History of family therapy: its stages of development and its authors

Family therapy is a therapeutic approach and practice. The approach sees the family as a meaningful social unit. As a result, treatment and intervention are not focused on the individual but on the family system as a whole.

This discipline has different applications and schools which have had a significant impact on the work of psychology. Its history dates back to the 1950s in a constant dialogue between the most important currents of psychology and anthropology in the United States and Europe. Below we will see a brief history of family therapy, as well as its main authors and schools.

    History of family therapy

    The 1950s in the United States were marked by major changes resulting from World War II. Among other things, social issues are beginning to be thought of from a field of thought that had been overshadowed by political conflicts. A holistic and systemic understanding of the individual and human groups emerges which has a rapid impact on the goals and applications of psychology.

    While psychology developed from strongly individual-centered perspectives (the most dominant were classical behaviorism and psychoanalysis); the rise of other disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and communication have enabled an important exchange between individual approaches and social studies.

    It is these two booming trends, one of an individual approach (mainly psychoanalytic) and the other of a social approach, accompanied by some proposals for a mixed approach, which represent the first foundations of family therapy between 1950 and 1960.

    After its expansion, thousands of people were trained in Systemic Therapy, reflecting their growing professionalism as it expanded. The latter in constant tension between finding the methodological purism of the systemic approach, or reforming basic psychoanalytic concepts without necessarily abandoning them.

      Pioneers of the psychoanalytic approach

      In this period, the psychoanalytic approach therapy it has not given visible results in the treatment of psychosisThe specialists therefore had to turn around to see other elements beyond the individual, and the first of them was precisely the family.

      In this approach, one of the pioneers was Milton Erickson, who placed particular emphasis on the study of communication beyond the psyche. In the same vein, are represented by Theodore Lidz, Lyman Wynne and Murray Bowen. Another of them was Nathan Ackerman, who began working with families as a “child therapy adjunct” from the same psychoanalytic approach. The latter founded the first family care service, the first family institute and the main family therapy magazine at the time: Family Process.

      Carl Whitaker and the Philadelphia band are also known directed by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, David Rubinstein, James Framo and Gerald Zuk. Harold Searles, who works with people with schizophrenia and, without focusing solely on the family, also described the importance of the latter in the development of individual psychiatric manifestations.

      From childhood to family

      On the other hand, some specialists they studied childhood pathologies, Field of study that allowed to witness the experiences and tensions of the family as a form of auxiliary treatment.

      One of them, John Bell, witnessed the work of the Englishman John Styherland in this area and quickly reproduced it in the United States, eventually publishing one of the pioneering books in North America: Family Group Therapy. . For his part, Christian Midelfort published another of the first books on family therapy, The Family Therapy, in the same decade.

      Pioneers of the anthropological approach

      The second key approach to the development of systemic therapy was anthropological in nature and actually begins with concerns similar to those of psychoanalysis. Interested in understanding how different elements of language and communication are generated and distorted, they ended up studying group relationships marked by psychosis.

      From there various schools have developed which, without abandoning many of the psychoanalytic postulates, represent the most important foundations of family therapy. We will see what they are below.

      The Palo Alto group

      In constant dialogue with specialists from the University of Berkeley, this school was created from the work of Gregory Bateson, an English biologist and anthropologist particularly interested in communication. He is the most cited author in family therapy for transferring the general systems theory of biologist Karl Ludwig von Bertalanffy to anthropology and later to psychotherapy.

      The latter formed a major working group at the Veterans Psychiatric Hospital in Menlo Park, California, where different psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts who were already working with group approaches were incorporated. With Paul Watzlawick and other specialists, he developed different theories on communication and cybernetics.

      Palo Alto is recognized as one of the most representative groups in the history of family therapy. They are pioneers William Fry, Don Jackson, Jay Haley, John Weakland and, some time later, Virginia Satir, recognized as one of the main founders of this discipline.

      Among other things, Satir introduced an additional profession in the field of family therapy: social work. From there, he developed a therapeutic model and led numerous seminars and professional training programs. He also published one of the first books on the subject.

      The strategic school and the Milan school

      Jay Haley later founded the Strategic School and positions himself as one of those who wish to distinguish the principles of the systems approach from other currents of psychology and anthropology.

      Haley met Salvador Munich in the 1960s, who was developing the Structural School across the United States. This gives rise to the strategic-structural approach of group therapy, Which ends up combining the proposals of Palo Alto with the ecological cutting guidelines carried out on the American east coast.

      The Milan School is also representative in this area, although with an equally psychoanalytic basis. It was founded by Mara Selvini Palazzoli, who, along with other psychoanalysts, gradually shifted the focus of the study of the individual. towards working with families, their communication models and general systems theory.

      Unify project approaches

      After the success of family therapy, already known under the name of systemic therapy (not only in the United States but also in Europe), the unifying project of psychoanalytic, anthropological and mixed approaches was mainly based on the analysis of four dimensions that make up any system: genesis, function, process and structure.

      Joining the unifying project is the approach of the second cybernetics, which problematizes the role of those who observe the system in modifying it; a question which had remained absent from the antecedents of therapy and which is strongly influenced by contemporary theories of quantum physics.

      In the 80s joins the constructivism paradigm, The influence was found to be greater than that of any other. Taking up both the second cybernetics and general systems theory, the incorporation of constructivism proposes that family therapy is in fact an active construction of the therapist with the family, and it is precisely the latter that allows the professional “to” intervene to modify ”. .

      Thus, family therapy is understood as a therapeutic system in itself, and it is this system which constitutes the fundamental unit of treatment. From there, and towards the decade of the 90s, new therapeutic approaches such as narrative techniques and psychoeducational approaches are included, at the same time as this discipline has spread across the world.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Bertrando, P. (2009). See the family: theoretical views, clinical work. Psychoperspectives, VIII (1): 46-69.
      • Pereira Tercer, R. (1994). Historical review of family therapy. Revista Psicopatologia (Madrid), 14 (1): 5-17.

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