Experiential Family Therapy (Of Carl Whitaker)

4814 words - 19 pages

IntroductionExperiential therapy emerged from the humanistic wing of psychology that was focussed on the immediate, here-and-now experience, which was most popular in the 1960's and 70's. Therapists focussed on the needs of the individual as they attempt to facilitate family interaction, resulting in the individuality of each member. As Becvar and Becvar (2000) asserted, the hallmarks of experiential family therapy were the importance of individuality, personal freedom and self-fulfillment (pp.181).Thus, efforts to reduce defensiveness and unlock deeper levels of experiencing rested on an assumption of the basic goodness of human nature.Many of the basic theories were borrowed from individual and group therapy. It borrowed techniques such as role-playing and emotional confrontation borrowed from Gestalt therapy, however as Nichols and Schwartz (2001) observed, by focussing emotions rather than the dynamics of interaction, experiential therapist seemed somewhat out of step with the rest of family therapy (pp.139).Experiential family therapy viewed the cause and effect of family problems as fuelled by emotional suppression. For example, Whitaker and Keith (1981) argued parents have a tendency confuse the instrumental and expressive functions of emotion. They try to regulate their children's actions by controlling their feelings. The result is that children tend to blunt their emotional experience to avoid making waves.In order for therapy to be a success, experiential therapists believe that families need to get in touch with their feelings, hope, desires, as well as their fears and anxieties.In the first section of this paper, the techniques and theoretical concepts used in symbolic/experiential family therapy will be outlined. It should be acknowledged that Virginia Satir and Walter Kemplar are also seen to have had equal foundational importance in the birth of experiential family therapy. But, in this brief paper I will be concentrating mainly on the work of Carl Whitaker and his colleagues who's style of therapy differed greatly from that of Satir and Kemplar.In the second section of this paper I will attempt to paint a picture of how three sessions of symbolic experiential therapy might appear in order to give the reader a deeper understanding of the applicability of Whitaker's somewhat unconventional methods.Carl WhitakerWhitaker was originally trained in obstetrics and gynecology but developed an interest in schizophrenia and switched to psychiatry in the 1940's.He was the first to do psychotherapy with families and was considered a maverick at first, however he retained the respect of other family therapists due to his skill and success as a therapist.He summed up the experiential position in a paper entitled, "The hindrance of Theory in Clinical Work" (1976: as cited in Nichols and Schwartz, 2001).Thus, his advice was to give up calculation as soon as possible in favour of being you. Further, he wrote that theory was for beginners....

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