to change and grow unless the whole family system changes in directions that support that individual’s growth or the individual leaves the family and establishes a new network of nurture. Those who do therapy in institutional settings with psychologically disturbed persons have long been aware that such persons often regress dramatically when they return to their families. The basic goal of family therapy is to work with the whole family organism to help them change their underlying rules and patterns so that all their members will be free to grow and none will be needed as a scapegoat to bear hidden family pain.
Family therapist Nathan Ackerman suggests that the term “organism” connotes the family’s living process, functional unity, and natural life history — “a period of germination, a birth, a growth and development, a capacity to adapt to change and crisis, a slow decline, and finally, dissolution of the old family into the new.”(3) The family’s collective identity evolves and its joint “ego strength” fluctuates with the stresses and resources of each stage of the family life cycle. Some families cope constructively, for example, with the heavy pressures of the stage when the children are young but develop dysfunction when the children become teenagers. This often reflects the unfinished growth work from the parents’ own adolescence. Many families need help in revising their family patterns of interaction to cope more growthfully with stressful crises and new family stages.
A family system, like other social organisms, is composed of several interdependent subsystems. It is important for family counselors and therapists to be aware of the patterns of interaction within and among these subsystems — husband-wife, mother-children, father-children, child-child, grandparents- parents, grandparents-children, child-pet, and so on. The marital subsystem develops as two newly married persons work out a functional blend (often with severe clashes and pain) of the diverse family patterns that they carry within them from their families of origin. The joint marital pair identity, which the couple evolves through their interaction, becomes the core of their new family’s identity. As children are added they alter the couple’s and the family’s identity to some degree, even as they are shaped by that identity. Young children automatically learn the implicit rules of their culture as these are reflected in their parents’ pattern of approval and punishment. Fortunately, parents who become aware of their implicit family rules, values, and expectations may diminish or interrupt the transmission of ungrowthful patterns to their children. Thus, the family systems perspective, as implemented in family therapy, empowers adults to discover and change intentionally the transgenerational transmission of family patterns that they internalized in their own childhood.
Family therapist Salvador Minuchin describes how unconscious family patterns tend to constrict potentializing: Family patterns put blinders on people. . . .You are who you are in your context. This means that your relationship to your brother, your husband, your parents, your sister, and your children, causes you and them to focus sharply on certain aspects of your life and let your other skills and possibilities lie idle and perhaps atrophy. . . . Therapy can sometimes facilitate the activation of such unused skills.(4)
The Goals of Family Systems Therapy
What are the characteristics of growth-enabling families toward which these therapies seek to help families move? Virginia Satir, whose approach is thoroughly growth-centered, has identified four dynamics in families in which growth flourishes. First, within those families, people feel and support one another’s self worth. One key to unlocking trapped growth in a family is to teach them how to enhance rather than diminish each other’s esteem. Second, persons in growthful families communicate in direct, clear, and honest ways. As Satir put this, “Communication is the greatest single factor affecting a person’s health and his relationships to others.”(5) The most accurate way to diagnose the nature of a family system’s problems is to watch their basic communication pattern — who talks? Who talks to whom or/or whom? Third, the implicit rules within growthful families are fair, flexible, human, and open to renegotiation as the family’s situation changes and individuals within the family grow. Fourth, such families are open systems that interact in a mutually nurturing way with a considerable number of people, families, and institutions outside their own family boundaries. Thus, a family’s identity and wholeness are determined not just by its inner dynamics but also by its relations with the extended family and close friends, with its community and the organizations that effect its members’ growth. Satir sees a positive reciprocity between all these factors: “Feelings of worth can only flourish in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open and rules are flexible — the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.”(6)
Like other social systems, families can be either rigid and closed, or open and growing. Open and closed families can be distinguished by the number and quality of their extrafamilial relationships and by their responses to crises and change. Open, healthy families have more persons in their network of mutual-support than do closed families. Closed, rigid families are extremely vulnerable to crises. They resist change and try desperately to maintain the status quo by inflexible rules and by psychological or physical coercion. In contrast, open families tend to cope more constructively with crises and change. They are more open to revising, through negotiation, their family’s working agreement (family contract) concerning the distribution of satisfactions, responsibilities, decision-making, and power within the family. They are more apt to seek to resolve their conflicting wants and needs by fair compromises or in other win-win rather than win-lose ways. They recognize that in intimate relationships if one person loses, no one really wins because the relationship is hurt thereby.
