Family therapy is an important field of research where scholars examine both practice and theoretical frameworks. The basic tenet in family therapy is that family conflicts are resolved through such means as improving interactions and communication among the members. A person’s behavior is examined and modified because of its influence in determining family relations. The focus of this project is to offer a comparison between a modernist and a postmodernist theory of family therapy. The two models selected are Virginia Satir’s experiential family therapy and solution-focused therapy advocated by such scholars as Insoo Kim, Bill O’Hanlon, and Steve de Shazer. The two frameworks are defined and described in detail. Additionally, their historical impacts and the roles of the family therapists under each theory are outlined. The model of change under each theory is explored alongside the impacts of each framework on the field of marriage and family therapy (MFT). Lastly, a reflective summary is presented to offer an overview of the learning process taking place throughout this project.
Experiential Family Therapy
Experiential family therapy is a modernist model that describes a therapeutic approach that addresses subconscious and hidden issues in a family. Marriage and family therapists using this model implement such approaches as activities, guided imagery, expressive arts, props, and role-playing. According to Cowden et al. (2021), experiential therapies use reflective activities and expressive tools to improve a client’s awareness and facilitate the expression and experience of unresolved emotions of the present, past, and future. Developed in 1986 by Virginia Satir, experiential family therapy is founded on the idea that the self consists of eight distinct but interacting elements (Maabreh & Al-kousheh, 2020). Among the key elements are physical, intellectual, emotional, sensual, interactional, contextual, nutritional, and spiritual. Therefore, interventions are implemented through communication, releasing feelings, updating experience, identifying mechanisms, and behavior change. Human behavior is guided by feelings and experiences, which means that a successful therapy session will result in new experiences and better feelings. In this case, it can be assumed that the family issues have created negative tensions that should be eased for the members to revert to normal relations.
Experiential family therapy revolves around various concepts that have to be effectively implemented. For example, the concept of awareness for change allows clients to embrace the possibility of change. Effective listening is also required from the patient while expressive feelings revolve around self-disclosure. Marital communication covers such aspects as verbal communication among the family members. Other concepts include the interaction models that fall under three categories: intake, meaning, and response (Maabreh & Al-kousheh, 2020). All these concepts illustrate that family therapists need to take their time to interact with the clients. Experiential family therapy can be considered a slow process that cannot be rushed. Such scholars as Taylor et al. (2021) explain that it takes even more time when interventions are done through videoconferencing. The therapist is usually a facilitator who has to pose and explain questions and desired responses from the clients. Additionally, the theory is based on several assumptions, including that people are innately good, they can change, and that problems emanate from how people deal with them.
The solution-focused model of solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT) is an approach to family therapy focused on goals and the future. It was developed in the early 1980s by such scholars as Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berge and colleagues and patients at the Milwaukee Brief Family Therapy Center (De Shazer et al., 2021). The key idea behind the SFBT is that it is pragmatic as opposed to theory-based. Additionally, the developers of the model believed in the adage that when something is not broken then one should not attempt to fix it. In that case, it becomes pointless to intervene when the client has already solved the problem. According to Kim et al. (2019), the underlying concepts of this post-modernist theory include co-construction of meaning, cooperative helping relationship, client strength, use of positive emotions, and setting collaborative goals with the client. Another key concept is that the therapists have to work with the client to build the solutions. Therefore, the SFBT is a model centered on the client and the joint formulation and implementation of solutions.
Experiential Family Therapy
Experiential family therapy was developed by one of the most renowned theorists of family therapy. Some observers believe that Virginia Satir is the mother of family therapy (Thomas, 2021). Born in 1916, Satir developed an early passion for learning and her curiosity drove her urge to uncover truths. Her articulation of experiential family therapy revolved around two critical elements: family chronology and family reconstruction. Chronology entails the efforts to understand the developmental patterns of family relations as the basis for change. Reconstruction is the process of positive change implemented using various experiential interventions, which include sculpting, hypnosis, guided contemplations, and role-playing.
