Handbook of Family Therapy: The Science and Practice of Working with Families and Couples

By Thomas L. Sexton; Gerald R. Weeks et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1

Eras of Epistemology

A Survey of Family Therapy Thinking and Theorizing

DOROTHY S.BECVAR, PhD

The Haelan Centers, St. Louis, MO


INTRODUCTION

The idea of working with entire families was a unique aspect of a transformation in thinking and theorizing that ushered in a new discipline in the field of mental health-that of family therapy. Moving away from a strict focus on individuals and their psyches, consideration began to be given to relationship systems and the contexts in which people live, problems emerge, and solutions may be found. Often perceived as merely a different technique, this shift to working with families, in fact, signaled the beginning of a scientific revolution and the emergence of an alternative paradigm (Kuhn, 1970)

A paradigm, according to Thomas Kuhn (1970), is a set of presuppositions regarding the nature of the world, the problems within that world worthy of investigation, and the appropriate methods for investigating the particular problems thus identified. It is a coherent belief system by means of which scientists know and attempt to understand reality, providing a relatively inflexible framework within which solutions are sought during periods of normal science. The appearance of anomalies not explainable by the rules of the paradigm initiates a crisis characterized by a search for new explanations and a period of extraordinary science in which basic beliefs are subject to reconstruction. A paradigm shift occurs with the establishment of an alternative belief system, by means of which the world is seen from a different perspective and old events take on new meaning.

Gregory Bateson (1972), anthropologist and major contributor to the paradigm shift represented by systems theory/cybernetics and family therapy, used the term epistemology synonymously with paradigms, applying it not only to the theoretical frameworks of scientists

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