The research of family therapist Murray Bowen(7) has illuminated another crucial goal in helping families become more growth-enabling. A family is a system of interacting and counterbalancing forces, according to Bowen. Two primary forces in all families are the force toward togetherness and fusion, and the counter force toward differentiation and individuality. The togetherness-fusion force, which is deeply rooted in the biological survival needs of human beings, is the cohesive force that makes for the bonding of family systems (and other close relationships). The autonomy-individuality force is also rooted in a profound human need. Families vary greatly in the ratio of these two needs.
The basic pattern of a family’s individuality-togetherness ratio is passed on from one generation to the next. A healthy balance between togetherness and individuality allows family members to be closely involved with one another without losing their sense of autonomy. When a family system maintains its optimal balance between these two forces, it is able to handle heavy stress
constructively without family members’ developing symptoms of dysfunction. Bowen has discovered that the most disturbed and growth-stifling families are those in which the fusion force far outweighs the individuality force. This creates sticky interdependency, rigidity, and an intolerance of individualism and nonconformity within the family. When heavy internal or external stress strikes such families, they are very vulnerable. Family members are likely to develop
emotional, behavioral, relational, or psychosomatic problems as maladaptive responses to the family organism’s stress. Although both togetherness and individuality are essential human needs, families that nurture optimal growth and cope-ability among their members are those in which individuality is valued and encouraged. Bowen’s therapy seeks to help family members who are symbiotically enmeshed with one another to move toward greater self-definition and individuality.
Here, in summary, are the major operational goals of family systems therapy. Family therapists usually meet with the whole family and occasionally with one or more subsystems within the family seeking to help the family learn:
(1) To communicate their feelings (both positive and negative), needs, desires, values, and hopes more openly, clearly, and congruently. The therapist is a “coach” of effective, relation-ship strengthening communication skills. (2) To shift from focusing mainly on the “identified patient” and to deal with the hidden pain, conflict, and blocked growth in all family members that cause the individual’s problems. This may involve a number of marriage therapy sessions with the wife-husband subsystem. (3) To interrupt their mutually damaging hurt-anger-attack cycles sooner and to gradually substitute self-feeding cycles of mutual need satisfaction among family members. (4) To mutually nourish rather than starve self-esteem in all family members. (5) To
become aware of their family’s contract — its implicit rules, roles, values, expectations, and belief s — and then to renegotiate a more growthful working agreement that distributes satisfactions and responsibilities, power, and growth opportunities fairly. (6) To see the positive but abortive growth strivings in much of the frustrating behavior of family members and to learn how to encourage the expression of these strivings in more self-actualizing ways.(8) (7) To resolve more constructively the inevitable conflicts of living together, recognizing that growth often can be activated precisely at the points of conflict. (8) To develop a healthier balance between their need for togethemess and their need for autonomy, giving more room for the latter. (9) To experiment with new behaviors and ways of relating that are more responsive to the real needs of all family members. This often involves doing family “homework” assignments between sessions. (10) To make the interaction within and among their subsystem more growth-engendering. (11) To open up their family system by developing more supportive relationships with other people, families, and institutions outside the family. (12) To create an interpersonal climate of high-level wellness within the family, thus making it a better growth environment for all its members.
Because the marital subsystem is the dynamic core of a family’s evolving identity, growth-oriented marriage counseling (concurrent with family therapy) is sometimes essential for enhancing family interaction. Encouraging couples to commit themselves to a redefinition of “love” as caring about and encouraging each other’s fullest possible development, helps them make their marriage a better interpersonal environment of mutual growth. Experiencing both personal growth and a mutually growthful marriage empowers parents to nurture their children’s fullest becoming.
A central issue in growthful marriage counseling is how to develop real equality between spouses. This issue has not been emphasized adequately in most of the literature on marriage counseling and family therapy. There is overwhelming evidence that the institution of marriage and the ways in which many couples define their personal marriage contracts is growth-limiting, particularly for women. To illustrate, single women, on the average, are healthier both physically and psychologically than married women. The opposite is true for men.(9) Many of the problems of troubled children and adolescents, which bring families to therapy, stem from the unfulfilling, one-down position of their mothers and the emotionally distant, high-pressure life-styles of their success-driven fathers. Women who have few sources of esteem and power outside of the family tend to overinvest in wifing and mothering roles. They exercise their basic human need for power through controlling their children (and often their husbands) in covert, manipulative ways.
