What is the history of the progression of marriage and family therapy?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Up until the 1980's, marriage and family therapy was rather limited in scope, but since then it has become marked by a wider range of definition as well as by a diversity of approaches and sources. That is, modern family therapy and marriage counseling are more focused upon solving problems than in identifying the causes of these problems as was the case in earlier family therapy. Also, modern family therapy takes in many more types of interrelationships and approaches to solutions than in earlier days of marriage and family counseling.

As a distinct practice, family therapy probably began in the nineteenth century in the United States and in Great Britain with the social work movement which began to focus upon the family not as a single unit, but as a unit composed of individuals. In 1942  the American Association of Marriage Counselors gave to marriage counseling its formal development; at this time there were influences from the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud and Josef Bruer, social psychiatry, which places a emphasis upon the interpersonal and cultural and socio-economic effects upon people, and Behaviorism, a psychology concerned with the observable cognition and emotion.  

Today the family is not defined merely by the members of the immediate family as was formerly done; instead, other relatives and even close neighbors who are involved in the family dynamics are involved in direct participation in therapy sessions. This method provides the therapist with conversations among all that are involved in a manner that "catalyses" the information, the experiences, and the strengths of the members of this dynamic.

In addition, a broader definition of "family therapy" has been created as it is extended to organizational psychology, the study of human behavior in the workplace. By means of this psychology, the workplace "family" dynamics are improved through therapy that addresses "the performance, satisfaction, safety, health of employees." Also, rather than the three approaches of psychoanalysis, social psychiatry and behaviorism, other methods are employed, such as multicultural, intercultural, and integrativecognitive and behavioral approaches, psychodynamic and object relations approaches. Other therapies are also utilized, such as  brief therapystructural therapyconstructivist and solution-focused therapy, and narrative therapy.  

There are also many more techniques in use than in the earlier years of marriage and family counseling. Some of these techniques include the following:

  • Structural Therapy - A therapy that identifies and strives for re-organization of the family system
  • Strategic Therapy - A therapy that examines the interactions among family members and others closely involved in their dynamics
  • Systemic/Milan Therapy - A therapy that focuses upon the family's philosophies and belief systems.
  • Narrative Therapy - A therapy that works to separate the problem from person with an emphasis upon the context of the problem.
  • Transgenerational Therapy - A therapy that examines the transference of disabling patterns of behavior or beliefs from generation to generation or one family member to another.
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