The Family Crucible Book by Napier & Whitaker

The Family Crucible is a book that portrays the importance of therapy to solve an estranged family relationship. In their book, Dr. Napier and Whitaker feature the Brice family comprised of five, the parents (mother and father), a teenage daughter, their son eleven, and a daughter, six years old. Their primary reason for attending the family therapy session was their estranged daughter, Claudia, who is sixteen years old (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). Claudia had attended child and adolescent therapy but it did not work for her, thus, her therapist referred the family to Dr. Napier and Whitaker.

The first session was characterized by an intense atmosphere where everyone carried personal expectations. I experienced a rush of emotions while reading this part; I could feel the family’s anger towards each other and the therapists’ authority. However, how the two therapists broke the tension between them and the family was very interesting. Dr. Whitaker gave an account of the information he had of the family, initiating open communication between the family and the therapist (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). Also, the therapist had an informal social interaction to break the ice. The social interaction creates a comfortable atmosphere for the session. In my view, this therapist should apply this tactic to assure their clients of their warmth and concern.

Additionally, the therapist revealed the firmness of their instructions to the family by making it clear that the therapy could not take place without their son Don. In the first session, the family did not follow the therapist’s instructions about bringing all the members family. All the family members were convinced that the problem was only with their Claudia, hence, did not find it necessary for Don to be present (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). However, through Dr. Napier and Whitaker’s firmness, I realized it is important to be strict and clear when building a therapeutic relationship. Also, I learned that therapists should establish the rules of the relationship from the first day of interaction, that way, patients will take their sessions seriously.

Consequently, the two therapists reveal the need for straightforward questions and answers during therapy. For instance, Dr. Whitaker asks Claudia if she was planning to commit suicide that night and how she would do it (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). Straightforward questions enable patients to give honest answers. Broadly, the unexpected questions give patients little room to make up with a lie. The first chapter of the book reveals the position that everyone has taken in the family problem; the family structure. Most importantly, the therapist insists on working with every part of the family system to understand them as a whole.

Additionally, it is fascinating how the two therapists ensured that everyone in the room was engaged in the discussion. They revealed to the Brice family that when a family or part of the family is having a misunderstanding, everyone has a role to play. For instance, they appoint the father to explain the problem with the family. Mr. Brice is hesitant to take up the role as he thinks he is not part of the problem. I perceived the thought to be mean or selfish by pointing blame on his wife. Dr. Napier and Whitaker (1978) note that in a modern family, the father takes an external position in family problems. In addition, the therapist shifts the focus from the primary subject, Claudia, to show them that they have a part to play in the family problem. I perceive that the therapist assigns Mr. Brice the task to reveal his role and convince him of his position in the family.

Don, the second-born son, seems to act as the family mediator, as he explains in the session. As he answers the therapists’ questions, other family members realize there are underlying issues that the family left unhandled to concentrate only on to the main problem. For example, Don reveals to the therapists that his mother does not like his father overworking, a fact that they thought was not of concern in the therapy (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). I learned the importance of shifting focus from the “upper coating” of the problem through the session conducted by Dr. Napier and Whitaker. Rather, a therapist should dig up other problems systematically to get to the core of the matter.

Moreover, the book shows the importance of therapists taking a systematic approach to problem-solving. Dr. Napier and Whitaker reveal this fact by asking Don about the trend of the problem. The boy clearly explains the pattern in which the problem grew from a small manageable situation to an unbearable issue within few months. The two therapists recognized a pattern in the family problem that would help them work with the family throughout the session.

Dr. Napier and Whitaker unveil the emotional status of the family by exploring their relationship indirectly. The two therapists provide everyone with a chance to express their view of the family. Even though they seem to focus on Claudia, the therapist retracts them to the main question. Surprisingly, everyone had a different view of the family. However, Claudia did not have much to say about the family because her main concern was with her mother (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). As she narrated, she felt as if she did not have a place in the family.

However, how Laura, the last-born daughter, expresses her emotions about the family caused a rift of emotions in the room. Though quiet about the matter, the young girl understood her family problem. However, I learned that Laura only understood what other members commented about the situation. She was sad that her family was falling apart and was helpless. The book’s narrator notes the importance of carrying young children to family therapy sessions as they are part of the system (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). I was carried away by the emotions portrayed in Laura’s narration and realized how family crises could affect young children. Hence, young children should be part of family therapy.

Certainly, David and Carolyn had some hidden marital issues that had spread to affect their relationship with the children. Dr. Napier explained to them how each one of them had formed a separate relationship to avoid their interdependence (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). David had a relationship with his work while Carolyn with the children and her mother. Although the couple did not want to recognize it, the two knew it was a problem. I admired how the therapist explored the family, separate from the discussion about Claudia, so that everyone had a different image of the problem.

Through family therapy, the Brice family identifies that the lack of communication on important issues. Claudia’s mischievous behavior has been to blame for most problems in the family (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). For instance, the therapists identify that the couple has not talked about their sex life for a long time. Also, I found it was embarrassing that Laura was aware of their parents’ sexual life. However, since the family is a unit, they felt responsible for keeping their private information a secret. Dr. Napier and Whitaker created an environment where the family would talk freely about other issues away from the usual discussion about Claudia. I think the therapist should establish a leveled environment during family therapy to avoid a blame game for every problem.

When attending a therapy session, clients look up to the therapist as their parents. Similar to a parent-child relationship, patients expect a therapist to offer them solutions to their problems. Dr. Napier and Whitaker understand the relationship they have to form with the Brice family. They establish themselves as confidants to the family, hence fighting their resistance and making them willing to change.

When the family enrolled in the family therapy session, I could feel the anger and tension that the family was experiencing. The family had turned a blind eye to everything else that was happening in their lives to concentrate on Claudia’s mischievousness. Everyone thought Claudia and her mother were the only victims and causes of the problem. When attending the therapy, they were all ready to talk about them. However, I like how Dr. Napier and Whitaker withdrew their expectations by diverting their focus from the main topic.

I am well convinced that Dr. Napier and Whitaker handled the family therapy the best way possible. If I was in their shoes, I must admit it could be a tense situation. I would not have applied co-therapy because I never thought of it as an effective method before reading this book. In addition, I would focused more on Claudia, her mother and father leaving the other two out of the situation. I think Laura is too young to be caught up in the situation and Don is just an observer. Also, do not think dismissing the rest of the family as a very wise idea since they all started the therapy together they should conclude it as a unit.

However, I have learned a lot from their book that I could apply in my practice. First, I learned the importance of setting up rules and being firm on a decision during a session. This is experienced when the therapist dismissed the first session until all the family members are in attendance. Also, Dr. Napier and Whitaker portray the benefits of having a casual talk with their clients to form a relaxed environment. In addition, I admire their tactic of drifting away from the upper coating of the problem to explore other underlying issues. Dr. Napier and Whitaker also make it clear that a family is a system that needs to work together to find a solution. Most importantly, I learned that therapists should be their clients’ confidants to help them implement change.

My Experience

The Brice family reminded me of a case of a patient I dealt with last summer. However, instead of an adolescent daughter, the main problem was an alcoholic mother. She would blame his husband of allowing his mother to insult her and overworking, not having time for the family. She said she would hang out with her friends and drink as a solution to her problem. The couple had one child, a son who wold be left in the care of the house help when the parents were out.


Napier, A. Y., & Whitaker, C. (1978). The family crucible. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

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1. PsychologyWriting. "The Family Crucible Book by Napier & Whitaker." August 18, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "The Family Crucible Book by Napier & Whitaker." August 18, 2022.