If marriage counseling and family therapy are to be growth-liberating, professionals who work with families must have their own consciousness raised regarding the destructiveness of sexism in the laws and customs defining the institution of marriage. They must actively assist couples to become aware of and correct the areas of injustice and unfairness in their marriages, with respect to the distribution of power, decision-making, and opportunities for self-development. They should challenge and coach couples in developing the skills needed to renegotiate and update their marriage contract (covenant) regularly to provide opportunities for both parties to share fairly in child care, breadwinning, education, personal satisfactions, and household chores. Growthful marriage counseling and enrichment should aim at encouraging couples to relate as two strong, growing individuals who choose to form a relationship of interdependency that respects differences and autonomy.
Our culture’s growth-constricting sex roles are learned by children by observing and internalizing the roles their parents act out. The implicit family rules, which shape the self-image, sense of competence, and esteem of children, are usually very different for girls and boys, even in the same family. Different behavior is rewarded and punished. Sexist dual standards and self-definitions are thus internalized and passed on through the generations in family systems. To help break the stranglehold of sexism on the full becoming of both women and men, it is essential that marriage and family therapy and enrichment help parents learn methods of nonsexist child-nurturing.(10)
FAMILY SYSTEMS THERAPIES
Some Applications of Family Therapy Approaches
The goals and principles of family therapy described above are equally relevant for use in family life enrichment experiences for relatively functional, “healthy” families who wish to develop more of their unused growth potentials. “Healthy family growth sessions” involve the use of enrichment methods with the whole family.(11) In family enrichment workshops and camps, functional families can support one another’s creative change. The growthfulness of many families could be increased significantly if they had such a family growth “booster” once or twice a year.
The systemic philosophy and methodology of family therapy and enrichment can be applied productively to any close, committed relationship. Any close friendship can be made more mutually growthful by applying the principles of marriage and family enrichment and therapy. There is a pressing need also to use such approaches to help the millions of single people in our society to develop family-like support systems. These are needed to nurture their growth in our lonely, urbanized society where “being married” is defined as the norm, making singles feel diminished self-worth.
The systemic perspective offers a valuable orientation for understanding and helping individuals to grow. In doing growth-oriented counseling with individuals, it is important to remember that their family-of-origin and present family (or other network of mutual nurture) are always present within them. We all carry within us, throughout our lives, the influence of the family system in which our personalities were created. This inner family tends to shape our present relationships. Individual therapy aims at helping people grow beyond the limitations and claim the latent strengths of their internalized families of origin, and to withdraw the projection of inappropriate attitudes and expectations from those families onto their present intimate relationships. Individual growth is more apt to continue after therapy if a person’s growth is accompanied by creative changes in her or his contemporary family system. It often facilitates this process to have a few sessions with a person’s “significant others” during individual therapy. Or, in marriage therapy, a few sessions involving the couple’s children and/or parents, frequently reveals otherwise hidden dimensions of their marital interaction that prove effective in helping them alter their growth-stifling ways of relating. Seeing the couple’s parents interact may illuminate for the couple the sources of their own communication hang-ups and conflicts. In doing individual therapy with persons who still value their marriages, it sometimes becomes essential to integrate marriage therapy with the process in order to prevent the person’s growth from alienating him or her from the spouse.
The systemic perspective offers a variety of resources for enhancing spiritual and value growth. In one sense, family therapy is a way of helping families whose guiding values and priorities are not functioning growthfully to reformulate their values and priorities. A family’s basic philosophy of life, spiritual orientation and values are “caught” by young children more than they are “taught,” as they absorb the spiritual-values climate of that family. Continuing spiritual development throughout adulthood is best nurtured in family-like caring groups in which spiritual values are experienced in relation- ships. The systemic perspective reaffirms the ancient Hebrew awareness that spiritual growth occurs best in a caring community with a shared commitment to spiritual values. A biblical expression of this systemic awareness is found in references to the early church as the “body of Christ” in which individuals are “members of each other.”
A vital dimension of an open, growing family system is its openness to the wider spiritual reality whom we call God. This openness provides a transpersonal and transfamilial context of meaning and support. The wholeness of family members can be profoundly nurtured by their awareness of their connectedness with other persons and ultimately with the whole of humankind, with the biosphere, and with the loving Spirit of the universe.
