Being useful to families
Ideas underlying this approach:
• Families hold knowledge and resource which can enable movement
• Families need to feel (rather than be told about) the respect
It seems to be a feature of the societies we live
in and the context we work in that families
experience a lot of blame and guilt. Experiencing these feelings
tends to undermine, rather than enable, parenting. It is extraordinarily
unusual, perhaps unknown, for parents not to hold some intentions
to parent well, hopes for the best for their child(ren), etc.
Families are very important for their children.
They not only spend a lot of time with them, but they comprise relationships
- for instance: mother, brother, auntie - which may fail or be avoided
but can never be replaced and are in place for life. There are also
emotional and blood connections as well as societal and institutional
support for these relationships. Families have a lot of knowledge
and experience of their children. This can be from practical observation,
shared family and cultural context of development and genetically
mediated similarities in personality and ways of functioning. It
is unusual to find children or young people who do not hold some
hopes for things to be better between them and their family.
We can best serve children and young people by
bringing forward and enabling access to the resources, knowledge,
love and commitment, hopes, intentions, etc, in their families.
To do this we need faith in the resilience and resourcefulness of
the family. We need a commitment to the potential for discovery
of the family’s knowledge, values, intentions. We need profound
respect for the family, their practices, values and intentions.
They need to feel this from the conversation. It is of limited value
to tell them this, they need to feel it.
pitfalls in working from modernist epistemology
• Risk of prioritizing therapist knowledge and losing access
to family knowledge
Operating in a modernist
epistemology with a hierarchy of knowledge, often results in
an understanding that the therapist has more and better knowledge
and uses this knowledge to assess, identify problems and intervene.
Because of the complexity of non-linear causation in a system such
as a family, the clinician begins a long way behind family members
in developing knowledge of any family. The prioritizing of clinician
knowledge, risks undermining the family’s sense of expertise
in their personal and family knowledge, sending it underground and
decreasing its availability. Modernist epistemology seeks causal
explanations based on underlying structures. Experience in quantum
physics has shown this to be a limited strategy, the further physicists
looked 'underneath' for smaller and smaller particles, the more
they were led to empty space. In working with families, looking
underneath risks leading therapists to blaming and pathologising
formulations. Even trauma based formulations often focus on damage
rather than resources, agency, etc.
Alternatively, using social
constructionism we can look at a range of knowledges, which
are evaluated, not by absolute truth but by values, usefulness and
effects. In this context, the most useful explanations are those
which mesh with the family’s knowledge, support their sense
of agency and enable movement.