The Henning Family’s History of Domestic Disputes


The Henning’s is a family of five people. Jeffrey who is 68 and Michelle aged 66 are the parents. They have been married since 1984 and they have two daughters, Julia who is 28, and Sarah, and a son, David. The entire family stays in Detroit, Michigan, except Julia who moved to California.

Presenting Problems

The case study shows that there is a communication problem in this family. From the perspective of Julia, the parents have handed over their parental role to her. Whenever there is a problem with any of the siblings, her father and mother would call her and inform her of the same, expecting her to address the issue. She feels that her parents are not doing enough to handle these issues effectively. From the perspective of the parents, they feel that Julia is the most responsible child who should be willing and ready to help her siblings emotionally whenever there are issues. As such, instead of talking directly to the other two children, they prefer passing the information through their daughter, Julia. David is suffering from depression, which worsened during the COVID-19 epidemic, while Sarah is faced with an unstable relationship with her husband, Roscoe.

Intergenerational Process/Themes

The case study has identified one primary intergenerational pattern that Julia is keen on avoiding. There is a poor communication approach in this family that makes it difficult to address common family problems. The parents fear engaging their two children, Sarah and David, directly whenever they have an issue. They feel that they may use the wrong approach that may worsen their problems. The same problem may be the cause of the disintegration of Sarah’s family. David is also an escapist, preferring to take drugs and alcohol instead of addressing his problems directly. Julia is keen on avoiding this intergenerational problem in her life.

Family Structure

In this family, the two parents are at the top of the hierarchy. They wield the power to define important decisions as the heads of the family. The three children respect this boundary and are always keen on following instructions given to them. Julia is seen to hold a special power in the family as the primary channel of communication, especially in cases where there are problems. As such, she is serving a complementary role of parenting, especially providing emotional support to their brother. Although there are no clear triangles, Julia feels that the parents’ coalition is not doing enough to offer the support that the other two siblings have.

Communication Patterns

The family has a serious communication problem. The two parents feel that they lack the capacity to effectively communicate with Sara and David when there is a problem. They also feel that they cannot effectively assess the emotional stability and response of these two children in such cases. They have to rely on Julia. The survival stance is that Julia is best positioned to engage her two siblings, and as such, the responsibility is handed to her. The conflict management pattern that the parents are using may be working for them, but Julia is feeling overwhelmed. The cases show that there is a need for Transformational Systemic Therapy (Satir) that can help improve communication and improve relationships in the family. The parents must embrace their role and be willing to engage all their children positively both in normal times and when there is a crisis.

Systemic Hypothesis

The systemic hypothesis below explains how the problem came to be and why it remains in effect. As shown in figure 1 below, it started by the parents developing a fear that when they communicate directly to their son David and daughter Sarah, they might hurt their feelings. As such, they opted to go through their daughter, Julia, who they believe can communicate more effectively and compassionately with the two. The problem arises when Julia is seen as the favorite of the three children. It creates resentment in the family, which eventually worsens the communication between the parents and the two siblings. Julia is also feeling overwhelmed, which may partly explain why she decided to move away from the family. The repetitive pattern that maintains the family homeostasis is the desire to support one another. Despite the challenges witnessed in this family, there is a deliberate attempt and commitment by family members to find solutions to challenges that the other goes through.

Systemic Hypothesis: The Henning’s Broken Communication.
Figure 1. Systemic Hypothesis: The Henning’s Broken Communication.

Family Life Cycle

The primary family upon which the case is based falls in the class of a launching family. The two parents, Jeff and Michelle have adult children who are trying to start their families. Julia has moved out of the house to a different state and Sarah is already married. The phase of the family presents a problem because of divergent goals that each member has. The parents feel that these children still need their support and Julia is the only effective channel of communication. On the other hand, Julia feels that she is planning to start an independent life, and as such, should not be spending most of her time addressing sibling issues.

Family Life Cycle
Figure 2. Family Life Cycle (Degges-White et al., 2021).

Abuse Issues

The case study does not present any form of child, elder, or partner abuse. It is indicated that Sarah is having a shaky relationship with her partner Roscoe, but it not clear what their problem is. Substance abuse is a problem that David is facing. He is using drugs and alcohol as a means of overcoming his acute anxiety that has already worsened into depression.


Gender dominance is a theme that does not come out clearly in this case study. Julia, a female, has been shouldering many major responsibilities in the family. However, it is not because of her gender as a female, because her mother and her sister are given the same role as the father and the other brother. It means that they do not conform to gender dominance culture. They allow the most empowered and responsible member of the family to take over major roles.


Cultural and ethnic issues may affect a family in different ways. However, the case shows that this family is not following any restrictive cultural or ethnic practices. It is just a normal family that is facing common challenges and trying to use the easiest strategies to solve them. Sarah is having a shaky relationship but there is no indication from the case that she is forced to stay with the partner because of cultural practices.

Family Strengths

The case has demonstrated that the main strength that the family has is a concern for one another. There is a commitment by every member of this family to ensure that the other is okay. Although Julia feels overwhelmed by the responsibility of having to pass messages between her parents and siblings, she is comfortable supporting her drug addict and depressive brother. She does not complain about the constant support she provides her brother. She is also okay providing emotional support to her sister who is having a shaky relationship. The two parents are also keen on understanding and meeting the needs of these children, even if they have to do the same through their daughter, Julia. The strength may assist in facilitating a shift, by making all the members more responsible when managing conflicts or addressing major problems.

