A comprehensive and practical approach to the world of marriage,couples, and family counseling Esteemed academics David Capuzzi and Mark D. Stauffer presentthe theory, research, and real-life practice of today's counselorsand therapists in family therapy settings. Aligned with the Councilfor Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs(CACREP) and Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and FamilyTherapy Education (COAMFTE), this useful text covers foundationalteaching important to readers, but also critical modern topics notincluded in other texts, such as sexuality, trauma, divorce,domestic violence, and addictions, filial play therapy, and usingcommunity genograms to position culture and context in familytherapy. With a unique focus on practical applications, the bookdiscusses the major family therapy theories, and provides graduatestudents and post-graduate learners in counseling, mental health,and behavioral health fields the skills and techniques they need tohelp couples and families as part of their work in a variety ofhelping environments. Each chapter contains case studies andanecdotes that help readers think critically about the issues theyare likely to deal with as clinicians. Written by recognized and respected contributors, this bookhelps readers see the connection between what they know and whathappens in couples and family counseling sessions. Readerswill: * Learn the knowledge and skills essential to family therapy * Understand the history, concepts, and techniques associatedwith major theories * Examine the key issues specific to couples work, with relevantintervention * Explore solutions to the complexities generated by specialissues * Discusses the modern realities of family, diversity andculture, and systemic contexts Family and couples counseling presents a complex interplay ofvarious factors inherent to each individual, the dynamic interplaybetween each person's issues, and the outside influences that shapebehavior. Foundations of Couples, Marriage, and FamilyCounseling helps readers sort out the complexity and guideclients toward lasting resolution.
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Part 1: Essential Knowledge and Skills
Chapter 1: Variations in Family Systems and Family Life Cycles
Functional and Dysfunctional Families
Variations in Family Systems
The Family Life Cycle
Chapter 2: Using Community Genograms to Position Culture and Context in Family Therapy
Making the Invisible Visible: The Evolution of Genograms
Community Genograms: Capturing the Complexity of Culture and Context
Basic Components of Standard Community Genograms
Using Community Genograms to Extend Client Perspectives
Using Community Genograms as Consultants and Advocates
Chapter 3: Diversity and Intercultural Work in Family Counseling
Useful Websites and Links
Chapter 4: Effectively Using Research and Assessment in Couples and Family Therapy
The Role of Research in Effective Family Therapy
Conclusions Drawn in Family Therapy Research
Research Methods in Family Therapy
Assessment in Family Therapy
Informal and Formal Assessments
Use of Standardized Assessment Instruments For Individuals
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Inventories for Couples and Family Counseling
Chapter 5: Legal, Ethical, and Professional Issues
Part 2: Theories: History, Concepts, and Techniques
Chapter 6: Psychodynamic Theories: Approaches and Applications
Chapter 7: Experiential and Humanistic Theories: Approaches and Applications
Chapter 8: Bowenian Family Systems Theory: Approaches and Applications
Bowen's Family Systems Theory
Limitations and Future Research
Chapter 9: Structural Theory: Approaches and Applications
Background: Founders and Current Proponents
Chapter 10: Strategic and Milan Systemic Theories: Approaches and Applications
Washington School of Strategic Therapy
Mental Research Institute (MRI) School
Milan Systemic School
Strategic Therapy Limitations
Chapter 11: Behavioral and Cognitive-Behavioral Theories: Approaches and Applications
Part 3: Couples Work
Chapter 12: Key Issues and Interventions in Couples Counseling
Couples Counseling Models and Interventions
Chapter 13: Sexuality and Gender in Couples Counseling
Definitions of Gender and Sex
Counselor Sexuality Training
Chapter 14: Counseling Couples Using Life Cycle and Narrative Therapy Lenses
Part 4: Special Issues
Chapter 15: Filial Play Therapy and Other Strategies for Working With Parents
Parenting Problems and Theoretical Models
Core Principles for Working with Parents
Filial Therapy: A Specific Approach to Working Directly with Parents
Chapter 16: Working With Addictions in Family Therapy
What is Addiction?
Prevalence of Addiction in Families
Impact of Addiction
Substance Abuse Versus Nonsubstance Addictions
Biopsychosocial Epistemology of Addiction
Using Family Therapy as a Treatment Modality
Family Dynamics and Addiction
Recruitment of Addicted Families
Assessment and Initial Interviews
Joining with Addicted Families
Stages of Change
Family Interventions Protocols
Family Education Programs
Goals for Therapy with Addicted Families
Training and Supervision
Chapter 17: Violence, Abuse, and Trauma in Family Therapy
Introduction to Violence, Abuse, and Trauma
Counseling Families Experiencing Violence, Abuse, and Trauma
Postscript: Counselor Self-Care
Chapter 18: Divorce and Other Loss Issues in Family Therapy
The Grief Experience
Theories of Grief
A Family's Adaptation to Loss
Common Experiences of Loss in a Family System
Creativity in Grief and Loss Counseling
Meet the Editors
Meet the Contributors
End User License Agreement
Table of Contents
Mark D. Stauffer
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:
Foundations of couples, marriage, and family counseling / [edited by]
David Capuzzi, Mark D. Stauffer.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-1-118-71099-9 (cloth : alk. paper)
ISBN 978-1-118-71122-4 (pdf)
ISBN 978-1-118-71078-4 (epub)
1. Family counseling. 2. Vocational guidance. I. Capuzzi, Dave, editor of compilation. II. Stauffer, Mark D., editor of compilation.
