Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

AAMFT Master Series Tapes: An Analysis of the Inclusions of Feminist Principles into Family Therapy Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

AAMFT Master Series Tapes: An Analysis of the Inclusions of Feminist Principles into Family Therapy Practice

Article excerpt

Content analysis of 23 American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Master Series tapes was used to determine how well feminist behaviors have been incorporated into "ideal" family therapy practice. Feminist behaviors were infrequent, being evident in fewer than 3% of time blocks in event sampling and 10 of 39 feminist behaviors of the Feminist Family Therapist Behavior Checklist. These eminent therapists most often dealt with empowerment of male clients and management of power differentials in the therapeutic relationship in a relatively feminist manner but they tended to hold women responsible for family issues, endorsed traditional rather than egalitarian relationships, and overlooked how the social context affects families. Several of the therapists were blatantly sexist in their treatment of female clients, communicating disrespect of and pathologizing them. The few tapes portraying effective incorporation of feminist principles in family therapy indicate that a handful of behaviors are key to this approach.

In the last 2 decades, feminist scholars have critiqued family therapy for ignoring the dynamics of gender and power in its theories, practice, and training (e.g., Avis, 1988; Bograd, 1986; Goldner, 1988; Goodrich, Rampage, Ellman, & Halstead, 1988; Hare-Mustin, 1978; McGoldrick, Anderson, & Walsh, 1989; Walters, Carter, Papp, & Silversein, 1988). Although the feminist critique has spurred some progress, such as the mandate that training programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation on Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) address the topic of gender in their curricula, researchers have found that family therapists do not adequately address the organizing principle of gender in their practice. For instance, in an analysis of the clinical approach adopted by 71 clinical members of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), Gilbert (1995) found a general lack of attention to feminist principles, even in situations of wife battering and incest. Haddock and Bowling (in press) found that only one-third of AAMFT clinical members would directly address the inequities in a dual-earner couple's division of household and parenting responsibility in treatment plans, even when this inequity was presented as a key presenting problem by the female client. Werner-Wilson, Price, Zimmerman, and Murphy (1998) reported that therapists interrupt female clients significantly more than male clients. These findings underscore the importance of determining the degree to which feminist principles are incorporated in the actual practice of family therapy, and of evaluating and improving training methods in family therapy.

Analyzing the degree to which feminist principles are applied in the AAMFT Master Series tapes is important for several reasons. First, these tapes are among the few resources that demonstrate live therapy sessions. Although the feminist critique of family therapy models has been well articulated theoretically, it has had little empirical documentation (McCollum & Russell, 1992). This study tests the assertions of the feminist critique as evidenced in the actual practice of eminent family therapists. It may illuminate which feminist principles are being addressed most successfully by leading practitioners, and which are being neglected.

The Master Series sessions are widely regarded as a kind of "standard of excellence" in practice. Sponsored by AAMFT and filmed live at national conferences, they are later marketed to a broad professional audience of practitioners, and they are used as demonstration tapes in clinical training programs. The featured therapists are considered to be leaders in the field. Therefore, the degree to which feminist principles are addressed in the sessions on these tapes has important implications. First, analysis of the tapes is one means of answering the question: To what extent does "best practice" in the family therapy field include attention to gender and power dynamics? …

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