Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Considering Justice: An Exploratory Study of Family Therapy with Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Considering Justice: An Exploratory Study of Family Therapy with Adolescents

Article excerpt

Feminist approaches to therapy with adolescents emphasize an empowering focus on the strengths of adolescents while simultaneously insisting that therapists become aware of their own biases toward today's adolescents. However a review of the family therapy literature finds little mention of feminist approaches for addressing injustices (e.g., family scapegoating, negative societal views of adolescents, and gender oppression) that arise in family therapy with adolescents. Therefore, this study explores clinical approaches and resources suggested by a surveyed group of selfidentified feminist family therapists. In addition, we also recommend several approaches and resources that will aid family therapists in creating a more just climate for family therapy with youth.

The incorporation of social justice perspectives into family therapy training, practice, and research has been a recent focus of family therapy scholarship (e.g, Bograd, 1999; Haddock, Zimmerman, & MacPhee, 2000; McGoldrick et al., 1999). These authors focus on intersections of race, class, sexual orientation, and gender as they relate to the training and practice of family therapy. Goldner (1988) recognized that families are organized by both age and gender, and she implored family therapists to reduce power differentials based on gender within family therapy. However, age is an additional intersection that has been relatively ignored by family therapists, especially as it relates to just family therapy practice. Just as most family therapists are unlikely to address gender in their clinical practice (Carter, 1992; Haddock & Bowling, in press), they are also unlikely to address unhealthy levels of power and control over children and adolescents, even when violence, abuse, and incest are occurring. In an analysis of the clinical approaches adopted by 71 American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) clinical members, Gilbert (1995) found that most therapists ignored feminist principles by glossing over violence towards youth, even in cases of incest. Further, we would argue that when the identified problem in a family is an adolescent (as opposed to a younger child), it is even more likely that family therapists will ignore power and control over teenagers due to negative, ageist cultural messages regarding adolescents.

In mainstream literature, new attention has been focused on society's negative views regarding teens (i.e., Cannon & Kleiner, 2000; Hine, 1999; Howe & Strauss, 2000; Males, 1996). Subsequent to recent episodes of teenage violence, adults, teachers, and the general public are increasingly viewing adolescents negatively. Viewed as being unworthy of power and rights, adolescents are often treated with disrespect and even contempt (Anderson, 1997; Males, 1996). According to Males (1996), youth of recent generations have often been scapegoated as the cause of societal problems. Howe and Strauss (2000, p. 3) sum up the view that many adults have of our youth:

Until very recently, the public has been accustomed to nonstop media chatter about bad kids-- from mass murders, hate criminals, and binge drinkers to test failers, test cheaters, drug users, and just all-around spoiled brats. To believe the news, you'd suppose our schools are full of kids who can't read in the classroom, shoot one another in the hallways, spend their loose change on tongue rings, and couldn't care less who runs the country. According to a national survey, barely one adult in three thinks today's kids, once grown, will make the world a better place.

This trend toward increasingly biased, prejudiced attitudes regarding today's adolescents calls all adults, and family therapists in particular, to become aware of their own prejudices and biases towards teens.

Like all stereotypes and prejudices, ageist assumptions about our teenagers can have negative consequences for their lives. Family therapists must remember that each adolescent is unique and worthy of respect, even if they have a tongue piercing and pink hair. …

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