- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0162
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
- LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0162
Family therapy may be defined as a branch of psychotherapy wherein family relationships are the target of change. Most schools of thought consider the definition of the family in a broad way that includes related and non-related members. Examples are the traditional nuclear family of husband, wife, and biological children as well as stepfamilies, extended families, gay parent families, or families with adopted children. Family therapy is known by other names, such as marriage and family therapy or family systems therapy, and is characterized by a range of treatment modalities, from insight oriented (psychoanalytic family therapy) to action oriented (behavioral family therapy) theoretical underpinnings. The similarity shared by all modalities is a systems orientation. Considering the family as a system implies an interconnectedness among members; when one family member acts, a corresponding effect occurs on the other members. Clinicians (n = 2281) were asked about their treatment approach, and the results were reported in an article in the Psychotherapy Networker. While the most popular treatment modality was cognitive behavioral treatment, the second most popular treatment modality was marital and family systems. Specific populations may be helped differentially by the various treatment modalities. For example, while families with a child who has a problem may be most helped with narrative family treatment, families experiencing child abuse or family violence may be helped by more behavioral family treatment modalities. It should be noted that social work and family therapy have compatible philosophical underpinnings, in that both are concerned with the person (or family in this case) in the environment, active problem solving, and personal empowerment.
Classic and Introductory Works
The profession of social work and its concern with helping families emerged in part as a response to a modernizing American society. Some influences toward a family perspective included the development of the Charity Organization Society and the Settlement Houses, which served distressed families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, the popular Freudian psychotherapeutic approach was focused on individual, instinct driven behavior. However Alfred Adler, a colleague of Freud, moved the field toward a less individualistic approach and toward a more social and family view of the person. Similarly, sociological theories at the time influenced psychotherapy toward a more ecological perspective. Satir 1964 outlines social worker involvement with the move away from individual therapy and toward family work in the 1950s. Watzlawick, et al. 1967 recounts the founding, by Don Jackson, of the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California in 1959. Founding members are featured in Bateson 1972; Satir 1964; Watzlawick, et al. 1967; and Watzlawick, et al. 1974. Bowen 1978 describes the simultaneous development of family therapy systems perspectives, at the Menninger Clinic, with families with a schizophrenic member. Bertalanffy 1969 documents the pioneering of open systems; Minuchin, et al. 1967 presents structural family therapy, and Patterson 1975 describes behavioral family therapy. Palazzoli, et al. 1985 details similar development in Italy, where the first family therapy school, known as the Milan systems approach, emerged in Milan in 1968. See also Weiner 1948.
Bateson, G. 1972. Steps to an ecology of mind. Worcester, MA: Chandler.
A collection of Bateson’s work including the topics of anthropology, cybernetics, psychiatry, and epistemology.
Bertalanffy, L. 1969. General systems theory: Foundations, development, applications. New York: George Brazziller.
Thought of as the father of general systems theory (GST), von Bertalanffy’s book defines GST emphasizing open systems concepts. GST has numerous applications in fields such as psychology, sociology, social work, and others.
Bowen, M. 1978. Family therapy in clinical practice. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.
Discusses his treatment of families with a schizophrenic member and the development of his theory of family therapy. Concepts Bowen developed include triangulation, intergenerational conflict, and differentiation of self with the family.
Minuchin, S., B. Monalvo, B. Guerney, B. Rosman, and F. Schumer. 1967. Families of the slums: An exploration of their structure and treatment. New York: Basic Books.
This book discusses the structural approach to family therapy developed by Minuchin. One unique technique was for a group of therapists to observe behind a one-way mirror while one therapist was in the room with the family.
Palazzoli, M., Stefano Cirillo, M. Selvini, A. Sorrentino, and V. Kleiber. 1985. Family games: General models of psychotic processes in the family. New York: Norton.
Explains the Milan approach to family therapy, which includes a team of therapists from different orientations, observation behind the mirror, and half-day long sessions.
Patterson, G. R. 1975. Families: Applications of social learning to family life. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Theorizes that parents play a crucial role in the development of conduct disorder behavior in their children. Behavioral principles are used to explain the behavior and recommend treatment techniques for common and complex problems of children and young adolescents.
