Theoretical Assumptions of Experiential and Structural Approach, Essay Example
Post-Modernism or Modernism
Experiential family therapy emerged in the early 1960’s as a reaction to the way behaviorism neglected the innermost experience of individuals while only including areas that were easily measurable behaviors. Experiential therapy has its roots based on the existential/ humanisticorientation of individual psychology and philosophy. Many of the techniques come fromthe arts and humanities. This type of therapy focused on subjective experiences and feelings that were unexpressed while encouraging open communication between family members and full engagement of the therapist. Experiential therapy provides a safe area for clients to let their guards down in order to work on the issues at hand. By externalizing the inner conflicts through the process of making the “unconscious” conscious, the clients are able to make their life experiences manageable. Virginia Satir’s work in experiential therapy infused humanistic values into a statistically driven approach by bringing the highlights of human potential and improved family interactions to the forefront(Satir, Banmen, Gerber & Gomori, 1991). Experiential therapy is considered modernism because of the advancements forward in family therapy. This progress was made by incorporating the thoughts and findings by Satir about therapy would need to focus on the family unit as a whole, individuals are ever growing in nature and each person has the ability for transformation.
Salvador Minuchin developed a therapy practice of addressing issues by charting interrelationships between family members called structural family theory. The overall representation showed the hierarchy dynamics and potential boundaries and pitfalls of the relationships. Once the problem areas or dysfunctions were found the areas could be addressed, disrupted and put back together in a healthier state than previously existed. An example of both functional and dysfunctional family units could be described by the following views. A healthy family has defined roles and responsibilities in terms of power and hierarchy. The parents have a degree of separation in terms of making decisions or other parenting methods from the children in the family. The children also have a degree of separation from the parental units regarding autonomy and individuality that allows the children to socialism among the other children but not pushed so far from the parents that their needs are not attended to. On the opposite side, a dysfunctional family would have a struggle with power and hierarchy. This occurs when one parent is absent, physically or mentally, and a sibling must fill the roles of parent. By visually showing corollary interactions of the family members, the entire family could see how their relationships and actions impact everyone else in the family unit. The entire system is full of structures depicting transactions among family members in a very scientific manner. The entire system lends itself to modernism in the family therapy development.
Views on Material and Non-Material
When describing each type of therapy each has varying traits and protocols. Experiential family therapy lends toward taking the whole family as a unit which would facilitate or inhibit the member’s actualization of progress. Each experience, positive and negative as well as emotional and physical, was given the same amount of weight which would differ from other therapy not delving into the mental or non-material values of therapy. Satir felt that learning and changes for improvement occurred best in low risk and compassionate family settings. The innermost feelings, the compassion level of the family are not measurable or quantifiable and are subjective in nature which are all traits of non-materialism.
On the other hand, structural family therapy leans toward materialism and asking why to find the causality of the problems. This is a type of linear causation such as if A causes B and B causes C A influences C. Each section is measurable with an input and output. The total can be broken down into smaller and still measurable sections. Each of these traits is known as material metaphysical traits. Minuchin’s structural family therapy revolves around building relationship charts and diagrams depicting relationships among family members. The relationship lines themselves are broken down into how each relationship works or doesn’t work and the impact it has on other relationships. Each section is measureable on its ability to adapt to different stress inducing elements. In terms of metaphysical qualities experiential therapy would qualify as non-material and structural therapy would match those qualities of material.
Nature versus Nurture
Human nature is defined by multiple factors ranging from how humans think, feel, and act or react in their natural setting. Humans are endowed with certain natural abilities both innate and learned to help them cope with external forces in their environment. It is human nature to strive for their hierarchy of needs such as described in Maslow’s 1946 paper entitled A Theory of Human Motivation. These needs are physiological, safety, love/belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization(Maslow 1943). Each of these areas of human nature can be achieved by skills learned by experience, nature, or already present at birth, nurture. The differences between nature and nurture occur on how traits are present in a person. The skills and abilities of the human are dependent on either their genealogical lineage or through the environment and experience.
Nurture has been expanded to include prenatal influences of the mother all the way to how media influences choices for product selection. To simplify the multitude of variables nurture is defined more closely as anything outside of genetic influence that impacts a person’s decisions. Heritage of the individual, although equally important, is constrained to only the genetic makeup influencing the individuals thought. The role in therapy is very interesting because people are products of their environment but also of their genetic makeup. In regard to nature, everyone in the same family may have the same affliction with the inability to deal with certain situations. This area can be addressed and mitigated with the proper tools and techniques. If it is solely a nurture issue causing the problematic environment the person could be removed from the environment or the element could be removed from the environment to remedy the situation and the problem would be alleviated. Both nature and nurture play a vital role in the experiential and structure family therapy in being successful and find the root cause of the issues.