Wholeness in Larger Systems
When one works holistically to increase the growthfulness of intimate systems, it is a natural progression to look beyond their boundaries to the larger systems that deplete or enrich the lives of all individuals and families. Several family therapists have researched the impact of larger social systems on the family. I was first introduced to this orientation during my training in family therapy with Salvador Minuchin. (I recall the impact of spending time, at Minuchin’s suggestion, in the homes of client families in the ghetto of Philadelphia.) From his work with ghetto families, Minuchin has developed a keen awareness of the reciprocity between family systems and societal structures. He believes that it is important for family therapists to learn about a family’s experiences when they are not in the clinic and to become more aware of the socioeconomic oppression which has a profound, negative impact on those families’ systems every hour of their lives. He declares:
Every therapist who works with our population is familiar with numerous instances in which patterns of change within the family are out of phase with patterns of change in the neighborhood. Consider, for instance, the plight of a family attempting to change certain internal patterns while it is living in the midst of a rapidly deteriorating urban neighborhood which seems to require them to retain these patterns. A mother’s attempts to modify her hierarchical and punitive relationship with her adolescent daughters may be defeated by the social phenomena outside her door. When her daughters satisfy their understandable heterosexual curiosity by continually glancing out the front door to see if any boys are passing, she is compelled to adopt her old punitive role: “Sure, I want to change. I don’t want to yell at them for that, but how can I not tell them to stop looking out? The winos are taking over that corner, and pimps are beginning to come around. The girls have got to stay in.”(12)
Minuchin also points to the insidious impact on slum families of chronic male unemployment. This produces an overvaluing of the role of “provider” and an undervaluing of the other significant roles of men — husband, father, human being.
Minuchin calls for multiple-leveled intervention in order to help slum families:
The questions are no longer, “can we introduce change by just working within family systems?” or “can intervention at the societal level alone modify the ecological unbalance in these families?” The false dichotomy implied by such questions and the need for multiple levels of intervention have been acknowledged. The coordination of work within the family with community approaches now raises a new set of questions: How can the use of multiple levels of intervention be made coherently functional?(13)
He sees the need for increased study of the little-understood mechanisms by which family systems regulate their interaction with outside systems. Without this understanding it will remain impossible to devise social change programs (e.g., youth job training, head start) that ghetto families can use fully, in conjunction with family systems therapy, to interrupt the vicious, mutual reinforcement of family and community problems.
Murray Bowen has been examining the forces in contemporary society that increase stress on families and render them highly vulnerable to dysfunction — e.g., the frantic pace of life, the loss of supportive contact with the extended family, the pressures caused by the population explosion and the depletion of nonrenewable resources. These and other social changes have provided a society in which many parents experience heightened anxieties together with diminished awareness and self- confidence. All of this blunts their effectiveness in parenting.
From her perspective, Virginia Satir declares: “I see a need for families to ask to become partners in any institution in which any of their members are involved and to be considered a part of that establishment.”(14) As a practical approach to meeting this need she recommends that parents sit down with their children in family meetings so that everyone can get in touch with where everyone else is in relation to outside institutions — school, business, church, boy scouts, the track team, etc. “The family meeting would be the one place where lacks, oversights, injustices, rewards and experiences by individuals would be looked at in the frame of everyone’s needs and the adjustment [in the family and in outside institutions] that might have to be made.”(15)
Re-creating the Extended Family
The family systems perspective makes it clear that, to cope creatively with the multiple crises and pressures of our world, many people desperately need to find substitutes for the extended family.
In our rootless, highly mobile society, millions of individuals and families do not get a sense of support from their extended family or from their neighbors. Without a vital support system their capacity to cope is greatly reduced. To lessen psychological and family disorders and to increase human potentializing, an innovative strategy is needed to provide a variety of easily available networks of caring and mutual nurture for individuals and families within every community. The major growth-nurturing institutions of our society — schools and churches — have a tremendous opportunity to help develop such nurturing networks.
