Family life in the West on the one hand has typically been seen as private, as a ‘haven’ – yet at the same time there have been repeated attempts to explore, intervene in, direct, discipline and educate families. There have been attempts to correct the morals of the socalled ‘feckless’ or ‘irresponsible’ families, to see single-parent families as ‘welfare scroungers’ and so on. Aside from such overt attempts at shaping family life and conduct, there is a proliferation of more covert and insidious influences, such as images in magazines, television and films about what is desirable and acceptable – from interior decor to children’s education and sexual practices.
These images and stereotypes have spread further to embrace not just families but also the activities of professionals in the business of bringing about change in families. Systemic and family therapy, like other therapies, has changed and developed to acknowledge that a consideration of people’s understandings and how these are related to the culture in which they live is vital. There is a growing overlap between the various models developed since the 1950s, the psychological frameworks that professionals employ, and ‘ordinary’ people’s knowledge. Most people these days have powerful ideas and expectations about what therapy will be like as well as their own explanations about what is wrong and what should change.
In this introductory chapter we will consider some voices from people who have experienced systemic and family therapy and from the therapists who have worked with them. How do people experience this process called systemic and family therapy? Is it really experienced as helpful? Do they feel that something has been done to them? How does it change their relationships with each other? Is there some kind of magical experience that means severe problems can change and disappear?