Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Healing the World in Fifty-Minute Intervals: A Response to "Family Therapy Saves the Planet"

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Healing the World in Fifty-Minute Intervals: A Response to "Family Therapy Saves the Planet"

Article excerpt

This is a very timely article in that it appears during an era when we, as a professional community, seem to be struggling with our own version of a crisis in meaning. As a profession, we are inundated with a host of self-reflective questions regarding our future, mission, and purpose. Some of our reflections are probably attributable to the "normal" developmental milestones that a young profession ordinarily encounters. However, we also seem to be embroiled in a number of other questions that appear to be indicative of some broader professional existential crisis. Questions that I both hear and often ask are: What do we do next? What do we stand for? Will the once radical profession continue to go mainstream? Have we exhausted the frontier? Is managed care . . . or are pharmaceutical companies . . . or is our society's new-found fixation and fascination with punishment... the new frontier? Is there simply, and realistically, no more territory to explore? Can we, as a group of professionals dedicated to "helping specific couples and families enjoy better relationships" (Johnson, this issue, p. 4), be satisfied with limiting the scope of this worthy goal to only that which occurs within the four intimate walls of therapy? Can we really assume a procouple, profamily stance while simultaneously and tacitly colluding with any number of broader societal forces that create havoc in families and the individuals that participate in them? Do we direct our attention and energy to matters of professional survival such as vendorship, licensure, and so on, or do we concern ourselves with healing the world? Is it possible, even desirable, to attempt to find a balance between the two? Finally, there is the poignant question that "Family therapy saves the planet" crystallizes for us: Is it appropriate for family therapy to concern itself with saving the world?

Admittedly, I am, to some degree, "one of those" who is guilty of raising the social justice bar for family therapists. I believe that as family therapists, we do have a mandate to do our small part to transform the human condition, especially as it maligns the lives of those we serve. As a family therapist, I believe that I should cease to serve as therapist when I become unwilling or unable to assume the position of activist.

The author noted that it was "remarkable" that the speakers at a recent national American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) annual meeting would make "implicit and explicit" statements that "it was manifestly the mission of the clinical profession to solve national and international problems of conflict and bigotry" (Johnson, this issue, p. 3). As messianic as this sounds, I do not consider it unreasonable or impractical for family therapy to have as one of its missions addressing problems of conflict and bigotry.

The author also reminds us that these seemingly inappropriate, grandiose declarations to save the world were being echoed at "a gathering of people dedicated and trained not to end human injustice but to help couples and families experiencing emotional distress" (Johnson, this issue, p. 3). Moreover, the author implies that missions to save the world should be the province of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International and not of organizations like AAMFT or of a profession such as family therapy. In my opinion, herein lies one of the dangers with the position advanced by the author: Segregated thinking. I do not believe that promoting the cause of human rights is inconsistent with helping couples and families ameliorate distress in their lives. One of the major perils of segregated thinking is that it makes it impossible for us to see the connectedness of all matter. From my perspective, it would seem illogical, far fetched, and ill advised to make even a remote effort to help couples and families to enhance the quality of their lives without also attending rather acutely to issues of justice, equity, and fairness. …

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