Whether you are entering the field of couples, marriage, and family counseling or are a counselor who wants to be better prepared for working with couples and families, this text provides a foundational basis. Foundations of Couples, Marriage, and Family Counseling addresses real-life clinical concerns while providing the necessary information to keep up to date with trends in the profession and also evolving standards of professional organizations, accrediting bodies, and licensure boards. Counselors in school, mental health, rehabilitation, hospital, private practice, and a variety of other settings must be thoroughly prepared to support couples and families in their quest to be healthy, functional, and unimpaired. As the counseling profession has matured, more and more emphasis has been placed on the importance of preparing counselors to work holistically and synthesize knowledge domains from mental health, developmental, and systemic perspectives.
This textbook draws on specialized knowledge for each contributed chapter. It is written for use in graduate-level preparation programs for counselors. Requirements of the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and other certification associations have led many university programs in counselor education to require or recommend a foundations course in couples, marriage, and family counseling for all students regardless of specialization (school, mental health, rehabilitation, career, student personnel, etc.).
Although the text addresses the history, theory, and research related to couples, marriage, and family counseling, at least half of the emphasis in the book is placed on techniques and skills needed by the practitioner. In addition, topics connected with diversity issues; concrete reference to assessment tools; research; filial play therapy; sexuality and gender issues; addictions; violence, abuse, and trauma; and divorce and other loss issues make the book engaging and of high interest to the readership. Writers who are experienced in couples, marriage, and family counseling were asked to contribute to the text so that the reader is provided with not only theory and research, but also with applications that are pertinent to the role of the practicing, licensed counselor. This book also reflects the view of the editors that counselors must be prepared in a comprehensive and holistic manner because couples and family issues are so often the reasons clients seek the assistance of professional counselors.
The book is unique in both format and content. The contributed format provides state-of-the-art information by experts who are nationally recognized for their expertise, research, and publications related to couples, marriage, and family counseling. The content provides readers with areas not always addressed in introductory texts. Both the format and content enhance the readability and interest for the reader and should engage and motivate graduate students in counseling and aligned professions, as well as those enrolled in upper-division undergraduate courses.
The book is designed for students who are taking a preliminary course and presents a comprehensive overview of the foundations for couples, marriage, and family counseling, the skills and techniques needed, and special issues in couples, marriage, and family counseling. We know that one text cannot adequately address all the factors that comprise the complex and holistic aspects of assisting clients who seek the help of a counselor. We have, however, attempted to provide our readers with a broad perspective based on current professional literature and the rapidly changing world we live in at this juncture of the new millennium. The following overview highlights the major features of the text.
Many chapters contain case studies that illustrate the practical applications of the concepts presented. Most chapters refer the reader to websites containing information that supplements the information already presented. Professors may want to make use of the PowerPoints developed for each of the chapters, as well as the instructor's manual that can be used to develop quizzes and exams on the book's content and provides ideas for individual and small-group class assignments.
The text is divided into the following four parts: Essential Knowledge and Skills; Theories: History, Concepts, and Techniques; Couples Work; and Special Issues.
Part One: Essential Knowledge and Skills (Chapters 1 through 5) begins with information on variations in family systems and family life cycles and provides the reader with the contextual background needed to assimilate subsequent chapters. Chapters focus on using community genograms to position culture and context in family therapy; diversity and intercultural work; using research and evaluation approaches; and legal, ethical, and professional issues.
Part Two: Theories: History, Concepts, and Techniques (Chapters 6 through 11) presents information about psychodynamic, experiential and humanistic, Bowenian, structural, strategic and systemic, and behavioral approaches and applications to actual cases and case studies. All of these chapters provide overviews and introduce readers to the skills and techniques that can be used in the couples and family counseling process.
Part Three: Couples Work (Chapters 12 through 14) presents information relative to key issues and interventions in couples counseling, sexuality and gender in couples counseling, and counseling couples using life cycle and narrative therapy lenses. These chapters highlight information that has relevance and application to diverse contexts.
Part Four: Special Issues (Chapters 15 through 18) discusses filial play therapy and other issues related to parenting; addictions and family therapy; violence, abuse, and trauma in family therapy; and divorce and other loss issues in family therapy.
Every attempt has been made by the editors and contributors to provide the reader with current information in each of the areas of focus. It is our hope that Foundations of Couples, Marriage, and Family Counseling will provide the beginning student counselor with the basics needed for follow-up courses and supervised practice in the arena of couples and family work with clients.