Here are some suggestions for helping religious organizations function as extended family networks of nurture. Similar approaches can be used to revitalize other people-serving institutions: (1) The consciousness of many religious leaders (professional and lay) concerning the urgent need in their community for networks of nurture for both individuals and families must first
be raised. (2) Many leaders of congregations need on-the-job training in the skills of facilitating small growth-healing-action groups. Mental health professionals, including specialists in pastoral counseling, are the logical persons to provide this training. (3) Leaders of congregations should develop a smorgasbord of small groups, workshops, classes, and retreats, designed to meet
the needs for nurture and growth-support of individuals and families in their congregation and community. The aim of such groups is the prevention of personal and family pathology through mutual nurture of growth. Here are some of the types of growth groups currently being used by churches — grief recovery groups; divorce growth groups; preparation for marriage and early marriage enrichment groups; creative singlehood groups; parenting skills groups; solo parenting groups; mid-years marriage renewal groups; creative retirement groups; parents of handicapped children groups; support groups for families of terminally ill persons. Participants in such groups should be encouraged to reach out to other persons facing similar life situations. (4) Leaders of congregations should recruit, train, and continue to coach carefully chosen caring teams to provide better support for individuals and families experiencing major life crises. To illustrate, the pastor of a church in Minneapolis has trained some twenty young adult and middle adult couples to provide support for the newly marrieds in his congregation. Such “befrienders” can be a rich resource to help young couples (particularly the highly vulnerable teen couples) learn the relational skills to cope with the stresses of growthing a new marriage. Experience has shown that some lay people who have weathered crises and grown as a result, can be trained to co-lead growth nurturing groups effectively. Thus, the leadership pool for a church’s nurture-support network can draw heavily on these natural growth facilitators who are available in every congregation. Pastors with training in counseling (including group methods) should take the major responsibility in training and coaching caring teams from which support group leaders can be drawn. Mental health professionals in the congregation and community should be enlisted to provide assistance in the training and also to provide the backup services that are needed when lay persons encounter persons who need professional help, The basic structure of the support-nurture network in a congregation can be modeled on the self-help groups, which represent one of the most dynamic thrusts in the contemporary therapeutic scene. By developing caring teams and a network of nurture groups, church leaders can help enliven their congregations, making them more family-like places of healing and growth throughout the life cycle.
A Unified Systemic Model
This diagram depicts the interdependent dimensions of an ecological model of personal growth and social change:(16)
The diagram would be more complete and accurate if it could be three-dimensional. The dimension that integrates these seven interacting circles on the target of growth-change is what Tillich called the vertical dimension. This is the transpersonal dimension of the one Spirit in which all reality has its common roots.
Which change-growth methods are useful in each sphere of this target? Education, counseling, psychotherapy, and growth groups can produce change in individuals (circle 1). Relationship-oriented counseling methods . -. . and growth groups are viable instruments of change within the intimate relationships of circle 2. In circle 3 . . . and circle 4. . . , dynamic education, group therapy, growth groups [and organizational development] are effective methods. Changes in circle 5 (larger, more impersonal organizations) and circle 6 (the systems beyond the local community) may occur through educational [and] persuasive approaches, but often they require the use of political [and other social action] methods. . . . Effecting change in larger systems … and between systems usually involves a greater use of confrontation in the form of political and economic power.(17)
Change in circle 7 involves a combination of consciousness- raising education designed to increase enlightened caring for the whole biosphere, and social-political action to produce changes in the institutions of our society that are essential to protect our precious and fragile ecological environment.
Change within any system depends on interaction with other systems. On the target of systems (above), change in one circle is more likely to occur and be permanent if the systems on one or both sides also change. To illustrate, individual growth is more likely to occur and be sustained if the family also changes constructively; family changes are more likely to occur and be sustained if the extended family changes to support them; growth in all three is more likely to occur and be sustained if the institutions of society are growth-oriented. Movement toward a person-enhancing world community requires simultaneous action for change in each sphere on the target.(18)
An ecological-systems orientation to change and growth helps keep one aware, when attempting to effect change in one circle, of the interdependence of that dimension of change with all other dimensions.
The systemic perspective can provide the general principles for developing the sorely needed sociotherapies for the larger groups, institutions, and socio-economic-political systems, which collectively determine the healing-growthing climate of our communities and of our world society. The working concepts and methods of the systemic therapies may well give us resources for fostering the continuing self-renewal which is needed within our people-serving institutions and wider systems.
