Tuesday, June 01, 2010


A Review of The Family Crucible

The Family Crucible, by Napier and Whitaker (1978), reads like a novel while at the same time laying down some of the fundamental concepts of family systems therapy. It is a case study of one family's experience in family therapy. While the therapy shifts from daughter to son and then to parent interaction to daughters and son, it is finally the couple's marriage that must be treated if issues are to be resolved. Even the grandparents are brought into therapy to get at the family of origin issues.

The book opens with a quote from James Agee and Walker Evans: "The family must take care of itself; it has no mother or father; there is no shelter, nor resource, nor any love, interest, sustaining strength or comfort, so near, nor can anything happy or sorrowful that comes to anyone in this family possibly mean to those outside it what it means to those within it; but it is, as I have told, inconceivably lonely, drawn upon itself as tramps are drawn round a fire in the cruelest weather; and thus and in such loneliness it exists among other families, each of which is no less lonely, nor any less without help or comfort, and is likewise drawn in upon itself."

Through the telling of the Brice family's story, Napier and Whitaker illustrate underlying dynamics such as structural imbalances in the system and how child focus is a typical method used by unhappy couples to avoid dealing with their own marital and family of origin issues. Fusion, triangles, individual and family life cycle stages, family-of-origin themes, polarization, reciprocity, blaming, and the hierarchy and characteristics of living systems are among the concepts that are explained and illustrated through this family's therapy experience. David and Carolyn, an unhappily married couple, are the parents of Claudia (the IP), Laura, and Don. The book is well written and hard to put down once you start reading it.

Whitaker has been criticized in the field, because many people believe that he does not really have a theory. It is believed that it is only his charismatic personality that drives his treatment. I disagree. I believe that one has only to read his chapter in The Handbook of Family Therapy (1981) and see these concepts illustrated in The Family Crucible to realize the depth and breadth of his theory.

In the service of reviewing the book, it is useful to consider Whitaker's background and key theoretical concepts. He began as an OB/GYN and had no formal psychiatric training. He became involved in treating schizophrenics after World War II. Whitaker was interested in understanding disturbed relationships in a familial context and in determining whether serious symptoms such as those in psychotics might be reinforced by dysfunctional family patterns and beliefs.

From 1946 to 1955, Whitaker (1981) became involved in treating schizophrenia with a type of aggressive play therapy. In fact, Whitaker's most formative training was in a child guidance clinic where he learned play therapy (Whitaker, 1981). Whitaker used some outrageous methods, including learning to talk "crazy," arm wrestling, use of a baby bottle, and rocking, all of which were rooted in his training experience.

At the same time that he developed these techniques, he developed a kind of pyknolepsy, wherein he would fall asleep in the middle of a session. He would dream about his relationship with the patient being treated, and then make his associations to the dream a part of the therapy session (Whitaker, 1981). In justifying his unique techniques, Whitaker emphasized that "Each technique is a process whereby the therapist is developing himself and using the patient as an intermediary, that is the therapist is interacting in a primary process model" (p. 188).

In 1946, Whitaker (1981) moved to Emory, where he became chair of the Department of Psychiatry. It was here that he developed dual co-therapy with Dr. Thomas Malone. In 1964, Whitaker worked with David Keith to develop a postgraduate specialty in MFT at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. The development of symbolic-experiential methodology required students to ". . . take everything said by the patient as symbolically important as well as realistically factual" (Whitaker, 1981, p. 189).

Whitaker (1981) defined health as ". . . a process of perpetual becoming" (p. 190). He emphasized that what is most important in a healthy family is ". . . the sense of an integrated whole. . . The healthy family is not a fragmented group nor a congealed group. . . The healthy family will utilize constructive input and handle negative feedback with power and comfort. The group is also therapist to the individuals" (p. 190). Whitaker also defines the healthy family as ". . . a three to four generational whole that is longitudinally integrated. . . maintaining a separation of the generations. Mother and father are not children and the children are not parents" (p. 190). Whitaker also looked at the degree of volitional access parents and children have to outside support and interests. The families of origin in healthy families are on friendly terms.

