Elements of Strategic Family Therapy
Milton Erickson Haley (1967, 1973) developed the Strategic Family Therapy model. This model uses several approaches for solving client’s problems. Each client’s problem is dealt with by developing a solution to fit the particular issue that is to be resolved. Haley’s goal is to help each family member or each person to get past his or problem and to advance to the next stage of his life independently. In order to deal with a problem Haley focuses on ‘defining the present problem at hand in such a way that it can be solved’. The approach focuses on bringing other individuals other than the family, who are directly involved with the problem at hand. These individuals, to some extent, have an influence over the person who has the problem. Haley uses the individual who is hospitalized. He does not only deal with that individual or members of his family, but also the health professionals and other persons who help in his recovery.
The therapy that is used is mainly to prevent the problem from recurring. The therapist decides what happens during a therapy session, and plans a specific approach for each person’s problems. In strategic family therapy, the therapist does not look at the family’s behavior but at the underlying causes of the behavior. He then designs the appropriate strategy to correct these causes.
The therapist looks at five stages; the brief therapy stage where he observes the family’s interactions, then he creates the right atmosphere for the session and tries to get all the family members to participate. The problem stage is where the therapist asks questions to determine the problem and why those problems exist. The therapist then sets the stage where each family member will discuss his problem in order that a better understanding of the issue is reached. Here the therapist seeks to establish the type of communication that exist among family members, how they coexist and who holds what position in the household. At the fourth stage the therapist and family members set goals to fix the problems and decided how these goals will be attained. Lastly, this stage is the “task-setting” stage where the therapist gives specific homework assignments or directives to family members. These tasks will be done outside of the regular sessions so that the problems that now exist can be changed.
Strategic family therapy takes on a more hands on approach in fixing family problems. If this therapy is applied correctly it has the potential for fixing long-standing family problems. The therapist has to be mindful of the fact, however, that if the directives are not properly followed by the family members it will lose its effect and therefore not be an effective method.
A Family Model
Members of a family do not exist independently of each other. Each family member is dependent on each other just as the baby depends on its mother for food, for protection, and to teach him. The family serves as protection for each member and also to pass on cultures and norms. Family structures have changed since the industrial revolution and the creation of urban environments. No longer do family members live together and share common spaces. The young is no longer educated by the adults but by the media and families no longer spend time with each other because hectic work schedule keeps them apart.
The family gives the child a sense of identity and belonging. But this feeling or sense of security that a family provides is fast becoming extinct. The media now portrays the family as a disjointed unit that does not bond and they in fact do not have the tolerance to deal with each other. Each person is his own individual doing what he feels like without any consideration for anyone else. Changes in the society are causing the family to give up its social function.
The family is in constant transformation, and must adjust to the changes in order to fit into a different environment or circumstances. When the society changes the family does not relinquish the values already passed on but it adapts to the new changes. When circumstances change, the family must change too without losing the stability that provides a structure for its members. Within that structure, each member must act within a framework that allows him to carry out his function without interference. If these boundaries are not clearly defined the family members will eventually drift apart so that there is a breaking away from each other and soon a clear separation becomes obvious.
The system that now exists has displaced the family, therefore giving rise to a myriad of problems that now need to be fixed. The family enters therapy and the goal of the therapist is to arrive at a workable solution to deal with each member. Wagners gave an example of the child in the family who is having problems at school. If the child’s problem is with his teacher then the therapist will deal with the school. If the child’s problem is with the home then the therapist will seek to address the family to find the underlying problem.
A normal family goes through three stages of change. First, the family has to adapt and change itself in order to continue functioning. Secondly, the family has a structure which is movable but this structure must be able to withstand the changes or movements and can revert to its original state if circumstances change. Lastly, the family’s adaptation to stress does not undermine the original foundations of the family. The family should be steadfast and should not give in to stress. If the family buckles under stress then it will have to seek therapy.
A Family Model
When any member of a family comes to the therapist for assistance, the therapist must look at and deal with that member as belonging to a whole. Think of the family as a body. When one limb or one organ is affected then the whole of the body feels it. The therapist has his hands full when dealing with the family. The family is seen as an open system meaning that it is a part of the whole that makes up society. Each part is interdependent on how the whole functions. So when a family has problems the therapist must begin to look at the outside factors that impinge on the family’s surrounding environment and address it. The family member’s immediate group that it interacts with it also addressed. For example: If James’ actions are as a result of him dealing with Mrs. Carrel, then Mrs. Carrel’s relationship with Mr. Carrel or other persons with whom she is in contact, must be assessed and investigated. The immediate group of reference is important and the cultural background of the society in which James and his family reside, are important. (This is idiosyncratic family arrangement)
The family undergoes constant change because it is a living system. Think of the body again, it changes as we grow. As the family change, rules change. The family negotiates and finds the exact arrangement that suits their immediate condition. Some common conditions such as a birth, a marriage, someone going off to college or even the children becoming adolescents or a death occurring, this can cause change in the family. The pattern changes and so does the family. As the family struggles to reorganize and regroup, problems arise.
Let us look at the three facets of the family: First, the family goes through developmental stress that may never affect them negatively. If the family has been functioning effectively they may continue to function normally without any problems. Secondly, the family’s structure is movable. The family must be strong to withstand these movements whether externally or internally. The boundaries that are set must be firm yet flexible enough to accommodate it returning to its original shape when things are reverted to normal. Lastly, the family must maintain family continuity. If continuity is not maintained then the family becomes dysfunctional. This is when help is sought to bring the family back to its original form.
Treatment is sought because the family cannot effectively negotiate the changes that are causing the problem. So how does one deal with problems when help is sought?
-The therapist must build a treatment plan around the problem that they bring.
- The therapist must take into account the physical, emotional, and behavioral problems relevant
This paper is interesting in putting forth these suggestions for dealing with family. It makes a lot of sense when it prescribes the treatment that is necessary because you treat the disease instead of treating just the symptom. If you do that the disease will always be present. A lot of the problems that exist in society is as a result of persons treating the immediate and not looking beyond that to see where the real problem lies.
Family care is important to the practitioner. The family is the foundation of society so if we cannot maintain the foundation then the whole structure is in danger. The therapist must decide what is going to be done? When is it going to be done? Who will do it? What is each patient’s need? It must be remembered that when one family member is affected everyone is affected.
So as practitioners, where do we begin? Do we begin to treat society or do we only target those who seemingly have a problem?
How can we propose to the authorities that they need to begin to adopt the proposals of scholars who have researched and arrive at concrete evidence that can heal society?
- What is the one thing that is responsible for the major fundamental change in the structure of the family?
- Explain what happens in the process of socialization.
- What is the use of having a well-defined family structure within a family?
- Give an in depth account of how a therapist must deal with a family in therapy.