Intergenerational family therapy: what it is and how it works

Intergenerational family therapy is a modality that is part of systemic family therapy and its main objective is to deal with interpersonal conflicts between members of a family when the aforementioned conflicts have been seen to have occurred between several generations of families.

In this article, we will see what this type of family therapy consists of and the ideas and theoretical proposals from which it starts.

    What is Intergenerational Family Therapy?

    Intergenerational family therapy is a psychological treatment, framed in systemic family therapies, which has been developed in order to address various interpersonal conflicts between family members that have been inherited from previous generations of parents, this conflict therefore remained within the family for many years. The most representative authors of this type of family intervention were psychiatrists Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy and Murray Bowen.

    On the other hand, intergenerational family therapy, being a systemic model, is also used to analyze the configuration between family systems and the role of each family member within the system. Also, having been initially developed by psychoanalytically oriented psychiatrists, it is theoretically based on psychoanalysis, in particular at the level of the mechanisms of projection in the family, the process of self-differentiation or the individual need for change, others.

      Vision of the person who has intergenerational family therapy

      This systemic family approach is based on two ideas: that there is a transmission of emotional and behavioral patterns from generation to generation of family members, and the consideration of family as a factor determining individual autonomy of each of its members.

      The first idea, about the intergenerational transmission of the family of behavioral and emotional patterns, comes from contextual therapy, with Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy as the main precursor, and part of the consideration of the family as an emotional unit, being in a network of interrelationships. between its members which has developed from generation to generation.

      This is why it is important understand the influence of members of previous generations of the family in order to better understand the current family. And it is through these members of the previous generations that the emotional, cognitive and behavioral reaction patterns were learned.

      The second idea, concerning the consideration of the family as a determining factor of the autonomy of each member, of which the main precursor is Murray Bowen, rests on the idea that each person has an internal debate between two forces. One is the strength of individuation, which focuses on developing one’s own identity and developing an independent life. The other is the “bonding force,” which focuses on maintaining a bond with other family members (eg parents, siblings, etc.).

      In this second idea, the key would be to reach a balance between the two forces, that of individuation and that of union, so that people have the capacity to make thoughtful and coherent decisions, rather than just reacting emotionally to certain situations, without having first thought before acting.

        Vision of the family from intergenerational family therapy

        It should be noted that for Bowen the family is first and foremost an “undifferentiated mass of the family self”, it is therefore composed of a set of individuals who live in the same emotional context where there is an exchange of views, forms of behavior, emotional reactions, etc. Thus, its members have jointly developed a network of ‘expectations and needs to be met (eg affection, loyalty, help, etc.).

        One of the problems with intergenerational family therapy is that this undifferentiated mass which first exists in the family must gradually separate, so that each of its members reaches a psychological and emotional distance which allows it to make its own decisions autonomously and this is what has been called “self-differentiation”.

        Otherwise, a “merger” will continue in which family members do not gain autonomy and are trapped in the undifferentiated mass of the family, so it is difficult for them to set the boundaries that must be respected with other members. and the identity of the members are dissolved within the family.

        Therefore, from this point of view, throughout the life cycle, people are in an ongoing struggle to find a balance between attachment to family members and personal differentiation and autonomy.

        The most important and common stages that usually occur in a family during the process of ‘self-differentiation’ of children are as follows:

        • Puberty or adolescence of a person is the beginning of self-differentiation.
        • To form a couple and to move in, that is to say to separate from his family of origin.
        • As children are born, a new “undifferentiated mass of self” develops.
        • As children grow older, this undifferentiated mass of ego takes shape.
        • The next stage is where the children become independent.

        Towards the new undifferentiated mass it is common to use models of relationships with their children that were previously learned from parents themselves. The above example would be a process of normal individuation throughout the life cycle; however, this is not always the case, as unexpected crises can arise (eg divorce of parents, death of a family member, frequent changes of address, etc.).

          Objectives of this type of therapy

          According to intergenerational family therapy, the proposed idea of ​​a healthy family should have the following characteristics.

          1. The nuclear family

          In the nuclear family, being that which is made up only of parents and children without counting the other parents, clear boundaries must be set between generations. Thus, parents must have balanced expectations vis-à-vis each of their children and, on this basis, must contribute to the proper development of the autonomy and identity of each child.

          Likewise, each family member should have the ability to express non-possessive affection towards other family members, as well as to be open to interaction with other people (e.g., grandparents ). , cousins, uncles, friends, etc.) without affecting the nuclear family union.

            2. Parents

            Both mother and father should have developed an appropriate process of differentiating from their family of origin, therefore it is normal that they have developed a greater cohesion with the family they have created together than with their family of origin, without losing their affection for their parents, siblings and other family members.

            At the same time, it is important that both parents, as a couple, have a mutual understanding through empathy and with clear expectations regarding the needs of their partner and also regarding the relationship between the two, so that they can communicate. and solve problems that may arise effectively.

              3. Children

              Every child should have developed the ability to openly express their affection and communicate with their parents. without it being a competition with his siblings, and also not being given between the parents to show more closeness with one of them..

              On the other hand, the union and affection that exist between the members of the family nucleus should not be an obstacle for children to acquire greater autonomy as they age so that they are one day independent and can to form their own family.

                Family genogram and schedule

                The family genogram is one of the main tools of intergenerational family therapy; is used to collect graphical data on the family with which the treatment is carried out, collecting information on at least three generations.

                This family genogram provides the psychotherapist with information about the family structure, as well as a series of socio-demographic information about its members (eg, names, ages and location, among others), as well as being useful for have information on the relationships between family members (brothers and sisters, parents, cousins, grandparents, etc.). On the other hand, it helps to clarify the links between the past, the present and the family system as a whole.

                This technique makes it possible to synthesize a large number of data on the family, which in turn allows to develop the hypothesis on the relationship that may exist between the family context and the reason for the consultation for which he went to therapy.

                Develop a family genogram, as part of intergenerational family therapy, the following steps must be followed:

                • It begins by tracing the structure of the entire family system.
                • Basic information about this family is recorded.
                • It describes the different relationships that exist within the family system.

                It is common practice to accompany the family genogram with a chronology to chronologically summarize the events most relevant to the family that might be useful in developing the hypothesis about possible relationships between the facts (for example, that the death of ‘a family member with moments of crisis in the marital relationship between two family members).

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