The family and therapy
The term family therapy can be misleading. ‘Family’ is open to many interpretations, if not attacks, because it is frequently read as implying a two-parent, heterosexual couple with two children, with the woman primarily the ‘homemaker’ and the man the ‘breadwinner’, with occasional backup from the grandparents. Such a picture would seem to marginalise or exclude other family forms, such as childless couples, single parents with children, gay or lesbian couples and unattached elderly persons. However, the reality is that family therapists treat many different forms of committed relationships and friendships. As to the term therapy, it tends to imply the presence of illness or dysfunction, located in the family rather than one of its individual members, and may thus be quite unacceptable to families who often believe that it is the patient and not them whom requires help. Being at the receiving end of family therapy can have strong connotations of blame. Practitioners therefore increasingly use the term systemic therapy, which is also more informative because some of the work often involves the wider system. The systemic approach is essentially a contextual approach – seeing and treating people in context.