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No Gurus Need Apply

No Gurus Need Apply

A disciplined protocol for troubled teens

By Wray Herbert

January/February 2007

Back in the 1970s, a handful of psychotherapists and theorists radically altered the way clinicians viewed and helped emotionally troubled kids. Innovators like Salvador Minuchin, Jay Haley, and Urie Bronfenbrenner audaciously suggested that the existing modes of therapy, still predominantly Freudian in perspective, simply weren't working, and they proposed what would be a complete rethinking of child and family mental health.

So influential were these thinkers that their basic ideas seem unassailable--indeed obvious--today. Children and adolescents, they preached, couldn't be viewed or treated in isolation from the many intertwining worlds they inhabited. They were individuals, of course, but they were also sons and daughters and siblings, nephews and nieces, church members and boy scouts, and more. Any effective intervention would need to acknowledge and build on these overlapping systems. In the jargon of the emerging family systems therapy, counseling had to have "ecological validity."

One doesn't hear much about social ecology and systems theory these days. The practice of family systems therapy, while hugely popular, was intense and time consuming, requiring the careful pulling away of layer upon layer of experience and emotional entanglement. It was an expensive form of treatment, mostly carried out in private practice, which would become a luxury in the new era of cost effectiveness and evidence-based care. Because of these cultural shifts and economic…

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