The urgency of implementing a multileveled systemic approach to personal growth and social change cannot be overemphasized. Perceptive students of the future continue to confront us with the awesome evidence that time may be running out for humankind. At least seven immense, interdependent threats to the quality of life on spaceship earth continue to escalate: the population explosion; the widening gulf between rich and poor nations; massive malnutrition (caused mainly by economic injustice, which produces maldistribution of available food); environmental pollution and degradation; the depletion of the irreplaceable resources of our finite planet; the growing threat of nuclear terrorism and eventual holocaust (with the equivalent of one and a half million Hiroshima-sized bombs in the arsenals of the world); and the worldwide tendency for the fruits of science and technology to be used without ethical responsibility.(19) Before World War II, H. G. Wells asked, “What would a world of human beings gone sane be like?”(20) In our pathogenic societies, life-loving people everywhere long to experience a world of human beings and institutions gone sane! The individualistic growth therapies, no matter how widely they become available, cannot interrupt the deadly momentum of the impersonal forces of massive destructiveness. Only the development of more effective methods of institutional and societal transformation, undergirded by a groundswell of personal and relational growth, can turn the tide toward planetary sanity.
Experiencing a Family Self-Change Method
The Intentional Family Method (IFM) is a do-it-yourself communication tool that can be used by families to move toward greater wholeness (and the goals of family therapy and enrichment described earlier). As a self-help tool, it can be taught to families in family counseling and therapy, and in family enrichment groups, workshops, and camps. Experiencing the IFM can help families feel mutually affirmed; become more aware of their strengths; identify the areas of needed change to make their interaction more mutually growthful; and negotiate a new family contract that will enable these changes to occur and thus reduce the causes of unconstructive family conflict. I have described the use of this tool by couples in detail elsewhere.(21) Therefore, I will only outline the steps here to show how it can be used by families. I suggest that you invite your whole family to try this exercise, setting aside at least an hour for this purpose. Read the instructions for each step and then take as long as you need to complete it:
Step #l: Your family undoubtedly has a lot going/or it, even though there are things each of you would like to change. In order to become more aware of your family’s strengths and assets, do a “go-round,” giving each family member a chance to say what she or he likes about being a part of this family,/ Now, do a second go-round focusing on one person at a time. Allow everyone an opportunity to say what they like and appreciate about that family member. Start with the person who is feeling “down” or under particular pressures now./ Share how you all feel now about this experience.
Step #2: The purpose of this step, which builds on the first, is to identify some unmet needs or wants of family members. Do another family go-round, giving everyone an opportunity to say what they need or want more of from the family. Give everyone a turn before you discuss the various needs or wants./ Now as a family communication exercise, let other family members tell each person what they heard his or her wants and needs to be./
Step #3: Your family and your relationships will be enriched if you work out together a family change plan to meet at least one of each person’s wants or needs. If there are needs that several of you mentioned — e.g., having more family work or fun time together — you’ll find that those needs will be the easiest to satisfy as a family. Negotiate a joint plan that is fair and acceptable to all of you. This may be the most difficult step, but it is also the payoff of the whole exercise./ After you have worked out a fair, feasible plan, write it down including the time schedule and each person’s part in implementing it./
Step #4: Now, begin implementing your change plan, keeping track of your progress./ As you thus increase the mutual need-satisfaction and decrease the causes of conflict among ourselves, congratulate yourselves! You deserve it. You are becoming change agents who are learning to intentionally improve your family system./ After you implement your first plan, select a new set of needs-wants of each family member and devise and implement a plan to meet those./ If your efforts to change your own relating do not work, I recommend that you join a family enrichment group or workshop, or have some conjoint family counseling, to gain the help of a trained family communications facilitator in developing the rich family potentials you want to actualize./
For Further Exploration of Growth Resources in Systemic Therapies
Ackerman, Nathan. The Psychodynamics of Family Life. New York: Basic Books, 1958. A classic by a pioneer in family therapy.
Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. General Systems Theory: Foundation, Development, Application. New York: George Braziller. 1968. A basic introduction to systems theory.
Bowen, Murray. “Family Therapy and Family Group Therapy .”chap. II in Treating Relationships, David H. L. Olson, ed. Lake Mills. Iowa: Graphic Publishing Co., 1976. Includes a brief history of family therapy and a description of Bowen’s contributions to family therapy.
