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Friday, 02 January 2009 10:39

It's more Complicated Than That - Page 8

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FTN : How have you assimilated pieces of feminism in your work?

MINUCHIN : The feminists made me realize that I had put women in certain narrow categories and that my labels for women had gender biases: for me a mother's concern could too easily be dismissed as "overprotectiveness." I focused on men providing guidance and women nurturance, and my work emphasized the importance of guidance and took nurturance for granted. I don't think I do that anymore. I'm more aware of the messages of the labels and I pay attention to what I privilege. But I still work systematically, seeing how couples trigger each other in their interactions. I've always thought that working with the man is an important way to bring him closer to the family, make him more of a participant and ease the burdens of the woman, but I pay more attention now to making sure that her voice is heard, her pain expressed and her need for respect understood.

FTN : And what about the narrative approach?

MINUCHIN: Do you remember Nathan Epstein?

FTN : Of course.

MINUCHIN : Nathan Epstein had an extraordinary quality of inspiring family members and transforming them very, very fast into talmudim.

FTN : Into what?

MINUCHIN : Talmudim literally, it means, students, but I think of it as students of the rabbi. Epstein would say to his patients, "I want you to study your family," and somehow he managed to generate such a lively atmosphere of intellectual inquiry that everyone would get very involved. Externalization has the same ability to reduce emotionality and put people into a position of inquiry about the effects of the world upon them, while highlighting the intellectual possibilities of something new. It gives families the idea that the enemy is outside them and that family members are all okay, banded together against outside forces. I think that's very clever and very good.

FTN : So you've assimilated these various influences, but do you think your therapy has really changed very much?

MINUCHIN : Theoretically, I do what I have always done. I still look at the way in which the current transactions in a family support conflict. I am always saying to people, in one way or another, "There are more possibilities in you than you think. Let us find a way to help you become less narrow." But the ways that I say that today are less dramatic than they used to be. I ask more questions and give fewer prescriptions.

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