Satir, V. 1964. Conjoint family therapy: A guide to theory and technique. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior.
Satir was the family therapy training director at Mental Research Institute, and her training manual evolved into this book.
Watzlawick, P., J. Beavin, and D. Jackson. 1967. Pragmatics of human communication. New York: Norton.
Introduces the idea of communication as the source of human problems, rather than deep-seated psychological issues. The systemic characteristics of communication are defined, including psychotherapeutic double binds, meta-communication, the properties of open systems, paradox, and so forth.
Watzlawick, P., J. H. Weakland, and R. Fisch. 1974. Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution. New York: Norton.
Considered by some to be the greatest book for psychotherapists ever written. The authors present a meta-theory of how change occurs, followed by case examples. The book differentiates between first- and second-order changes in working with families; families are described as doing the same thing over and over to fix a problem (first-order change) vs. introducing something new into the family system to create a space for change (second-order change).
Wiener, N. 1948. Cybernetics. Scientific American 179.5: 14–18.
Cybernetics in communications engineering refers to systems feedback mechanisms and aims to predict the future. Wiener applied these principles to human problems, particularly problems of communication.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Adolescent Depression
- Adolescent Pregnancy
- Adoption Home Study Assessments
- Adult Protective Services in the United States
- African Americans
- Aging, Physical Health and
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse Problems
- Alcohol and Drug Problems, Prevention of Adolescent and Yo...
- Alcohol Problems: Practice Interventions
- Alcohol Use Disorder
- Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias
- Anti-Oppressive Practice
- Asian Americans
- Asian-American Youth
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Baccalaureate Social Workers
- Behavioral Health
- Behavioral Social Work Practice
- Bereavement Practice
- Brief Therapies in Social Work: Task-Centered Model and So...
- Bullying and Social Work Intervention
- Canadian Social Welfare, History of
- Case Management in Mental Health in the United States
- Child Poverty
- Child Welfare
- Child Welfare and Child Protection in Europe, History of
- Children of Incarcerated Parents
- Christianity and Social Work
- Chronic Illness
- Clinical Social Work Practice with Adult Lesbians
- Clinical Social Work Practice with Males
- Cognitive Behavior Therapies with Diverse and Stressed Pop...
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Community Development
- Community Policing
- Community-Based Participatory Research
- Community-Needs Assessment
- Comparative Social Work
- Conflict Resolution
- Council on Social Work Education
- Counseling Female Offenders
- Criminal Justice
- Crisis Interventions
- Cultural Competence and Ethnic Sensitive Practice
- Culture, Ethnicity, Substance Use, and Substance Use Disor...
- Dementia Care, Ethical Aspects of
- Depression and Cancer
- Development and Infancy (Birth to Age Three)
- Direct Practice in Social Work
- Disability and Disability Culture
- Domestic Violence Among Immigrants
- Eating Disorders
- Ecological Framework
- Economic Evaluation
- Elder Mistreatment
- End-of-Life Decisions
- Epigenetics for Social Workers
- Ethics and Values in Social Work
- Evidence-based Social Work Practice
- Evidence-based Social Work Practice: Finding Evidence
- Evidence-based Social Work Practice: Issues, Controversies...
- Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs
- Families with Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Parents
- Family Caregiving
- Family Group Conferencing
- Family Policy
- Family Services
- Family Therapy
- Family Violence
- Fathering Among Families Served By Child Welfare
- Field Education
- Financial Literacy and Social Work
- Financing Health-Care Delivery in the United States
- Forensic Social Work
- Foster Care
- Gay Men
- Generalist Practice and Advanced Generalist Practice
- Group Work
- Group Work across Populations, Challenges, and Settings
- Group Work, Research, Best Practices, and Evidence-based
- Harm Reduction
- Health Care Reform
- Health Disparities
- Health Social Work
- History of Social Work and Social Welfare, 1900–1950
- History of Social Work and Social Welfare, 1950-1980
- History of Social Work and Social Welfare, pre-1900
- History of Social Work from 1980-2014
- History of Social Work in China
- History of Social Work in Northern Ireland
- History of Social Work in the Republic of Ireland
- History of Social Work in the United Kingdom
- HIV/AIDS Prevention with Adolescents
- Homelessness Outside the United States
- Human Needs
- Human Trafficking, Victims of
- Immigrant Policy in the United States
- Immigrants and Refugees
- Immigrants and Refugees: Evidence-based Social Work Practi...