Importantly, Whitaker looked to spontaneity as a marker of healthy communication in families. The healthy family allows each member to admit to problems and to identify competencies. Thus, it is emphasized that healthy families allow great freedom for the individual to be himself. Whitaker (1981) states that ". . . normal families do no reify stress" (p. 190).

Whitaker (1981) emphasized that a basic characteristic of all healthy families is the availability of an "as if" structure, which permits different family members to take on different roles at different times. Roles result from interaction instead of being rigidly defined. They are defined by various conditions, including the past, present, future, culture, and demands of the family at a given time. On the other hand, Whitaker defined the dysfunctional family as ". . . characterized by a very limited sense of the whole" (p. 194). Lack of flexibility at times of change, covert communication, intolerance of conflict, lack of spontaneity, lack of empathy, blaming and scapegoating, a lack of playfulness, and little sense of humor are all markers of unhealthy families from Whitaker's perspective.

Whitaker placed heavy emphasis on the technique of co-therapy. In The Family Crucible, for example, the reader constantly witnesses Whitaker and Napier turn up the power. Whitaker and Napier's process techniques illustrated in the book are designed to disorganize rigid patterns of behavior directly in session. The exposure of covert behaviors is considered to be the family's misguided effort to stay in tact by submerging real feelings. There is a decisive here-and-now quality to symbolic-experiential interventions used in The Family Crucible, with a focus upon creating and then addressing en vivo emotional dynamics in therapy session.

Napier and Whitaker insisted that the entire Brice family be present in therapy. Indeed, Whitaker's symbolic-experiential treatment model considered it crucial to begin the treatment process with the entire family (Napier and Whitaker, 1978). Whitaker (1981) has emphasized that "Our demand to have the whole family in is the beginning of our 'battle for structure.' It begins with the first phone call" (p. 204). He asserts that it is ". . . difficult to do process-focused family therapy without the children" and the ". . . experiential quality of family therapy requires the children's presence" (p. 205). In the book, Napier and Whitaker (1978) frequently attempt change through playing and teasing, especially with Laura, Don, and Claudia. Members from David and Carolyn's families of origin are invited to session. Whitaker (1981) states that in arranging for four generations to come to interviews as consultants that he is ". . . helping to evolve a large system anxiety" (p. 204). Experience is privileged over cognitive engagement throughout the treatment with the Brice family, as it is conceptualized that experience trumps cognitive growth in this theory.

Napier and Whitaker (1978) describe their co-therapy as symbolic of a professional marriage. Early treatment of the Brice family involved the co-therapists making decisions. Symbolically, they viewed the family as a baby taking its first steps. As such, the family required structure, so it follows that the therapists made unilateral decisions. Once Napier and Whitaker had won the battle for control, the therapists, like parents raising children, soften considerably. In the middle phase of the Brice family's treatment, decisions about treatment were made more collaboratively. Again, the model for this process is increasing differentiation of the family. As therapy proceeded, the therapists took increasingly smaller roles, watching like proud parents as the Brice family became more integrated into changing themselves independent of the therapists. Whitaker (1981) clarifies that the therapy process ". . . begins with infancy and goes to late adolescence, where the initiative is with the kids, who then bear responsibility for their own living" (p. 107).

Throughout the book, it is implicitly and explicitly emphasized that the self-development of the therapists is the most important variable in the success of therapy. Napier and Whitaker (1978) acted as coaches or surrogate grandparents to the Brice family as therapy progressed. They were active and considered themselves to be the forces for change. Rather than a blank screen, they acted as allies of the family system. Especially in the beginning, Napier and Whitaker were directive. They used silence, confrontation and other anxiety-building techniques to unbalance the system. They acted as catalysts, who picked up on the unspoken and discovered the undercurrents represented by the family's symbolic communication patterns. The co-therapists privileged their subjective impressions.

