Years ago, as a beginning therapist, I worked with a family
whose 14 year old daughter had been placed in state's
custody due to incorrigibility. Her father had been killed
in an accident after abusing his wife and children for many
years. The mother had accepted a lover who moved into the
family home. The girl was low functioning (full scale
about 68). I was reading Erikson at the time. I had some
Playdough (clay) in my office, and during a session with
the family, handed it out to all the kids, partly as a way
to occupy them while we adults and older teens talked,
partly as a response to my sense that they needed a
concrete and tangible way to express their feelings. I was
pushing them to define new roles and expectations in their
family. The teenage brother said it: "even though Mom has
changed her shape (holding up a ball of clay), now that
she's with X, she's still the same mom. And even though our
family has changed shape, we are still a family." Something
shifted. We all breathed easier. The girl went back home
and stopped opposing everything. I thought Erikson would
have been pleased.
Was this Utilization? I felt as though the family had found
the problem and the solution in their own way, with some
(not so) subtle nudging from me.
The demise of family therapy? I can't imagine having
worked only with that girl, and not her family. I could
have talked with her till I was blue in the face and the
cows came home. I would have wasted my time and hers.
Managed care would have been pleased (if they'd been around
back then) because the total treatment was only 5 or 6
sessions. (Milton would have done it in one...)
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