We would like to thank the 32 authors who contributed their expertise, knowledge, and experience in the development of this textbook. Publications occur within the context of the authors' lives and families. We would like to thank our families and the families of the authors who provided the freedom and encouragement to make this endeavor possible. Special thanks to those authors who contributed while also dealing with matters of life and death. Our thanks are also directed to members of the Wiley team, Senior Editor Rachel Livsey and Senior Editorial Assistant Amanda Orenstein, for their encouragement and assistance with peer review, copyediting, and, ultimately, the publication of the book.
David Capuzzi, Mark D. Stauffer, and Nicholaus Erber
It is only during the past 40 to 50 years that couples, marriage, and family counseling and therapy have garnered the full attention of practitioners in the helping professions. Although Alfred Adler's work with families and communities began in Vienna 100 years ago, most of the emphasis in counseling, psychology, social work, and psychiatry has been on working with clients on an individual basis (Bitter, 2014). Starting with the work of Sigmund Freud, practitioners drew from the tenets of Jungian, existential, person-centered, gestalt, behavioral, cognitive-behavioral, rational emotive, reality, feminist, solution-focused, narrative, brief, dialectical, and numerous other theories that all primarily focused on one-to-one counseling and psychotherapy (Capuzzi & Gross, 2011; Corey, 2013). Most of these theories were based on values associated with individualism, autonomy, independence, and free choice and, for the most part, were well received in Western cultures (Bitter, 2014). In the 1950s and 1960s, family therapists and the application of systems theory began to challenge these notions.
Working with a family, especially when it is the entire family, results in a group counseling situation. The dynamics occurring in a family group session have both similarities and differences with those occurring in a group comprised of individuals who are not part of a family. If someone who was not a counseling professional, or who was new to the profession of counseling, asked you to describe the similarities and differences, what would you say?
One of the greatest challenges, if not transformations, a family therapist must make is to think systemically when observing, assessing, conceptualizing, and intervening within a family system. To undergo this transformation is to cultivate a dynamic systemic view rather than the linear cause–effect view that is predominant in Western culture. Most counselors understand that working with couples and families is quite different from individual counseling and psychotherapy because the client unit is not just the individual, but can be a dyad, a subgroup of a family, an entire family, or even multigenerational families. A more nuanced understanding is that a family counselor works with the family system even when there is only one individual in the therapy room. In addition, the counselor must think systemically throughout counseling in order to meet the client from his or her worldview. Unlike Western cultures, in collectivist cultures, interdependence, family connectedness, hierarchies of relationships, and even ancestral perspectives guide and inform the daily experiences of people. Adept counselors and therapists in Western cultures have realized that individuals cannot be viewed in isolation from the people and systems (family, neighborhood, school, work, social–recreational, church, etc.) with which they interact daily. Counselors and therapists have appropriately adopted systemic models as conceptual frameworks for couples and family counseling and place less reliance on theories designed for individual counseling and psychotherapy.
Systemic thinking directs the focus of the counselor or therapist away from the individual and individual problems toward relationships and relationship issues between individuals. A linear cause–effect reality does not exist, and the emphasis is on reciprocity and shared responsibility. The counselor does not ask why, but makes observations holistically to try to figure out what is going on between and among the members of the family. Patterns and power hierarchies are more important than intrapsychic and historical reasons for the behavior of family members.
Theorists, researchers, and practitioners such as Nathan Ackerman, Gregory Bateson, Murray Bowen, Oscar Christensen, Rudolf Dreikurs, Jay Haley, Don Jackson, Cloe Madanes, Monica McGoldrick, Virginia Satir, and Carl Whitaker are just a few of those associated with the development of the foundation for systemic work with couples and families. Currently, counselors and therapists are also beginning to incorporate the positions of professionals such as Tom Anderson, Harlene Anderson, Insoo Kim Berg, Steve de Shazer, David Epston, Kenneth Gergen, Harold Goolishian, William O'Hanlon, Michele Weiner-Davis, and Michael White in their efforts to assist couples and families seeking assistance (Bitter, 2014). Doing so has further expanded viewpoints about family systems and life cycles.
Before proceeding to a discussion of the differences between family function and dysfunction, the variations in family systems, the issues members of those systems may bring to a counselor or therapist, and some information about the life cycle of a family and needs often connected to this life cycle, it is important to point out that couples, marriage, and family counselors receive their training from programs with differing orientations. There are couples, marriage, and family counselors who receive their education and supervised practice in graduate programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), the accrediting body for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). There are also couples, marriage, and family counselors who receive their training in counselor education programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and who are members of the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC), which is a division of the American Counseling Association.
Identify a journal published by AAMFT and compare it with a journal published by IAMFC. What similarities and differences can you identify?
