Focusing Your Wide Angle Lens

Focusing Your Wide Angle Lens

The Intersection of the Family and the Social Landscape

By Betty Carter

November/December 1995

WHEN I WAS A YOUNG AND enthusiastic family therapist, I thought that there was one key to understanding the truth about a family and I had it. Once I got the family together behind the closed doors in my office, all I needed to do was grasp the nuances and flow of their private, interpersonal emotional system and their three-generational patterns of differentiation, enmeshment and estrangement, and I had their deepest life realities nailed down cold. It never occurred to me that by aiming a laser-beam of concentration solely on the inner dynamics of an individual family, I was missing anything of relevance. In fact, compared to the narrow focus on the nuclear family, my clinical lens seemed remarkably expansive I included the extended family, as well as divorced and remarried members in my treatment plans, and always made a multi-generational genogram, a kind of snapshot that caught, in the present, all the emotional legacies of the past. Armed with all this information about the family's personal odyssey, what more did I need to know in order to help them transform their lives? What else was there?

My first blind stumble over this delusion of certainty occurred in the late '70s, when I discovered the issue of gender, which refused to confine itself to purely "private" relations between this couple or these family members. I found that in order to understand the particularity of almost any individual couple's personal experience, I was required to adjust my lens to…

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Topic: Families

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