Foundations of Family Therapy: A Conceptual Framework for Systems Change

By Lynn Hoffman | Go to book overview
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Chapter 17
Issues on the Cutting Edge

The Turning Facets of Resistance

One of the first signals to early researchers that a psychiatric symptom might be a family phenomenon was the often noted fact that if the problem of the identified patient improved, other problems might arise. Clinicians called this tendency "symptom substitution" (a term used in individual psychotherapy), as if there were something about certain families that required a symptom, much the way a dragon needs a virgin for breakfast. This puzzing idea -- why would a family "need" a symptom? -- baffled therapists in the days before it was realized what a beautiful, serviceable, well-constructed artifact a symptom is, thoughtfully provided by nature to help families that were terrified (probably for good reasons) by the threat of change.

We have become more respectful of families since we have gained a better understanding of the intricate mechanisms that evolve to monitor such threats. Living systems usually have at number of ways to damp down fluctuations that might lead to change. The therapist may find himself feeling like those princes who keep going off and completing tasks against great odds to win the hand of the

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