More than anything else, Napier and Whitaker (1978) had the courage to be themselves. They knew how to meet the absurdities of life and how to bring out people's primary impulses. They believed strongly in the healing power of the human being, and, even more, of the family. They insisted that the family be in contact with its own craziness, play, and honor the spontaneous through their own modeling and directing.

The reader could observe how this symbolic-experiential therapy team moved through several stages. In the early part of treatment, the co-therapists battle for structure and they are all-powerful. In the mid-phase, the parental team functioned as stress activators, growth expanders, and creativity stimulators. Late in treatment, the co-therapists sat back and watched, respecting the independent functioning of the family. Whitaker (1981) holds that the "The sequence of joining and distancing is important. It is a lot like being with children. A father can get furious with his kids one minute, then be loving the next. We take the same stance with families" (p. 205). Thus, the role of the co-therapists was dynamic over the course of treatment with the Brice family.

Whether as a training therapist or a lay reader, it is inspirational to study the therapy offered by Napier and Whitaker (1978) in The Family Crucible. Self-disclosure, creative play, teaching stories, spontaneous interpersonal messages, the use of metaphor, and the sharing of parts of the therapists' lives that reflect a working through in their own living are used generously. Process techniques intended to activate confusion around Claudia, the identified patient, unbalance the system, and open up authentic dialogue between marital partners and between the generations of extended families are used. It is emphasized, however, that it is not technique, but personal involvement that enabled Whitaker and Napier (1978) to do their best. It is continually illustrated how symbolic (emotional) experiences are fundamentally formative in the treatment of families, illustrated poignantly with the Brice family. Therefore, such experience should be created in session. To expose the covert world beneath the surface world is the most curative factor for the Brice family, is it is for all families. By getting inside the Brice family's unique language and symbolic system, the therapists were able to move the family's awareness from the content level to the symbolic level.

In THE FAMILY CRUCIBLE, Napier (1978) describes the curative process of Whitaker's family therapy from the perspective of the co-therapist. The courage to embrace life's absurdities involves the courage to be oneself, to the point of even sharing your free associations and thoughts with families. Daring to participate in the lives of the families, or even inviting them to share in your own life in order to get them in contact with submerged associations, helps families to get to the primary process level. In fact, the book underlines that the force of the therapist is central to treatment, so that the family's encounter with the therapists is the primary curative agent. The goal of psychotherapy with the Brice family, as with all families, is to provide therapeutic experiences, and questions should be fired off in ways to unbalance the family. When Whitaker asks Carolyn, "When did you divorce your husband and marry the children?" he acts as an agent of change. He does not care whether the client likes him. And it is here that one realizes that the success of the psychotherapy depends on the emotional maturity of the therapist. The person of the therapist is at the heart of what good psychotherapy is all about. Since Whitaker states that therapy for the therapist is crucial, experiential training is essential for the therapist who would provide his/her clients with experiential treatment. In conclusion, this highly readable, inspirational, and useful book deserves a central place on every therapist's bookshelf.

Whitaker, C. A. (1981). Symbolic-experiential family therapy. In A. S. Gurman & D. P.
Knistern (Eds.), Handbook of family therapy (pp. 187-225). New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Napier, A. Y., & Whitaker, C. (1978). The family crucible: The intense experience of
therapy. New York: HarperCollins.

Dr. Barbara Cunningham, MFT


Thursday, February 17, 2005


i've got a dilemma

Ok - blogger is really slow. I work on a few Blogger blogs, and all are ok in speed save for this urban onramps blog. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but my hunch is that it's because this blog is so, well, big. I've not only had it for three years, but I've made thousands of posts (it quit counting in the fall at 2,700 posts). So if it's slow because of size, and it will continue to be slow, maybe I should:

(a) switch over to a new Blogger blog, or
(b) take the opportunity to jump to TypePad

Your thoughts, experiences with other blog engines are appreciated.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


jobs at bresee, faith-based nonprofit in LA

Our friends at the Bresee Foundation, a faith-based nonprofit located in Central Los Angeles, have the following job openings:
CAREER COUNSELOR. Full-time position. Work with local employers to place youth and young adults in internships and unsubsidized employment. Along with other staff ensure that clients are adequately prepared for the workplace.

