We learn what we live.

My Mother, who grew up in a small Illinois town, became the teacher in that town’s one room schoolhouse during the Depression, then married my Dad, who had been one of her classmates in that school, because he had graduated from nearby Knox College with a degree in Physics. They understood that education was the path ahead, and joined the great post war movement off the farm and into the developing suburbs. I was born into the family that shaped me just months after they had bought their first home in a western suburb of Chicago.

My Mom always taught that “children learn what they live,” and my Dad taught me to think like a scientist. Evidence matters.

To me, that explains what I call Family Therapy.

When someone calls with a problem, I begin to think about the context of the problem and how it is described by the person I’m speaking with. I try to understand how the problem being discussed is located in the caller’s cultural and economic circumstances and where they are in what we call the Family Live Cycle. I attempt to get a picture of the relationships the caller has to the resources that might be needed to solve the problem.

For me, family therapy is not so much about healing some illness or wound in the way that individual therapy often does. It is about helping clients come to an understanding of “What is the right thing to do.” It is a moral conversation in which sometimes difficult questions about parenting, sexuality, money, and family roles are the domain of discussion.

Family therapy is a clinical practice that is more about how I think as a therapist, than how many people are in the consulting room. As the family therapist, I bring my own values of respect for all beings, fair play and honesty in conversations and solutions, to the attempt to understand how to guide clients. I also bring an expert’s understanding of human development and emotional life, vastly updated by recent work in neuroscience that has deepened our understanding of how conflict and collaboration are organized in our minds. This work has made it clear to many of us that there is much power for change in working from this perspective.

What this means in my work is that I spend time and energy helping clients think about the relational worlds that shape their possibilities and needs. Sometimes that means bringing other people into the consulting room. This is an entirely collaborative project, and it is important that my clients understand and trust that.

If you think the perspective I’ve just described might be useful to your problem, give me a call.