If the readers of this textbook were to survey the literature written during the past 30 or 40 years about what makes a family function well, they would discover a myriad of definitions, descriptions, and variations related to the topic of a healthy family system. So what are the characteristics of a family system that promote functioning, health, and well-being? The authors of this chapter found James Bitter's (2014) comments interesting and pertinent to the topic of functional versus dysfunctional families. He pointed out that family system theorists have used words such as functional, dysfunctional, healthy or unhealthy, normal or abnormal for decades, and he believes that, over time, these terms have taken on a pejorative connotation. He defines a functional family as a family in which family processes are successful in meeting the normal developmental demands as well the abnormal and unexpected stressors experienced by most families. He defines a dysfunctional family as one in which there has been a breakdown in coping or in which the family continues to engage in patterns that are no longer successful. What distinguishes Bitter's viewpoint is that he prefers to identify family processes or relational patterns as dysfunctional to avoid stigmatizing the family by labeling it as dysfunctional. The authors subscribe to this approach to understanding family dynamics and add that labeling a family or family member is not helpful; instead, professionals should try to understand and address patterns, behaviors, communication, and other elements of the family system that are unhealthy at a certain point in time in the family context.
Much has been written about functional versus dysfunctional characteristics of a family system. For example, Gladding (2007) listed the following functional characteristics:
Commitment to the family and its individuals
Appreciation for each other (i.e., a social connection)
Willingness to spend time together
Effective communication patterns
High degree of religious/spiritual orientation
Ability to deal with crisis in a positive manner (i.e., adaptability)
Encouragement of individuals
Clear roles (pp. 32–33)
Becvar and Becvar (2000), on the other hand, prefer to discuss family functionality in terms of process dimensions. They discuss healthy families as those in which there is a focus of authority that has been established and supported as time has passed, a set of rules that is established and consistently followed, an ample amount of nurturing, effective and clear child-rearing and couple maintenance expectations, a set of goals for the family and the individuals in the family, and enough flexibility and adaptability for the family to cope with developmental issues and unexpected crises.
A solid body of research suggests that family system dysfunction affects individual mental health and psychopathology and vice versa. Family system dysfunction leads to internalizing and externalizing family symptoms; for example, when unclear family boundaries create childhood anxiety and a child from that family, as an adult, carries the family symptom of producing anxiety in interpersonal relationships (Pagani, Japel, Vaillancourt, Côté, & Tremblay, 2008). To note how tangled this becomes in a system, Pinheiro and colleagues (2006) provide this comment on examination of cocaine addiction and family dysfunction: “The symptomatic child…becomes the ‘battlefield’ that keeps the issues of the mother–father relationship in denial, originating intergenerational alliances that separate parents, stimulate the competition between them, and predispose the child to alcohol and drug abuse” (p. 308). The centrality of the family in a culture may heighten or mediate the interplay between family system functioning and individual mental health. For example, research by Chen, Wu, and Bond (2009) suggests that not only is suicidality heightened when there is family distress or fighting but also such family discord may affect Chinese adolescents even more because of the centrality and weighted importance of family in Chinese cultures.
Although working with multiple members of the identified family may complicate conceptualizing therapeutic intervention, it also may provide reasonable avenues for positive change from the same therapeutic investment. One criticism of individual counseling is that the individual leaves counseling and often returns to the system that is not collaborating in therapy, placing the individual solely responsible for systemic shift. Furthermore, with one person in session it is harder for the therapist to explore all the family members' perspectives and conceptual frameworks.
The definition of what constitutes a family and a family system is ever changing and varies from culture to culture. In the past, European Americans defined family as including only those related by blood, and it was identified as the nuclear family. Other groups, such as African Americans, defined family in terms of a network of kin as well as community, and included anyone who was psychologically connected and categorized as a friend of long standing. Asian Americans include ancestors and all descendants in their definition of what constitutes a family (Gladding, 2007).
In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau defined family as
a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together; all such people (including related subfamily members) are considered as members of one family. Beginning with the 1980 Current Population Survey, unrelated subfamilies (referred to in the past as secondary families) are no longer included in the count of families, nor are the members of unrelated subfamilies included in the count of family members. The number of families is equal to the number of family households; however, the count of family members differs from the count of family household members because family household members include any non-relatives living in the household.
As you might surmise, it is difficult to arrive at a definition of what constitutes a family. For the purposes of this book, our definition will be comprehensive and will include those who are connected via birth or psychological, economic, or historical ties. This definition includes those who marry or never marry, have children or never have children, adopt, are gay or lesbian, or families that are comprised of some other alternative constellation of individuals.
Turning the clock backward illustrates the changing nature of how people in the United States have perceived the definition of a family, especially when contrasted with current thinking about families and family systems.
Sixty years ago there were not as many accepted family forms as there are today. Typically, families could be categorized into three subgroups, which are discussed next.