Satir’s contribution towards the development of experiential family therapy goes beyond offering a framework for resolving family issues. She believes established that the family problems can be addressed by addressing all levels: physical, intellectual, emotional, sensual, interactional, contextual, nutritional, and spiritual (Maabreh & Al-kousheh, 2020). Therefore, all aspects of human life are addressed by establishing where the problem lies and what can be done to resolve it. Additionally, experiential family therapy taps into such philosophical components as existentialism where the critical issues in family therapy comprise the self-realization tendencies of the family, emotions, self-esteem, and communication patterns (Koca, 2017). Many therapy theories are founded on the ability to communicate with the client. Satir’s methods have laid the groundwork of how to effectively communicate with clients and foster communication within the family unit. Additionally, Satir also advocated the inclusion of spirituality in family therapy as a means of enhancing congruence. The argument is that spirituality influences family functions and the mental health of individuals. This can be considered a unique contribution because few if any other models integrate spirituality into family therapy.
It is also important to acknowledge other contributions of the theorists to the model and other discourses. First, the SFBT is founded on the systems theory-based family therapy, which was developed between the 1950s and 1960s. Today, family therapists in such countries as Asia, Canada, South America, Europe, and the United States have all been trained on the SFBT because of the fast and effective treatment modalities it offers. Therefore, SBFT can be regarded as one of the most important frameworks in the field of marriage and family therapy because it has provided practitioners with a firm foundation for their interventions.
From a historical perspective, the SFBT evolved from the brief family therapy models implemented by a team of interdisciplinary therapists. They were led by two social workers namely Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer (Kim et al., 2019). In the beginning, the model was studied in a family services agency as clinicians investigated therapeutic change techniques. As a result, small-scale observations, quasi-experimental studies, and program evaluations were accomplished to form the foundation for the SFBT framework. As a study that was initially based on experiments, it can be argued that these theorists have made critical contributions towards the development of evidence-based interventions. This is based on the argument that several studies have been conducted on SFBT where positive results continue to boost the confidence in the application of the model. Experimental designs have also been applied to different populations, meaning that the SFBT is not necessarily restricted to family therapy. The accumulated research has only made it possible for other scholars and practitioners to find means of applying the basic theoretical principles to different populations.
Family Therapist Stance/Role
Experiential Family Therapy
The roles of marriage and family therapists differ significantly across the models used. In experiential therapy, the role of the psychotherapists is reflective where the focus is on helping clients improve their awareness of the current experience. The therapists target such elements as emotions, sensations, and perceptions (Cowden et al., 2021). Additionally, the therapists help the patients reflect and participate in an in-depth exploration of their experience and to form new meanings from data availed during the therapeutic process. As mentioned earlier, experiential therapy involves family life chronology and reconstruction. In chronology, the role of the therapists is to help the members understand their relationships through exploring, acknowledging, and understanding communication. In reconstruction, the therapist’s role revolves around guiding the members to improve marital communication and improve their interconnectedness.
It is also important to acknowledge that the therapists have a key role to play in deciding the best technique to use and the interventions to implement. Since experiential family therapy entails engaging the client, the entire process is guided and monitored by the therapist. The idea of guided role-play means that these activities are under the instructions of the family therapist. Therefore, the therapist organizes the activities such the clients have the opportunity to explore insight into the problems and their causes. According to Taylor et al., (2021), the family therapist also plays a critical role in enhancing nonverbal communication among the family members during therapy sessions.
SFBT presents the therapists with roles that differ from other models. According to De Shazer et al. (2021), SFBT therapists have to accept the existence of a hierarchy in the therapeutic arrangement that follows more democratic and egalitarian approaches as opposed to authoritarian. The role of the therapists does not include making judgments regarding the clients and having to avoid interpreting any meanings regarding the clients’ needs, wants, or behaviors. Therefore, the role is mostly perceived as expanding as opposed to limiting the options available. Additionally, the therapist’s role encompasses leading sessions and making suggestions regarding different directions that the participants might want to consider. Therefore, the practitioners are major facilitators who help get the sessions going. When applied to other populations, the therapists tend to deploy the perspective of family systems (Wallace et al., 2020). In this case, they play a vital role in the collaborative teams because sessions often focus on the entire population as opposed to individuals.