INTEGRATED TRAINING INSTRUCTOR. Full-time position. Develop and implement curriculum for established GED preparation and workplace readiness program for young adults 17-21. Also, teach workplace readiness and basic academic skills development to youth during after-school hours.

IN-SCHOOL EMPLOYMENT CASE MANAGER. Part-time (30 hrs/week) position. Provide documentation processing and counseling support for youth 14-18. Assess needs for supportive services, maintain accurate files.

TO APPLY FOR any of these positions, please your fax resume AND cover letter to Cathy Trout at 213.385.8482, or email them to ctrout@bresee.org. Indicate position for which you are applying in the subject.


paid summer internships...

...for African American and Latino college students to work in the Bayshore Christian Ministries summer program. More info here. Bayshore is good people, Andy Hartwell, John Liotti and them.

search term mania!

the latest ways people found themselves to UO:
urban church commute (stuck in heavy traffic on the 10 freeway on Sunday morning, eh?)
todd minturn (I know him)
latino church youth groups mission trips (send 'em to harambee)
delaying adulthood (you've come to the right place)
latino church minneapolis (they exist)
free video of wtc jumpers (never forget


Center for Youth and Family Ministry

It's a new think tank based out of Fuller Seminary (Kara Powell and them) that's got a strong emphasis on urban youth ministry. Check it out http://www.cyfm.net/.

right-winger smackdown

Want to see right-wingers lob grenades at each other under the big tent? Track the back and forth over the blogosphere's role in Eason Jordan's resignation. None other than the Wall Street Journal opinion page (which is generally regarded as the conservative counter-balance to the WSJ's more centrist news side) called out and (attempted) to take to task the Big Bloggers. Dumb move, WSJ. This blog post will catch you up to speed on the "kerfuffle," including the general Professional Journalist lament over the rise of the citizen reporters, i.e., the bloggers.

Is this good financial advice?

David Batstone, executive editor of Sojourners and author of Saving the Corporate Soul--and (Who Knows?) Maybe Your Own: Eight Principles for Creating and Preserving Wealth and Well-Being for You and Your Company Without Selling Out, writes the following in his weekly WAG:
Reduce - and then eliminate - your personal debt.

I'll be even more to the point: If you have credit card debts, use every bit of your savings to pay down your principle. Unless you have investments that are earning you over 18 percent return - and doing so on a consistent basis (just shy of winning the lottery) - then you're better off draining your bank account to pay off your loans. As Benjamin Franklin advised, "Rather to go to bed supperless than rise in debt."


the ongoing Wal-Mart debate, entry #41,667

(or whatever number we are on, I've lost count...)

Many say that when Wal-Mart enters a community, bad things happen, like jobs being lost, small businesses put out, etc. So you would think that when Wal-Mart decides to close a store and leave a community, that would be good for said community, no? Well, according to a union fighting a Wal-Mart in Canada, that's not quite the case:
"Fair-minded people who respect the rights of workers call on Wal-Mart to abandon plans to close its Jonqueiere, Quebec, store," the union urges Wal-Mart's chief executive, Lee Scott, in an electronic petition. It says the store's closing would "displace an entire community."
So they are urging the store to stay open:
The union has gone further than the petition, also filing a complaint with the Quebec Labor Relations Commission in an attempt to force Wal-Mart to return to the bargaining table and remain open. The store plans to close in May.
And can this be true? In a $285 billion a year company, leaders act like this?
Unions complaining about Wal-Mart's stinginess might have a better case if Wal-Mart's top brass were living lavishly. But the retailer's commitment to controlling costs can be seen from the top down. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has a tiny office in the company's corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Along with other executives, Scott flies coach and shares budget hotel rooms when traveling.
Inquiring minds would like to know.

