Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Association between Current Intergenerational Family Relationships and Sibling Structure

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Association between Current Intergenerational Family Relationships and Sibling Structure

Article excerpt

The counseling profession has historically placed great importance on developmental stages and processes (Ivey, 1991). Theories of individual development (e.g., Erikson, 1963), family development (e.g., Carter & McGoldrick, 1989), and intergenerational family development (e.g., Bowen, 1978) provide a critical background for understanding individual and family change processes. Several of these theories focus exclusively on adult development (e.g., Levinson, 1986; Vaillant, 1977). These theories are different along many dimensions but generally include the concept that a particular task of adulthood is the integration of a sense of individuation with intimacy in relationships (Lawson, 1996; Williamson, 1991).

From a developmental perspective, the emergence of individuation, or autonomy, in relation to one's family is a crucial task for individual and relational functioning within and beyond the family [Bowen, 1978; Gerson, 1995; Williamson, 1991). Individuation is the ability of an individual to operate in an autonomous and self-directed fashion in a relational context without being overly influenced, harmed, or feeling excessively responsible for significant others [Bowen, 1978). The notion of individuation includes the concept of intimacy, with both individuation and intimacy being necessary for healthy relational functioning (Williamson, 1991). Research indicates that the development of individuation with respect to parents has a critical influence on adults' psychological and health functioning (Harvey & Bray, 1991), peer relationships [Bray & Harvey, 1991), and spouse/partner relationships (Williamson, 1991).The individuation process is particularly critical in the parent-child relationship because the resultant interactional patterns learned in interaction with parents tend to be recreated in subsequent generations as well as in extra-familial relationships (Harvey, Curry, & Bray, 1991; Kerr & Bowen, 1988).

The developmental process of individuation and its relationship to individual and relational functioning are also important concepts for effective counseling with adults (Williamson, 1991).Within a developmental framework, many personal problems are viewed as occurring when individuals encounter difficulty in successfully negotiating a particular set of stage tasks (Glick, Berman, Clarkin, & Rait, 2000). An appreciation of the individuation process provides counselors with a developmental context for understanding adaptive and nonadaptive change processes, gauging appropriate interventions, and establishing appropriate counseling goal expectations (Ivey, 1991; Lawson, 1996). Thus, it is important to consider specific developmental tasks as a backdrop for the client's presenting problem. For example, people functioning at different levels of individuation tend to respond to life stresses, and particularly relational stresses, with different degrees of effectiveness (Harvey & Bray, 1991; Harvey et al., 1991). It would be expected that a young adult of 20 with relatively few life experiences would be dealing with different individuation issues than a 35-year-old adult with more life experiences, even if the presenting problem were the same. Each would likely possess a different capacity to respond to similar life stressors and thus would need a different intervention as well as different expectations for change (Williamson, 1991).

The development of individuation has been attributed to parents' level of intimacy and individuation (Harvey et al., 1991), family cohesion (Rice, Cole, & Lapsley, 1990), attachment style (Mayseless, Danieli, & Sharabany, 1996), gender role (Maslach, Santee, & Wade, 1987), and sibling influence (Byrd, DeRosa, & Craig, 1993; Sputa & Paulson, 1995). Of these areas, sibling influence has received the greatest attention in the literature and is a focal issue in the present study.


Recent research regarding siblings has focused primarily on four areas: (a) the developmental course of sibling relationships (Buhrmester, 1992), (b) the connection between sibling relationships and intergenerational family relationships (Silverstein & Bengtson, 1997), (c) the influence of sibling relationships on social and personality development (Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992), and (d) the basis for individual differences between siblings (Hetherington, Reiss, & Plomin, 1994). …

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