An Introduction to Family Therapy: Systemic Theory and Practice

By Rudi Dallos; Ros Draper | Go to book overview

3 The third phase
mid-1980s to 2000

I sometimes think that 99 per cent of the suffering that comes in through
the door has to do with how devalued people feel by the labels that have
been applied to them or the derogatory opinions they hold about
themselves.

(Hoffman 1993: 79)


Cultural landscape

The shift from the first to the second phase of systemic therapy saw a movement from an emphasis on pattern and process to an emphasis on beliefs and personal meanings. Importantly, there was also a move towards seeing the therapist as necessarily influenced by his or her own beliefs and prejudices. In the third phase there is a growing awareness of the social and cultural contexts that shape both families’ and therapists’ beliefs. The seeds for this movement had been germinating especially in the work of therapists inspired by feminist perspectives and more broadly in the emerging social constructionist theories. These were articulated, for example, in the USA by Ken Gergen, Lynn Hoffman and others, in France by Michael Foucault and in Australia by Michael White. Outside family therapy the roots of social constructionism lay in attempts to explain the phenomena of prejudice, racism, gender stereotypes and sexualities. Inspired by feminism in the USA, there was an increasing sensitivity to and interest in the way language contained the heritage of ideas and assumptions of any given culture, for example in the hitherto unquestioned usage of terms such as ‘housewife’, ‘chairman’, ‘primitive culture’, ‘neurotic’ and ‘mentally ill’. The accumulation of critiques of family therapy led to a realization that family life, including the development of ‘problems’, was fundamentally shaped by language. Just as feminism had raised awareness of the nature of sexist conversation in the workplace and in education,

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