Sam is better

We are out of the hospital, Sam's fever came down, today they gave him his final dose (this week) of Ara-C, and he's running around strong. Thanks for your prayers.

Monday, February 14, 2005


50 gmail invites

Well, I don't know what gives, but now I've got 50 (fifty) gmail invites to give out. Doesn't everyone in the world who wants one have one by now? Last time I offered gmail accounts they were not all snapped up. But here goes: if you want one, leave a message in the comments below, telling me so, with an email address where I can send your invite - or you can just email me directly and I'll make the connect for you.

UPDATE 830 PM -- 2/14: Six down, 44 to go!

UPDATE 1030pm -- 2/15: 11 down, 39 to go!

9/11: Debunking the Myths

Popular Mechanics examines the evidence and consults the experts to refute the most persistent conspiracy theories of September 11

I'm trying to pick a good example of the type of rumor/myth this article dispells. Let's see -- how about the mysterious plane seen in the vicinity of the Flight 93 as it went down in Pennsylvania?

The Cheerful Oncologist

Another wonder of the blogosphere - a real live, cancer-treating oncologist blogs about what he sees, hears and feels as he makes the rounds. If you've ever been in my position, with a loved one being treated for cancer, you've probably wanted to know what was really rattling around in the doctor's brain. Wonder no more. Go lose yourself at the good doctor's blog.

Hard to disagree with this Valentine's Day observation

From Dawn Eden(http://www.dawneden.com/):
The mainstream media forces Valentine's Day down our throats, stating quite clearly that unless a single woman has a hot date on this very day of the calendar, she is a pathetic, unattractive git.

In truth, anyone who knows anything about love knows that there is no guarantee that one will meet the right person at any given point in one's life. One may wish to just fool around in the meantime, but Page Six itself shows on a daily basis the toll of such hedonism, spelled out in bitchiness, superficiality, and backbiting, not to mention abortion and sexually transmitted disease.

Thankfully, there is another way, andÑunless your name is Richard JohnsonÑchances are I don't have to tell you what it is. There are men and women reading this who are dateless today not because they're undesirable, but because they are too wise, deep, and principled to settle for something superficial. Here's to you this Valentine's Day. My heart goes out to you.

Paul writes in Romans 12:2, "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

I may be in the Page Six universe. But I'll be damnedÑliterallyÑif I'm of it.


Sam is better

We should go home in an hour or two. Thanks for your prayers.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Eason Jordan: What in the world just happened?

Michelle Malkin knows:
For those of us in the information business, this is truly an earth-shaking time. Who would have imagined that the downfall of one of the world's most powerful news executives would be precipated by an ordinary citizen blogging his eyewitness report at Davos in the wee hours of the morning on Jan. 27?
What happened is that CNN's Chief News Executive, Eason Jordan, just resigned a few hours ago after being held accountable by the blogosphere for devastating comments he made recently at Davos. Malkin's roundup will catch you up, in case you hadn't been following the affair.

I think back to my post below about Blogs: The Pressure of Instant Accountability...

Thursday, February 10, 2005


The Cops...

...came to Harambee tonight. Last week there was a disturbing incident that took place on the street in front of the center, most definitely a case of mistaken identity involving one of our top young people. All the officers involved plus their departmental higher ups were present, speaking to a number of parents and staff who witnessed the incident. We had almost two hours of vigorous dialogue, and things ended pretty well.

it's a page-turner

Just got the latest issue of The Journal of Morality and Markets. Hint: it's not oxymoronic; these folks are serious. Articles include:
Is There Only Secular Democracy? Imagining Other Possibilities for the Third Millenium

The Secret, Natural Theological Foundation of Adam Smith's Work

The Concept of Social Sin in Its Thomistic Roots

Justice: The Most Terrible of the Virtues

From Cracks in the Liberal Edifice to the Rediscovery of the Common Good

A Biblical Precedent for the Coase Theorom?
I'm interested to see what's in the Adam Smith piece.