- Impaired Professionals
- Implementation Science and Practice
- Indigenous Peoples
- Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Supported Employmen...
- International Social Welfare
- International Social Work
- International Social Work and Education
- International Social Work and Social Welfare in Southern A...
- Internet and Video Game Addiction
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy
- Intervention with Traumatized Populations
- Intimate-Partner Violence
- Juvenile Justice
- Korean Americans
- Latinos and Latinas
- Law, Social Work and the
- LGBTQ Populations and Social Work
- Life Span
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Management and Administration in Social Work
- Maternal Mental Health
- Measurement, Scales, and Indices
- Medical Illness
- Men: Health and Mental Health Care
- Mental Health
- Mental Health Diagnosis and the Addictive Substance Disord...
- Mental Health Needs of Older People, Assessing the
- Mental Illness: Children
- Mental Illness: Elders
- Middle East and North Africa, International Social Work an...
- Military Social Work
- Mixed Methods Research
- Motivational Interviewing
- Native Americans
- Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders
- Neighborhood Social Cohesion
- Neuroscience and Social Work
- Nicotine Dependence
- Occupational Social Work
- Organizational Development and Change
- Pain Management
- Palliative Care
- Palliative Care: Evolution and Scope of Practice
- Parent Training
- Philosophy of Science and Social Work
- Physical Disabilities
- Police Social Work
- Positive Youth Development
- Postmodernism and Social Work
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Practice Interventions and Aging
- Practice Interventions with Adolescents
- Practice Research
- Primary Prevention in the 21st Century
- Productive Engagement of Older Adults
- Profession, Social Work
- Psychiatric Rehabilitation
- Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Theory
- Psychopathology and Social Work Practice
- Psychopharmacology and Social Work Practice
- Psychosocial Framework
- Psychosocial Intervention with Women
- Psychotherapy and Social Work
- Qualitative Research
- Race and Racism
- Readmission Policies in Europe
- Religiously Affiliated Agencies
- Reproductive Health
- Research Ethics
- Restorative Justice
- Risk Assessment in Child Protection Services
- Risk Management in Social Work
- Rural Social Work Practice
- School Social Work
- School Violence
- School-Based Delinquency Prevention
- Services and Programs for Pregnant and Parenting Youth
- Severe and Persistent Mental Illness: Adults
- Sexual Assault
- Single-System Research Designs
- Social Development
- Social Insurance and Social Justice
- Social Intervention Research
- Social Justice and Social Work
- Social Movements
- Social Planning
- Social Policy
- Social Security in the United States (OASDHI)
- Social Work Education and Research
- Social Work Regulation
- Social Work Research Methods
- Solution-Focused Therapy
- Strategic Planning
- Strengths Perspective
- Strengths-Based Models in Social Work
- Supplemental Security Income
- Survey Research
- Syrian Refugees in Turkey
- Systematic Review Methods
- Task-Centered Practice
- Technology Adoption in Social Work Education
- Technology for Social Work Interventions
- Technology, Human Relationships, and Human Interaction
- Technology in Social Work
- Terminal Illness
- Transdisciplinary Science
- Translational Science and Social Work
- Transtheoretical Model of Change
- United States, History of Social Welfare in the
- Veteran Services
- Vicarious Trauma Redefining PTSD
- Victim Services
- Welfare State Reform in France
- Welfare State Theory
- Women and Macro Social Work Practice
- Women's Health Care
- Work and Family in the German Welfare State
- Working with Non-Voluntary and Mandated Clients
- Young and Adolescent Lesbians
- Youth at Risk
- Youth Services