Healthy Family Views
The healthy family views from an experiential family therapy take is having the family perform open and unadulterated communication of feelings in a safe environment. The health of the family depends on the facilitation of the normal change processes with creativity. The creativity of this therapy has the proclivity to lean toward methods such as role-playing and sculpting scenarios while keeping the experience in the context of therapy. Also a major point of health requires each member be able to act out and share their personal experiences with the entire group. This allows personal growth for each member facilitating the needed change.
System family therapy relies on established hierarchy between family members with established roles and power within each role. The health of the family depends on how each member of the family is mapped to one another noting the interactions and impacts each have upon each other and in the group as a whole.(Minuchin & Fishman, 1981) The establishment of the structure of the family system must maintain stability and upheaval to be considered a healthy system. All relationships are clear and semi-diffuse which allows individuals higher on the family’s food chain to interact appropriately within their roles and responsibilities while not hindering those below them from maturing and expanding their social sphere.
On the reverse side of a healthy family unit is that of dysfunction. In the experiential therapy setting emotion plays the catalyst for health. When a family member is confused or unable to produce emotional or expressive responses to a situation issues are formed. The emotions are controlled by outside factors and inhibit the growth of that individual. Another factor is limiting individuality of expression in other facets of life. Limiting the growth and potential of family members ultimately lead to issues turning into therapy worthy problem. This is almost like shunning a person. Emotional deadness, lack of acceptance and oblivious actions by family members promote unhealthy family bonds. The structural family therapy fails to obtain a healthy state by allowing roles and responsibilities to remain in flux as well as major changes in the hierarchy in regard to a loss or absence. Examples of this include a sibling taking the role of a missing parent or a step-father filling in for the absent father. In terms of flux in relationships this example could also be about a “father” figure filling in while in the long term prior to that entrance a sibling was filling the roles. All of this is upheaval and change toward the negative.
In order to remedy these areas of concern there is a certain amount of change needed by the family in therapy. For experiential therapy the change occurs by allowing creativity and spontaneity. This would unblock the members’ awareness to the repercussions falsely placed by others. Support from the family with a non-judgmental attitude facilitates change. Experience always helps facilitate change by allowing members of the family with prior knowledge of the process and its benefits to share their experiences and promote overall buy-in for other family members.
Structural family therapy is more structured when it comes to change management. Change can only occur when the pre-existing mapped family hierarchy, roles and responsibilities are changed. (Minuchin, 2012) Change is expedited by breaking down the system into sub-systems to make the issues more manageable. The changes in the sub-systems are easier to maintain due to their scope in size and impact.
Experiential therapy requires the therapist to be an artist in the field of therapy. They need to be creative and conduct improvisational work on the fly to adapt and overcome obstacles. The therapist becomes the leader of the group and must promote the traits and qualities wanted for the group by presenting those qualities. Awareness of the underlying issues would be exposed by the therapist. By supporting individualism the therapist can force personality amount the members and once the members show their emotions the therapist must be caring and accepting of their thoughts and emotions. It is also important for the therapist to remain in character and not diagnose the clients within the therapy session. The overall role of the therapist is to promote openness, caring, supportiveness and remain in the teacher role.
The role in structural family therapy is to maintain order and facilitate the representation of the family structure. This allows the interactions to be created, recorded and worked on in the group. The therapist plays the role of facilitator and teacher. It is also a difficult approach for the therapist to play considering they are exposing the faults of the family while in the same context providing support for the family for the issues. In order to do so they are a change facilitator and simple blockage of the family’s pre-existing negative patterns and assist the flexible mechanisms for change. They must remain mobile and constantly redefine their role. The goal is clear in the end but the way to get there is ever changing and the role of the therapist is to change and mold with the group while maintaining the ultimate goal of breaking down the issues in the sub-system causing the unhealthy family.
Maslow, A.H.,(1943).A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review 50(4):370-96
Minuchin, A. (2012). Families and family therapy. Routledge.Routledge. (304).
Minuchin, A., & Fishman, H. C. (1981). Family therapy techniques. Harvard Univ Pr.
Satir, V., Banmen, J., Gerber, J., & Gomori, M. (1991). The satir model: Family therapy and beyond. (p. 398). Science and Behavior Books.
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