I like Steven Seagal movies

There. I said it. I'm watching Out for a Kill right now. Actually, when I'm up at 4am with baby Micah (taking my turn) I often turn to the action movie channel. Almost invariably, it's a Steven Seagal flick. Or Bad Boys. No luck getting a Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris, or even a Jean-Claude Van Damme, though.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


the four ways to spend money

Food for thought from this guy:
1. You spend your money on yourself. You're motivated to get the thing you want most at the best price. This is the way middle-aged men haggle with Porsche dealers.

2. You spend your money on other people. You still want a bargain, but you're less interested in pleasing the recipient of your largesse. This is why children get underwear at Christmas.

3. You spend other people's money on yourself. You get what you want but price no longer matters. The second wives who ride around with the middle-aged men in the Porsches do this kind of spending at Neiman Marcus.

4. You spend other people's money on other people. And in this case, who cares?

Most government spending falls into category four. Which is why the government keeps buying us Hoover Dams, B-1 bombers, raids on Waco cults, and 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Acts.
Ok, that last paragraph was that guy's commentary. You could enter your own gripes about government into that paragraph.

I think the "four ways" idea was first put forth by Milton and Rose Friedman.

Digital Divide and Ministry national conference

TechMission has set aside July 8-9 for the next national Technology and Ministry conference for folks in an urban setting. Good times. Get there if you can.

pray for Abner and his team

Abner Ramos is an Intervarsity staff worker at East L.A. College. One of the guys in his chapter, Julio, was killed this week in a hit-and-run accident. Abner is in the middle of the tragedy, as is Brad Arnold, and I pray wisdom and spiritual strength as they support Julio's loved ones during a very difficult time: http://elacceso.blogspot.com/2005/02/julio-rodriguez-is-with-lord.html Julio Rodriguez is with The Lord.

extreme blog makeover?

You know all those extreme makeover shows on TV? We could have an extreme web site or blog makeover. This can go live once the new Apple iChat software, the one that allows four-way videoconferencing, is released this summer. I got the thought after IM'ing wit DJ Chuang, who got jacked by his web site host - they lost the last month of his blog entries, server crash, and now he has to do "reconstructive surgery" (his term, not mine) on his blog.

driving me crazy

...and I say that without any exxageration. We've hit a stage in my son's chemotherapy where he is doing a lot better, but dad and mom are stressed out. We've just got a lot to do, in all areas of our life, yet there are many many many unplanned situations and interruptions related to child care that we are being stretched to our limit. We are challenged to pray more, take things more slowly, and just plain old trust God more. We are beyond stretched. Yet and still some good things are happening. At church we are doing the 40 Days of Community. Our first small group meeting was last night at our house and it went very well. Kafi and I also both did our first day's devotional, and I feel more peaceful today. And about Rick Warren - I really like the guy. I've never met him, but he's very likable and real and just himself. I appreciate him and the Saddleback folks. You know, I hate to say it, but I think there is some sort of spiritual bias against well-to-do, upper crust churches in America, particulary with wealthy folks, as if being wealthy alone disqualifies some place from legitimate spiritual service. Saddleback is tucked into a nice area in a nice part of a nice county, yet there is some incredible stuff coming from there. God bless them for it.

If you think of me as a "good networker"...

(and you may not, but i'm speaking to those of you who've said as much to me...)

Then you can learn what I do and why by reading the "Network" chapter in Tim Sanders' book, Love is the Killer App. I just picked it up again and started reading it, late last night. I was startled by how clearly he explained "love" networking. Now, let me clearly state that I didn't learn what I know from Sanders. I learned it by watching John Perkins, and because I have a fair amount of this approach to life as part of my personality. I recommend Sanders because I often try to explain this stuff to people and stumble over my own words.

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