Whatever Happened to Family Therapy
It may be in better shape than you think
I fell hopelessly in love with family systems thinking--or rather, I got imprinted by it, like a newborn gosling--in the winter of 1984, in Durham, North Carolina, while working with a tough, blond, scruffily good-looking white kid of 10 named Richie. He'd been referred to our clinic because he kept getting into fights on the school playground, which, in turn, generated arguments with his mother at home. I was there because I was a doctoral student at Duke University's psychodynamically oriented clinical psychology program.
Every Wednesday afternoon, I sat on the carpet and watched Richie play with little toy soldiers. Every now and again, I'd offer up an interpretation linking his dramas of anger and loneliness to his conflicts at school and at home. He'd sometimes nod--we liked each other--and then go back to playing. My supervisor told me I was doing excellent work: I was offering Richie a corrective emotional experience to make up for his absent father, who was in prison for armed robbery, and for the supposed inadequacy of his impoverished mother, Caroline, a usually resourceful and caring woman, who sometimes sank into despair and took to her bed.
But the months went on and negative reports from Richie's school kept coming…