Model’s Theory of Change
Experiential Family Therapy
Experiential therapy comprises activities that involve the engagement of the clients in the therapeutic process, which means that change is usually self-facilitated. The multisensory techniques used by the therapists, including role-plays, are intended to increase the expression of affect by the family to help the members uncover new information. Therefore, it is the new data that stimulates change and growth in the family. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that experiential therapy entails setting goals, directions, and objectives by the clients guided by the therapist. As primary experiencers, the clients are placed in an immersive environment in a residential setting, which makes them the most effective change agents (Cowden et al., 2021). Satir’s model defines positive change as the improvements made in the family dynamics resulting from the therapeutic sessions. The incremental change model entails smaller changes achieved over time, which is the foundation of experiential family therapy.
It is important to acknowledge that one key component of Satir’s model is family reconstruction. The process involved in reconstruction can be described as the change process because the practices entail changing aspects of family relations back to normal or even seeking more improvements. From a change management perspective, the reconstruction takes several stages: communication, releasing feelings, updating experiences, identifying internal mechanisms, and changing behavior. in the last aspect, the changes touch on multiple aspects, including the self, reactions, and communication (Maabreh & Al-kousheh, 2020). Therefore, change is achieved through modifying those aspects of family dynamics that appear dysfunctional or that are associated with the family problems.
SFBT model is often based on systemic principles of evidence-based practice. As mentioned earlier, SFBT is built on the systems theories of family therapy. According to Wallace et al. (2020), the systemic principles of SFBT allow the practitioners to implement systemic change among the individuals by mowing away from deficits and embracing the strengths. Systemic change can be described as a model of change that focuses on the whole system. In other words, the transformation has to be fundamental to how the entire systems work. In this case, the system is represented by the family, which means that all modifications made influence the functionality of the family. All levels of the family are targeted, which means that both individuals and groups have to be part of the process.
SFBT was developed as part of smaller brief interventions during the multiple experiments. Therefore, it can be argued that the theorists believe in the notion of smaller changes leading to big changes. According to De Shazer (2021), SFBT can be described as a minimalist approach because the solutions are constructed and implemented in the form of a series of small and manageable phases. Further subsequent changes lead the much larger systemic changes without the need to make major disruptions to the family dynamics.
Impact of the Model on the MFT Field
Experiential Family Therapy
Satir’s methods have been critically helpful in the MFT field due to the emphasis on the role of effective communication. Therefore, an intervention is considered successful when the family communication is clear, direct, honest, and specific (Koca, 2017). The presumption that people are innately good and can change is a building block for therapists targeting the individual and group experiences to discover the problems and help formulate solutions. Most importantly, experiential therapy has illustrated the need for the inclusion of the families in therapy sessions, including those involved in mental health and social work.
SFBT has made a critical impact in the field of marriage and family therapy. Most importantly, the model has supported evidence-based practice where interventions are implemented based on the nature of the problems. However, it is mostly in research where a major impact has been made. Kim et al. (2019) explain how SFBT has triggered multiple empirical studies as scholars hoped to examine the effectiveness of the various interventions. The rationale is that with the brief interventions proposed, it was upon researchers to replicate the findings by repeating the methodologies or adopting new ones to help offer a different perspective to the theory. Currently, the theory is taught and applied worldwide by therapists in the MFT field.
The process of completing this project presented several lessons about myself and my family relationships. First, the historical background of the two models revealed how frameworks develop from novel experiments to fundamental principles of practice. A surprising aspect of the project was the discovery that the SFBT was initiated by social workers. The fact that the principles of this model influence practices of therapists across the globe are intriguing. Most importantly, I have come to realize that all family problems can be resolved through communication. As explained in the experiential model, the key idea is that the therapist has to help the clients understand and practice effective communication to allow self-expression and formulation of solutions for the entire family. Therefore, I believe that if I can always communicate well then I can be understood and that any problems I might have with my family would be easily addressed.
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Wallace, L., Hai, A., & Franklin, C. (2020). An evaluation of working on what works (WOWW): A solution-focused intervention for schools. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 46(4), 687–700.