Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Trainees' Conjugal Family Experience, Current Intergenerational Family Relationships, and the Therapeutic Alliance

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Trainees' Conjugal Family Experience, Current Intergenerational Family Relationships, and the Therapeutic Alliance

Article excerpt

This study examines the relationship between trainees' conjugal family experience, current intergenerational family relationships, and the client's perception of the therapeutic alliance. Participants were 74 first practicum family therapy trainees, representing two family therapy programs, and 90 clients. Results indicated a moderately significant relationship between conjugal family experience and trainees' reported intergenerational intimacy with parents. Additionally, clients whose therapists had conjugal family experience reported a slightly more favorable therapeutic alliance than clients whose therapists did not have conjugal family experience. Additionally, trainees with conjugal family experience reported more current intimacy and individuation than nonconjugal trainees and felt less intimidated by their parents.

The importance of therapists' personal characteristics has a long history in psychotherapy in general (Rogers, 1957) and in family therapy in particular (Bowen, 1978; Guerin & Hubbard, 1987). Research on general psychotherapy outcomes consistently supports the position that the beneficial effects of therapy are more closely related to therapists' personal characteristics than to any specific intervention or approach (Crits-Christoph & Mintz, 1991; Lambert, 1989). Studies of therapist characteristics related to therapist and client interaction have been particularly significant (Beutler, Machado, & Neufeldt, 1994). However, family therapy research has produced little empirical research pertaining to therapists' characteristics and in-session behavior. Notable exceptions are the work of Bruenlin et al. (1989) and Pinsof and Catherall (1986).

Bruenlin et al. (1989) studied the type of trainees who perform best in family therapy training programs. Of particular interest is their conclusion that trainees who have life experience relating to spouses and/or children of their own (conjugal family experience) are better able to incorporate the therapeutic skills of family therapy as measured by the Family Therapy Assessment Exercise.

Pinsof and Catherall (1986) extended the study of the therapeutic alliance to the relationship between the therapist system and the client system. Using a systemic framework, they developed the Integrative Psychotherapy Alliance Scales for families, couples, and individuals (Pinsof & Catherall, 1986). They argue that the ability to form a collaborative relationship with clients has its origins and sustaining potency in the trainees' personal family life experience (Catherall & Pinsoff, 1987; Guerin & Hubbard, 1987; Wilcoxon, Walker, & Hovestadt, 1989).

From a theoretical perspective, Williamson's (1991) concept of personal authority in the family system (PAFS) appears to have relevance to therapists' personal characteristics and their interaction with clients. He suggests that in most people's lives, the fourth and fifth decades are significant periods for the development of a healthy balance between individuation and intimacy in significant relationships (e.g., with parents, a spouse or partner, children, and clients). However, Williamson (1981) believed that age alone is not the determining factor. Rather, one's willingness and ability to achieve PAFS is based on a number of life events that most individuals do not experience until somewhere between the ages of 30 and 45. The context for experiencing many, but not all, of these life events is conjugal family experience-a significant relationship apart from the family of origin, such as marriage and parenthood. Conjugal family experience clearly provides a context for two life events relevant to the current research effort: (1) establishing a significant relationship outside the family of origin; and (2) identifying with one's parents by the experience of parenthood.

Based on Williamson's theory, conjugal family experience serves as a primary stage for achieving many of the life tasks that are necessary for the development of a healthy balance between individuation and intimacy in significant relationships. …

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