But today therapists are wary of my brand of therapeutic interventionism. They seem to believe it is impossible for a therapist to produce specific, targeted changes in a family. They want to be noninterventionist and turn therapy into a simple conversation among people. The therapist asks questions that provide people the opportunity to reconsider meanings and values that up until then they have considered as "given" or normative. The solution-focused and the narrative therapists say, "Let's not deal with problems. Let's deal with solutions." But in the process, it seems to me, the therapist is restricted to operating only in a collaborative, symmetrical posture. Gone is the latitude to play, to give opinions, to be the complex, multi-faceted person in the therapy room that you are outside of it. All that remains is to be a distant, respectful questioner.
FTN : Janet Malcolm once wrote in The New Yorker, "Watching a Minuchin session, or a tape of it, is like being at a tightly constructed, well-directed, magnificently acted play." You seemed to relish dealing with explosive situations in therapy. What do you like about dealing with those situations?
MINUCHIN : I think what drew me to family therapy was the excitement. Every family represented an exciting puzzle. When I worked with delinquents and their families at the Wiltwyck school back in the '60s, the particular challenge was to help them find concrete ways to calibrate relationships. We were concerned with helping disorganized families to give more order to their relationships. So we would interrupt a fight in the family to say, "When your mother talks, you cannot talk. Okay, now you can answer." The emphasis was on guidance. At that time Virginia Satir had developed a very popular therapy that emphasized nurturance and the mid-wifing of feeling. But we felt that in the families we saw, people already knew how to nurture. The problem was that the parents were ineffective in taking control of their kids. What they did not have was the constancy that allowed them to give the children a sense of self-efficacy.
FTN : A lot of your reputation as a master therapist had to do with your getting seemingly resistant families to do what you asked them to do. How did you manage to accomplish that?