It's More Complicated Than That

Don't Smooth Out Life's Wrinkles Says Salvador Minuchin

November/December 1996

IT'S BEEN ALMOST 20 YEARS SINCE I FIRST SAW SALVADOR MINUCHIN in action. Back then, I was a young Ph.D., just a few months into my first clinical job. In graduate school I had of course read Minuchin's books Families of the Slums and Families and Family Therapy, which were, as far as I was concerned, practically sacred texts, but I had never actually seen him do therapy in person. The family field was at the peak of its messianic, we-shall-change-the-world phase and Minuchin, in his staunch opposition to psychiatric orthodoxy, was both its leading visionary and presiding clinical wizard, part Moses, part Merlin with a little dash of Rush Limbaugh thrown in on the side.

So my trip to the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic for an introductory workshop Minuchin was giving on structural family therapy was more than a quest for a few C.E.Us. It was a pilgrimage to the place that Minuchin had turned into the Mecca of family therapy itself, an initiation into the mysteries of how to put the airy abstractions of systems theory to work transforming lives. Standing in front of the audience of 200 therapists, Minuchin, a compact, dapper man with a Latin accent as thick as his black mustache, exuded an air of brusque command at odds with the traditionally pacifist culture of psychotherapy. Heaven protect anyone who stumbled through a lame question or tried to say a kind word about psychoanalysis. He seemed to me the most confident person I had ever met, as if he had been to the…

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