A nuclear family consisted of a husband, a wife, and their children. Usually the husband worked outside the home and the wife worked inside the home, assuming a large percentage of the responsibility for parenting, completing household chores, and making sure the needs of all family members were met. This family form was idealized through television shows such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet(which ran from 1952 to 1966) and Leave It to Beaver (which ran from 1957 to 1963). Generally, the characters that were promoted and popularized on television were the career-focused husband as the decision maker and the wife who was well-groomed at all times, supportive of her husband's efforts, and an excellent hostess, especially of events that would serve to promote her husband's movement up a career ladder. The image of a dual-career family or a unmarried couple living together with children was not promoted or even discussed to any great extent.
During the 1950s, divorce was an option, but it was not really approved of in the United States. The rising divorce rates in the 1960s and 1970s changed people's attitudes about permanent separation (Cherlin, 2010). In a divorced family, women were typically the custodial parents to any children resulting from the marriage. Women were likely to receive child support and alimony for a defined period of time, and they joined the workforce, moved back to their parents' homes with their children, or both. In many cases, as is true today, the family stayed in contact with the former spouse, who participated in parenting the children, at least to some extent. Divorced women were not well received and were referred to, askance, as divorcées. Although many divorced women remarried, others found that they were perceived to be flawed and not the best prospects for marriage.
In a stepfamily, or blended family, at least one of the two people who marry have children from a previous marriage. In the 1950s and 1960s, the term stepfamily was used; the term blended family, which has a more positive connotation, was not in wide usage until much later.
At the time, many people assumed that a stepparent could not parent as well as a birth parent, even if the stepparent was more stable and grounded and was very fond of the children brought into the family via marriage. The depiction of stepparents in fairy tales as unaffectionate and unaccepting of their spouse's children did not alleviate this misperception. As time has passed, Americans' views of family forms and constellations have changed dramatically.
One way of tracking the changing views of what constitutes family in America would be to watch episodes of Modern Family. This television show debuted in 2009 and is an ensemble comedy that revolves around the experiences of three very different families: (1) a post-midlife man (Jay), his second (much younger) wife, her son from a previous relationship, and a son they had together; (2) Jay's daughter, her husband, and their three children; and (3) Jay's son, his husband, and their adopted daughter. The series chronicles the ups and downs of parenting (including parents talking to their teenagers about safe sex), marriage, and family relationships, and features a very accepting depiction of same-sex parenting.
Locate and watch some episodes of The Golden Girls. Would you classify the three women who shared a home in this television series as a family?
This is a very different depiction of families in America than would have been portrayed 60 years ago and is illustrative of the many family forms or types that exist today and are described next.
In a single-parent family, either a mother or father is raising children without a partner. During the past 30 years, divorce and nonmarital childbearing have dramatically increased the proportion of single-parent families in the United States (Wojtkiewicz & Holtzman, 2011). This change has precipitated a myriad of research on the short- and long-term effects of single parenting on the family system and the well-being of children raised in single-parent families (Golombok & Badger, 2010; Parent, Jones, Forehand, Cuellar, & Shoulberg, 2013).
Researchers and clinicians frequently refer to the difficulties and issues that many single-parent families face (Hornberger, Zabriskie, & Freeman, 2010). These issues are often related to the structure of the family (Parent et al., 2013) and whether it is headed by father or mother and whether the single-parent status is because of never marrying, divorce, death, military service, or some other reason. Financial insecurity, higher stress levels, school dropout, early childbearing, and nonmarital births have all been linked to single parenting (Wojtkiewicz & Holtzman, 2011). There is a lot of conflicting research, however, about whether single parenting really does negatively affect the children raised by a single mother or father (Hornberger et al., 2010). Some research shows that the children in single-parent families fare very well if they experience closeness as a family and feel a sense of accomplishment because they work through their difficulties.
The following case study illustrates some of the possible dilemmas a single parent might face. As you read it, think about what could be accomplished in counseling and how some of the described difficulties could be addressed and dealt with so the family would benefit and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Amy is the mother of James, a 5-year-old boy. Amy had James after a brief relationship with James's father, whom she is still in regular contact with to share custody of James.
Amy and James live in a small two-bedroom apartment that Amy found through another single-mother friend. Amy has several other friends who are also single parents. Amy works two part-time jobs and lives paycheck to paycheck. She receives some benefits from the Department of Social Services, such as food assistance, day care, and medical benefits, which help her make ends meet.
James started school this year, and Amy is going through a big adjustment. She had to take time off work to get him enrolled, which means she will lose a day's pay. James was nervous about starting school and Amy wanted to be there on his first day, but she had to be at work so he went to school from day care. As James progresses through kindergarten, Amy finds it difficult to help him with his homework because she is always working to provide for the two of them. James also has some difficulties in school, especially when other kids ask about his dad and why his mom and dad don't live together. James doesn't have an explanation to give.
Amy also struggles to have a social life as a single mother. She would like to go on dates, but she is worried that people will think badly of her for dating. Amy would like to go out for drinks with her friends after work for a short break, but she is worried she will be looked at negatively for going out. Amy often feels stuck because there is no end in sight for how hard she has to work to maintain a home for her and James. Amy seeks the help of a counselor to deal with the stressors of day-to-day life as a single parent.
