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The way I do that has been more influenced by watching and reading plays than watching therapy. Playwrights are experts in presenting situations that seem familiar that then get disrupted in a way that allows something unexpected to happen. Maybe the best training I ever had as a therapist came when I was about 13 years old and lived with my family in our little village across from a movie house. The usher in the movie house was a friend of mine, and at 6:00 p.m. every day he would sneak me into the theater. But at 7:00 p.m., I needed to leave because at my home, my father had a strict rule that at 7:00 we eat. So everyday at night I would have to create an ending in my head, knowing only the first half of the movie. That was my first training in being a psychotherapist.
PN: As you look at your life, what are the achievements that you're most proud of?
Minuchin: The answer to that probably depends on the audience. There are a number of things that I did in my career that seemed new at the time. One of the things I did that was new was the training of paraprofessionals. At the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic back in the '70s, we trained 30 or 40 people who had never gone beyond high school to become skilled family therapists. That experience changed their lives and the lives of the people they worked with. I am proud of having been part of their lives.
I have two children. I have a granddaughter. I am proud of my relationship with them, and especially because my relationship with my own children is now much better than it was when they were young. I have become a much better parent now than I was as a younger man. I wish I had had the quietness and the wisdom then that I have now. I think it is a pity that beauty is spent on young people, and wisdom comes with age. It would be a very different world if it was the other way around.
I think that family therapy has made a contribution, but that today it is not very popular in the United States, where we prefer to see people as more independent, bounded, and self-reliant than I think they are. The role of family therapy will only change when the social ideology in this country changes. Family therapy is based on the idea that at the center of our lives are the human groups in which we feel responsible for each other. There is a strong ethical and a moral component to thinking about therapy in that way.
As a physician, I was trained to take over, to become a leader, and take responsibility. As a therapist, I also had to learn the language of silence, to learn how to become invisible, to learn how not to intrude, and at the same time to be central. Achieving a centrality that can get people's attention without being so intrusive that you take too much responsibility is essential in the process of therapy.
At this point in life, what I think I do as a therapist is to guide people to find better ways to care for each other. It's something very different from the way in which I started out. Back then, I thought I needed to give people insight and new information. I thought, "Let me give them knowledge, and with knowledge will come the experience of "aha' and change." But after four years of psychoanalysis, I knew that was not true. I knew a lot about myself, but not much had really changed for me. Certainly very few "ahas!"
In therapy, I always start with a process of challenge. I believe that conflict is an important part of change, and, in effect, I always start by saying, "You are wrong." But years ago, I used to say, in effect, "You are wrong because there is some knowledge that you don't have." Now, I challenge by saying, "You are wrong because you are richer and contain far more possibilities than you think you do." So I start by offering hope that at some point they can rediscover the roads not traveled. I think that's all I want to say right now. I think I am in danger of becoming pompous.
Richard Simon, Ph.D., is the editor of the Psychotherapy Networker and author of One on One: Interviews with the Shapers of Family Therapy. Contact: email@example.com. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.