I am equally sure that over the next weeks and months, the therapists in that audience went on to direct hundreds of children and their parents through a similar routine, the image of Minuchin's mastery still alive in their memories. The fact is that once you saw Salvador Minuchin at work, a little part of him lived on indelibly inside you. Through family therapy's formative years, he became the standard against which therapists measured their best work, and when they failed miserably with a family, they asked themselves what Minuchin might have done. From his early work with delinquents and their families at New York's Wiltwyck School in the 1960s through his long stewardship at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic, he was probably the most renowned and most imitated family therapist in the world.
For the past 15 years, although he has continued to write about family therapy, conduct workshops and direct a small training center in New York, Minuchin has seemed to be in search of fresh worlds to conquer. He spent some years traveling and pursuing his interest in play writing, seeing if he could transfer his flair for the drama of the consultation room to the theatrical stage. For more than a decade, he jousted with the New York City child welfare bureaucracy, trying to apply his ideas about family systems to reforming the foster care system.
Today, at 75, he speaks with some bemusement about his reputation for consultation-room charisma, as if fondly recalling a brash younger brother who had yet to learn some of life's later lessons. Fifty years of experience with families has smoothed the keen edge of absolute certainty that once gave his work its sense of urgency. These days, he sees himself less as an advocate for a particular clinical method or theory than as a philosophical meta-observer of a profession he, as much as anyone, helped to create and to which he continues to feel responsible. He has just completed his ninth book, Mastering Family Therapy: Journeys of Growth and Transformation, cowritten with nine of his supervisees, which offers his current take on the state of family therapy training. The interview that follows was conducted in the Back Bay town-house in Boston where Minuchin lives with his wife, Pat, a clinical psychologist who has been his collaborator in his efforts to revolutionize foster care, to whom he has been married for 45 years. Here, Minuchin reflects on some of the latest developments in family therapy, discusses his own evolution as a clinician and offers his perspective on nearly 50 years of the field's history.
FTN : How would you contrast your work with the approaches that are popular among younger therapists today?
MINUCHIN : I think I am much more interested in the exploration of conflict than many therapists today. My therapy grew out of the "try, try again" active therapy of the 1960s, with all its optimism and energy, experimentalism, creativity and naivete. I bring the family drama into the therapy room. I encourage members to interact directly with one another in the belief that the family is the arena in which people can most fully express themselves in all their complexity. So family interaction with all its potential for both destruction and healing continues to occupy center stage in my practice.