If you were the counselor, how would you work with Amy and what goals would you hope to develop for the counseling process? Would you want James's dad to participate in the counseling process with Amy? At what point would you suggest that that couples counseling take place? How could you reframe the situation so Amy and James feel a sense of pride in working through their issues?
This type of family results when a couple makes a conscious decision not to have children, or they cannot have children because of infertility or health-related reasons (Gladding, 2007). In 2007, Daniel Gilbert represented the thinking of many American couples when he wrote the best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness, in which he discussed the fact that many couples decide not to have children for personal, economic, career, and a variety of other reasons. This decision would have been considered almost bizarre in the 1950s, but increasing numbers of couples are making the decision not to have children because they feel it is congruent with who they are and that it would not be in the best interests of children.
Despite the decision to be childless, there is always the possibility that child-free couples will face many challenges from those around them (Pelton & Hertlein, 2011). Assumptions that the couple is infertile, dislikes children, disapproves of adoption or foster parenting, or that the individuals had unhappy childhoods are just a few of the attitudes the couple may be faced with and asked to explain. Many child-free couples encounter pressure, disapproval, and ostracism by their peers who are raising children. In addition, some child-free couples mourn the lack of a family as they age and question their earlier decision to remain childless. Although this type of family system is becoming more and more common in the United States and other countries, many child-free couples seek counseling because of pressures they experience.
There is an abundance of recent research on the topic of same-sex couples with or without children (Armesto & Shapiro, 2011; Berkowitz, 2011; Byrn & Holcomb, 2012; Mallon, 2011; Parker, Tambling, & Franklin, 2011). As noted by Ausbrooks and Russell (2011), it is estimated that one in three lesbian couples and one in five gay couples are raising children. This, too, is a departure from what existed 60 years ago and is representative of the heterogeneity (Berkowitz, 2011) that characterizes contemporary American families.
Same-sex families were not in the public eye during the first half of the 20th century. If you were talking with someone born in the 1930s or 1940s and attempting to explain or describe that such a combination of adults and children constitutes a family, what would you say? How would you answer the person's questions about how the children would respond to inquiries they might receive about who was their father and who was their mother?
In addition, of the 250,000 children living in U.S. households headed by same-sex couples, 4.2% were either adopted or are foster children (Berkowitz, 2011); this also represents a development that is different than what existed in the past. Recently, three very interesting books, Who's Your Daddy? And Other Writings on Queer Parenting (Epstein, 2009), Gay and Lesbian Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle (Goldberg, 2010), and Becoming Parent: Lesbians, Gay Men, and Family (Riggs, 2007), address the topic in ways that might interest the readers of this book and highlight some of the issues faced by these couples. Gay and lesbian families are gaining more social acceptance in recent years as evidenced by the depiction of these types of families in mainstream television sitcoms and real-life situations. Despite this, gay and lesbian families continue to experience stigma and discrimination that increase stressors to family dynamics.
These families consist of couples who are married or in marriage-like relationships (with or without children) but who live in different households (Cherlin, 2010). Reports from national statistical agencies in the United States, Britain, Canada, and France indicate that living apart together relationships are relatively common, but they also suggest difficulties in conceptualizing and measuring the phenomenon (Cherlin, 2010). Much more research is needed about how the individuals in these family systems interact and communicate, since this type of family constitutes a growing demographic in the United States and in many other countries.
In dual-career families, each partner places a high priority on his or her career advancement and mobility. As noted by Gladding (2007), more than half of couples with children have careers to which they are highly committed. Some dual-career couples live apart and commute (living apart together) in order to satisfy their career aspirations. Some dual-income families are known as DINKS—dual income, no kids (Gladding, 2007).
The Netflix series House of Cards is a contemporary depiction of a dual-career family and the issues precipitated when two very career-minded individuals become a couple. The series is an interesting rendition of the issues such couples sometime face, the efforts members of such a dyad may make in order to foster and preserve their career aspirations, and the pressures and issues that such striving creates in the relationship. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright do an excellent job of portraying a dual career couple caught up in the politics of the White House and the power wielded by those with money and influence in the Washington, DC, area of our country.
Watch a few episodes of House of Cards and list what rules you think the two main married characters followed in their relationship. What kinds of values do you think provide the underpinnings for how they view their careers and how they make career-related decisions?
Aging families, characterized as headed by individuals aged 65 years or older, are often involved in the launching or relaunching of adult children, caring for their much older parents, planning for and transitioning to retirement, long-term marriages or partnerships, the loss of a spouse or partner, grandparenting, and, quite often, acting as parents to their grandchildren. Living on a diminished income and coping with the loss of lifelong friends are other adjustments that may need to be made by aging families.
Because the demographics of the United States are rapidly changing and the percentage of older adults in our country can be expected to continuously increase, counselors can expect to have more older adult clients than in the past.
