Honoring the Everyday


Honoring the Everyday

Family Therapy for Our Times

By Ron Taffel

November/December 1995


HARRY STACK SULLIVAN, ONE of family therapy's grandparents, thought clinicians should be experts on what he called "problems in living." He believed that in order for us to do our job to help people become less anxious, think more clearly and lead more effective lives we had to be consummate masters of the ordinary details of everyday experience. Accordingly, he insisted that the basis of therapy was "the inquiry," in other words, being curious about the minutiae of people's day-to-day lives.

Unfortunately, instead of heeding Sullivan, family therapists have often looked to head-in-the-cloud visionaries, magicians and master technicians for inspiration. Over the past couple of decades, we have had a series of love affairs with sweeping, dramatic movements: the explosive fireworks of structural, strategic and paradoxical interventions; the multigenerational vista of family systems theory; the grand challenge of the feminist perspective; and most recently, the buoyant optimism of narrative therapy. Each has emphasized a wildly different approach; in each, however, the details of ordinary life have been overshadowed by a preoccupation with the magical, transformative moment and with the therapist as either technician or cultural provocateur.

I remember, during one of my early courses in family therapy, watching a taped session in which the father kept falling asleep. The therapist, absolutely determined to demonstrate his technique du jour the positive reframe…

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