Family Narrative

The problem in this family is the fear of the parents to hurt feelings of their son, David, and daughter, Julia, when engaging them at times of crisis. It has created a scenario where they feel the only way of communicating to them is through Julia. Delegating responsibilities is another problem and a theme in this case. Julia feels that important duties that should be performed by her parents have been delegated to her. Metaphorically, Julia is the parent to her two siblings.


The case shows that the main source of the problem in this family is escapism tendencies by the two parents. They are comfortable communicating with all the children when everything is okay. However, when there are unpleasant issues, they prefer using their daughter Julia to pass the communication. The fear of directly confronting the problem may be part of the reason why the condition of David (drug and alcohol abuse and acute anxiety that has degenerated to depression) is worsened. He feels that his parents are not offering him the support he needs.

Treatment Plan

When a problem has been diagnosed, the next important phase is to develop a treatment plan. The treatment plan should focus on eliminating the source of the problem that has been identified. In this section, the researcher will review the theoretical approach to the treatment plan, goals and interventions needed at each phase, and the treatment plan that is needed.

Theoretical Approach

Various postmodern theories can be used to explain the effective treatment plan to the problem that has been identified in the case. The dialogic theory was chosen as the most appropriate theory that can be used to address the problem. According to Van (2019), the dialogic theory holds the view that “organizations should be willing to interact with publics in honest and ethical ways to create effective organization-public communication channels.” In the context of this case, the two parents, Jeff and Mitchell, must be willing to interact with all their children in an honest and ethical way to create a healthy relationship. When David has a problem, such as abuse of drugs and alcohol, they should be willing to engage him, explaining the dangers of the practice and the need for him to reform.

Similarly, if they realize that their daughter is doing something that may compromise her relationship with Roscoe, they should communicate their views to her directly, explaining why they are concerned. It may not be wrong to engage Julia when trying to solve issues relating to David and Sarah. However, it should not be a case where Julia is expected to pass the message, assess the emotional response of the two, and report back to the parents. The current strategy may cause sibling rivalry as David and Sarah may feel it is only Julia that is respected and viewed as a responsible adult in the family. As this theory suggests, the individual with an issue should articulate it in clear and sincere terms to others.

Goals and Intervention at Various Stages

The intervention plan should be conducted in three different stages, early, middle, and late stage. At each stage, there should be specific goals that should be realized to ensure that the process is a success. At an early stage, the goal will be to enable the parents to understand the significance of them communicating directly with each child. They need to understand why it is important for the information to come from them instead of using Julia as the channel. They need to understand why Julia is feeling overwhelmed with her role of parenting her siblings. Achieving this goal will help in ensuring that Jeff and Michelle appreciate the need for them to communicate directly with their children.

In the second stage, the goal will be to enable these parents to understand how to communicate with each of these children under different circumstances. One of the biggest challenges that the two parents face is how to effectively communicate with the two children. As such, they will need some form of assistance for them to understand how to communicate. They need to know how to address each of them under normal circumstances and when there is a crisis. The third stage goal will be to ensure these parents are communicating with each of these children effectively. They will be expected to put into practice what they have learned.

Treatment Plan

The family treatment plan will focus on addressing the primary problem identified, which is the poor communication that Jeff and Michelle have with Sarah and David. The following are the steps that should be taken to address the problem:

  • Remind the parents (Jeff and Michelle) of their primary role of caring and offering support to their two children irrespective of the children’s age or marital status;
  • Explain the significance of maintaining direct, and when possible, face-to-face communication, especially when there is a conflict or an issue arises. They need to know that when the message comes directly from them, it will have a greater meaning to the recipient than when it comes from Julia;
  • The parents will be informed of the dangers and weaknesses of using their daughter Julia as a channel of communication when they want to pass a message to the other two children. Julia will be overwhelmed, as is already the case, and it may result in siblings rivalry;
  • The parents will be assisted on how they need to communicate with all their three children whenever there is an important issue or a conflict that needs to be addressed. David, who is currently a drug addict, will need psychotherapy and a possible time at a rehabilitation center;
  • All the three siblings should understand their role in making it easy for the parents to communicate with them easily. They should be sincere and respectful when expressing their emotions.


Degges-White, S., Kepic, M., & Killam, K. (2021). Counseling the contemporary woman: Strategies and interventions across the lifespan. Rowman & Littlefield.

Van, H. M. (2019). Social work practice with families: A resiliency-based approach. Oxford University Press.

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PsychologyWriting. (2023, January 6). The Henning Family’s History of Domestic Disputes. Retrieved from


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"The Henning Family’s History of Domestic Disputes." PsychologyWriting, 6 Jan. 2023,


PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'The Henning Family’s History of Domestic Disputes'. 6 January.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "The Henning Family’s History of Domestic Disputes." January 6, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "The Henning Family’s History of Domestic Disputes." January 6, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "The Henning Family’s History of Domestic Disputes." January 6, 2023.