In this type of family, more than one generation lives within the same household. Many young couples, whether married or cohabiting, live for a period of time in the household of one of their parents at the beginning of their union (Ghodsee & Bernardi, 2012). Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2002) estimated that by the year 2020, many American families will be comprised of four generations in a single household. Other examples of multigenerational households might include immigrants living with relatives during the time they adjust to a different culture and locate work, several generations living together because of a housing shortage or the high cost of housing, or unmarried mothers and their children living in their parents' homes. During periods of economic turndown, the number of multigenerational households can be expected to increase as families are forced out of their homes because of foreclosure after job losses.
As the reader might guess, a multigenerational living arrangement can lead to conflicts and other relational issues that need to be addressed, as illustrated in the following case study.
Joseph and Kalee are a married couple in their 30s and they have three children: Brian, age 10; Alyssa, age 8; and Kyle, age 4. Joseph works in heating and cooling as a skilled worker, and Kalee works as a hairstylist. Several months ago, Joseph's parents fell into some financial problems and had to move in to Joseph and Kalee's house. Together, the family of seven lives in a three-bedroom house with an attached suite that Joseph built for his parents.
Joseph and Kalee both typically work normal business hours, but occasionally Joseph is called out on emergency repair jobs, and Kalee sometimes works late to accommodate her clientele. When Joseph's parents first moved in, space was limited, and the family had some difficulty adjusting. Together they solved this by pooling their resources and building the attached suite on the house. This was an almost ideal situation because Joseph's parents were able to provide live-in child care if Joseph or Kalee was unable to be home on time.
After several months, however, things were not going so smoothly. Joseph's father, Robert, had taken more and more of a paternal role in his grandchildren's lives. Robert was often disciplining the kids before Joseph or Kalee could intervene, and the adults in the household had very different disciplinary approaches to raising children. Joseph and Kalee both spoke with Robert and his wife, Mary, on several occasions, but the discussions seemed to go nowhere. The entire family presents to counseling to devise a plan so they can all live under one roof without damaging relationships.
If you were the counselor for this family, how do you think you would begin the session? Would you suggest goals for the family counseling process, or would you ask the family to establish goals for themselves? Why or why not? What, if anything, do you anticipate would be difficult for this family to discuss?
An estimated 3.5 million Americans comprise the active duty and reserve military armed forces in the United States (Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, 2012). Currently, there is increasing concern about lack of support for those returning after deployment and attempting to reintegrate into the mainstream of community and family life, as well as into the workforce. Military families face the same issues that other families face, but often resolution of these issues is complicated because of deployment and redeployment experiences.
A transgender family may be comprised of both adults and children. Often a transgender family is one in which one of the adults has decided to transition to the opposite gender. Such a transition can be confusing to many (e.g., the children in the family, neighbors, relatives, coworkers), and changing gender can precipitate the need for counseling connected with a variety of issues that were not previously part of the family dynamics. Because this is a type of family system that many people know little about, the following case study may prove helpful.
John has always felt as though he did not have the correct body and that he should be a woman. He remembers going to sleep as a child and hoping he would wake up a girl. John learned to push these feelings down, and he became hypermasculine. Eventually John married Melissa, and they had two children, RJ and Becky.
John shared his feelings with Melissa when they got married, but his feelings seemed to be put on hold when they got pregnant. John later decided he would like to start transitioning, but thought he would wait until RJ was 18 years old. However, they got pregnant again, and John was both happy and frustrated.
Once Becky was 11, John decided he would like to begin transitioning. He talked to Melissa, and together they told the kids. RJ (then 22) was immediately defensive and stormed out with his girlfriend, and they stayed away for a couple days. Becky cried a lot, but then started asking a lot of questions. John found a counselor to work with as he started the transition process. John eventually chose the female name Jennifer and began taking on a female persona.
The process of the transition was difficult and lengthy. Jennifer went through the courts to change her name and started taking hormones. Jennifer also began wearing female clothes and coming out to her coworkers, friends, and family. As Jennifer's identity became more prominent, her marriage to Melissa began to weaken. Melissa does not have good memories of the marriage and now does not know how to feel about Jennifer's transition. Melissa and Jennifer come to counseling to work on their relationship and determine the new roles in the relationship, or even if the relationship will continue. Jennifer would very much like to remain in the relationship, but Melissa is having trouble with the idea of having a wife instead of a husband. The stress is also taking its toll on the relationships with the kids. The entire family decides to go to counseling for help.
Do you think you would be able to counsel such a family? Why or why not? If you felt you could not do a competent job on behalf of this family, what would you do and how would this decision relate to the ACA code of ethics?
All of the previously described family types experience family life cycles over time. The next section provides a generalized description of what many families experience. As one might expect, however, no single description can account for variations caused by individual family characteristics and changes in society.
