Pluralism, Diversity, and Sophistication
in Family Therapy Research
DOUGLAS H. SPRENKLE
FRED P. PIERCY
One of our main hopes in editing the second edition of Research Methods in Family Therapy is to enhance the status of research in the field, while also making the science of marriage and family therapy (MFT) more accessible to clinicians and students. Over the course of its history, the field of MFT has had an ambivalent relationship with research. On the one hand, the early family therapy pioneers considered themselves to be “researchers,” and both Wynne (1983) and Haley (1978) claimed that in the early days there was no distinction between therapists and researchers. Such notables as Lyman Wynne, Murray Bowen, Theodore Litz, Gregory Bateson, Don Jackson, Jay Haley, and others came to family therapy though studying interactional patterns associated with problem families (Broderick & Schrader, 1981; Sprenkle & Moon, 1996). As the field has developed, it has always had an active (if small) research tradition— and, based on a thorough review of outcome research in the field (Sprenkle, 2002), one could make a case for the claim that some of the effectiveness research in MFT is among the most impressive in the clinical social sciences.
On the other hand, one can also make a case that although MFT is now more than 60 years old, the growth of the field has depended more on its intuitive appeal than on solid research evidence for its efficacy (Nichols & Schwartz, 1995). One explanation may be that the field's leaders were often highly charismatic individuals who were less interested in authenticating their claims than in building a following. Another explanation may be that the master's degree was established early (1970) as the minimal entry point into the field, and most master's-degree programs (with notable exceptions) have not offered rigorous research training. As the field grew, it also seemed to attract predominantly practically oriented clinicians who had neither the time nor the inclination for the laborious research enterprise. One study noted that over 80% of the members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) work in settings that can be considered predominantly clinical (Sprenkle, Bailey, Lyness, Ball, & Mills, 1997).