FTN: As you look at the way family therapists practice today, what most disturbs you about the direction the field is taking?
MINUCHIN : Let me give you a little roundabout answer to that question. I think that what therapists do is to make people respond to the tools they use. So if my favorite tool is the question, "Imagine that one day the problem has disappeared," then I will need to create an articulate patient that responds to this tool. The same is true of externalizing questions. I remember seeing Michael White do a very masterful session of narrative therapy, but it was like watching a sheep dog at work. He kept pushing people through a series of constructed questions into the groove of seeing their stories in the more positive way that he wanted for them. The therapist changes the old story and convinces the client that the new story is more true than the old. We all offer our patients a language, and we say, "Let's begin to see your life in this language, and I will give you solutions in this language." I do it. Everybody does it. What disturbs me now is that, as a field, we have gotten so interested in these therapeutic techniques and our particular language that we are paying little attention to the family therapist as a system and the therapist as an instrument of change.
FTN: Why do you think we have gone in this direction of what you call the "noninterventionist, restrained" therapist?
MINUCHIN: Some talk about doing a more "respectful" therapy that does not impose the therapist's biases. But I don't think it has anything to do with being more respectful of clients. I think it has to do with changes in social outlook. As citizens of this pessimistic society, therapists have lost their optimism and just have fewer expectations of effecting changes.
FTN : Does that include you?
MINUCHIN : No.
FTN : How did you manage to escape?
MINUCHIN : I grew up as the child of immigrants in a world that was expanding, where people felt that, through hard work, you could realize your dreams and control your destiny. To many people today, those beliefs seem naive. Maybe I am still a part of the 19th century. But I think it is also important that I stopped thinking of myself as a family therapist years ago and became interested in how the skills of systems therapists can be applied in the larger world. I went from thinking about the small unit of the family to thinking about the possibilities of affecting larger institutions. So by working in a field in which there are new possibilities, I still am optimistic. I am exploring with the Department of Mental Health in Massachusetts some ways of making home-based therapy more effective, which is the kind of challenge that I love. Probably if I were working only as a therapist, then I would need to respond to the constraints of the market just like everybody else. I would be tinkering with alternative therapy approaches that are easier to use or simple methods in which you can train people more cheaply.