Family life cycle theory describes the developmental stages a family usually experiences as time passes (Berge, Loth, Hanson, Croll-Lampert, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2011). A number of researchers and theorists have addressed the topic of the family life cycle; Evelyn Duvall (1977) was one of the first to draw this topic to the attention of practitioners. Duvall's model was based on the concept of the traditional nuclear family so popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Other professionals (Becvar & Becvar, 2000; Carter & McGoldrick, 1999; Gladding, 2007) have also addressed this topic.
One of the dilemmas inherent in describing the life cycle of a family is the fact that most depictions are stage theories and are linear in nature and those practicing couples, marriage, and family counseling think systemically and interactively. Stage theories, although helpful in assessing critical tasks that are usually experienced during a specified period of time, do not completely address the interpersonal relationships, power hierarchies, and family rules, and they provide only a snapshot of what transpires at a given time. In addition, they do not take into account the couple or family's interaction with the systems around them, variances from family to family, the impact of culture, and the many forms or types of families found in the United States and other countries today. That being said, subsequent discussion of the topic will provide the reader with an outline of the normal, developmental stages of the family life cycle and the tasks and issues that need to be addressed at each stage.
This stage is characterized by the necessity of facing the critical task of differentiating from the family of origin and developing a new relationship with parents. Both the young adult and parents may experience some starts and stops as the young adult transitions to a more independent lifestyle and parents adjust to letting go of control. The young adult may further develop peer relationships, experiment with the establishment of a career, and assess whether a marital relationship is the option of choice.
Many young adults choose to live with someone of the same or opposite sex and gain experience with maintaining a day-to-day relationship with the same person. This is very different than what the norm was 50 or 60 years ago, and it provides couples with a rehearsal prior to making a marriage commitment. It is during this time that some young adults experience pressure to marry, which can be internally, as well as externally, imposed. In some cases, issues connected with lack of ability to separate from the family of origin or with difficulty in maintaining even short-term relationships can precipitate the need for counseling.
In the past, this second stage of the family life cycle could easily be labeled “the newly married couple,” but because so many couples live together without being married, such a label would be a misnomer today. This is the stage during which both individuals adjust to what they think will be a long-term relationship, work through their idealized perceptions of each other, make room for their partner in each of their families of origin, and further develop career goals.
This stage could last anywhere from a few months to a few years and often involves a series of role modification expectations. Marriage may or may not occur during this early stage of the family life cycle, and, based on the laws in a particular state, if a marriage does take place, it could be between two people of the same or opposite genders. Issues, if they arise, can relate to a myriad of topics inclusive of changing perceptions and roles, lack of acceptance in families of origin, the beginnings of career competition between the individuals in the relationship, and conflicts over the importance of making a marriage commitment.
Interview a new couple and ask them about some of the adjustments they have had to make since moving in together. These could be related to living together, pressures experienced from their respective families, and so on. Ask them to identify which of these adjustments could precipitate a decision to seek couples counseling. Evaluate whether you think you could counsel a couple around the identified area. What kind of supervision do you think you would need?
Starting a family requires changes in routine, loss of freedom, the escalation of responsibility, and an alteration of lifestyle. One way of describing this stage would be to point out that the marital or couples system has to be adjusted to make room for a parenting role. In addition, the extended family must adjust to grandparenting during this stage. New parents, more likely than not, experience fatigue, a changed social calendar and less time available to spend with friends, interruption of career-related work habits, and the necessity to alter financial and other priorities.
Parenting requires around-the-clock responsibility for child care and safety. Unlike many of the neighborhoods of the 1950s and 1960s, neighborhoods today may be too traffic and crime ridden to allow children the free, unsupervised run of the neighborhood, and parents must drive children to activities and monitor many children's activities on a full-time basis. Many couples make play dates with parents of other children in their desire to make sure their preschool-aged children engage in age-appropriate activities with peers. Any of these responsibilities associated with child rearing could precipitate the need for couples or family counseling.
Allowing children to establish connections that parents are not involved in monitoring on a full-time basis often presents the biggest challenge for parents of children who are entering preschool, kindergarten, or first grade. Parents often have trouble letting go, even if children are only at school for part of the day, because up to this point, parents may have been with their children on a full-time basis. Even though most parents want to support their children's educational progress and extended socialization opportunities with peers, they worry about how the child will fare at school and may even experience feelings of loss. These feelings of loss may relate to the absence of the child in the home or under parental supervision on a full- or part-time basis, or they may relate to generalized feelings of loss of control. In many instances, parents experience even more demands on their time as the children express interest in participating in an increasing number of activities. Parents sometimes lose touch with each other as these demands crescendo.
As might be expected during this stage of the life cycle of a family, parents may struggle to balance responsibilities between work and home, and conflicts over child supervision can occur with more frequency as parental stress escalates. Sometimes one member of the parental dyad begins to feel overburdened, and confusion or arguments over whose career has priority may occur, especially if each adult is quite committed to climbing a career ladder. It is not unusual for any of these areas to precipitate the need for counseling.
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