Clinebell, Howard. Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling. Chap. 6, “Role-Relationship Marriage Counseling”; chap. 7, “Family Group Therapy and Transactional Analysis”; chap. 12, “Group Pastoral Counseling.”
—Growth Groups, chap. 10, “Training Change Agents to Humanize Society.” Describes the use of growth groups in social action.
Guerney, Bernard G., Jr. Relationship Enhancement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1977. Describes relationship skills training programs that can be used in therapy, problem prevention, and enrichment.
Kantor, David, and Lehr, William. Inside the Family, Toward a Theory of Process. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1975. Reports what trained observers discovered about how family systems actually function.
Leas, Speed, and Kittlaus, Paul. The Pastoral Counselor in Social Action. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981. Two social action specialists focus on processes and techniques that can be used to facilitate social change, using pastoral counseling insights.
Luthman, Shirley G., and Kirschenbaum, Martin. The Dynamic Family. Palo Alto, Calif.: Science and Behavior Books, 1974. A thoroughly growth-oriented approach to family therapy, derived in part from Virginia Satir’s approach.
Minuchin, Salvador. Families and Family Therapy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. An introduction to structural family therapy, an approach that seeks to change the organization of the family.
—et al. Families of the Slums. New York: Basic Books, 1967. An exploration of the structure and treatment of disadvantaged families.
Pattison, E. Mansell. Pastor and Parish — A Systems Approach. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977. Using a systems approach to increase the effectiveness of a church.
Sanford, Nevitt. Self and Society, Social Change and Individual Development. New York: Atherton Press, 1966. Presents a developmental model to help institutions become more growth-enabling.
Satir, Virginia. Conjoint Family Therapy. Palo Alto. Calif.: Science and Behavior Books, 1964. A guide to the theory and practice of her communication-centered approach.
—Peoplemaking. Palo Alto, Calif.: Science and Behavior Books, 1972. A book to help parents develop more growth-nurturing families.
Seifert, Harvey, and Clinebell, Howard. Personal Growth and Social Change. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974. A guide for ministers and lay persons to help them become change gents.
Stewart, Charles W. The Minister as Family Counselor. Nashville: Abingdon, 1979. Describes ways of strengthening families and sees the church as a family of families.
1. See “Role-Relationship Marriage Counseling,” chap. 6 in Basic Types of Pastoral Counseling; “Enriching Marriage and Family Life,” in Growth Counseling: New Tools for Clergy and Laity, Part 1; Growth Counseling for Marriage Enrichment; Growth Counseling for Mid-Years Couples; and “Alcoholics Anonymous — Our Greatest Resource,” chap. 5 in Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic.
2. Systems theory, a “general science of wholeness,” undergirds the systemic therapies. See Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory (New York: George Braziller, 1968).
3. The Psychodynamics of Family Life (New York: Basic Books, 1958), p. 17.
4. “The Artificial Boundary Between Self and Society,” Psychology Today, January, 1977, p. 66.
5. Conjoint Family Therapy (Palo Alto, Calif.: Science and Behavior Books, 1964), p. 58.
6. Peoplemaking (Palo Alto, Calif.: Science and Behavior Books, 1964), pp. 26-27.
7. For a discussion of his theory see Bowen’s “Family Therapy and Family Group Therapy.”
8. See Luthman and Kirschenbaum, The Dynamic Family (Palo Alto, Calif.: Science and Behavior Books, 1974), p. 5.
9. For documentation of the negative effects of marriage on women, see Jesse Bernard’s Future of Marriage (New York: Bantam Books, 1973), chaps. I, 2, and 3.
10. See Carrie Carmichael, Non-Sexist Childraising (Boston: Beacon Press, 1977).
11. I have described such sessions and illustrated them by segments from a healthy family growth interview in cassette course IIIB, in Growth Counseling: New Tools for Clergy and Laity, Part 1.
12. Families of the Slums (New York: Basic Books, 1967), p. 374.
13. Ibid., p. 370.
14. Peoplemaking, p. 296.
16. This diagram is adapted from Growth Groups, p. 148.
17. Ibid., p. 149.
18. Ibid., pp. 149-50.
19. For a powerful discussion of these threats, see The Seventh Enemy by Robert Higgins (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978).
20. From A Star Begotten; quoted by Halford E. Luccock in Unfinished Business (New York: Harper and Bros., 1956), p. 162.
21. See Growth Counseling for Marriage Enrichment, chap. 2.