Oftentimes, when spouses begin to have difficulties with their marriage, they lose track of the impact that their arguments have on the children. They are so wrapped up in their day-to-day difficulties, that the rest of the family becomes secondary. In the Family Crucible by Napier and Whitaker, the daughter becomes so depressed that psychological help is required. It is then that the family as a whole has to determine how to rebuild itself, if possible.
The book consists of the ongoing therapy of the "Brice" family, which consists of the parents (David and Carolyn), adolescent daughter (Claudia), six-year-old daughter (Laura), and 11-year-old son (Don).
The therapy begins by involving the father, who would have been more than pleased to have relinquished responsibility at this point. He soon explains that Claudia's problems may be of most importance, but there is a lot more taking place than that. As he talks, the father becomes more assertive and then aggressive -- which turns out to be the anguish that parents feel when they are fearful for their children. As he continues, Claudia's anger turns to tears. Therapist Carl Whitaker then asks David to go beyond Claudia's concerns to that of the family. This is difficult for David, since he and the other family members believe that the main problem is with Claudia. What does the family have to do with it?
Don describes a typical situation where the problem begins with Claudia and her mother and ends with the whole family having a "lousy" dinner at best and Claudia leaving and his parents having an argument at worst. The only way to stop the arguing is for Don to pick on Laura and get her to cry. The therapists also discover from Don that Carolyn uses him as a sounding board for family problems and David does the same with Claudia, rather than talk with each other. Further, after talking with Laura, they find that she is afraid of Claudia's suicide and her parents' potential divorce. Also, in this first session, it is recognized that Claudia is put in between her mother and father, although she wants to think that her father was always on her side. In the second therapy session, it is clarified that Claudia's issues are a way for her parents to express their marital problems. David and Carolyn are overcompensating by being cool and controlled and Claudia is overcompensating by being more emotional.
Several points need to be made about these initial chapters: First, what appears to be the "truth" behind a problem may just be a manifestation of the issue, not the issue itself. Claudia's problems may be of major concern, but underlying these are the marital problems. Second, what impacts one or more of the individuals in a family impacts everyone. Even six-year-old Laura, who appears relaxed and happy, turns out to be fearful and unhappy. Third, in order to reduce confrontation, a person may complain to someone else rather than the person causing the concern. David and Carolyn use their children as sounding boards rather than confront each other. Fourth, when people are hurting they will do anything as a cry for help, even though they do not realize it. Each of the family members is doing whatever possible to make the situation so bad that it is necessary to seek help. With time, it is very possible that Claudia may have tried committing suicide or Don would have reacted in some way that had caused David and Carolyn to get help. Lastly, these chapters introduce the concept of the psychotherapists and their important role in assisting the family's health. Examples are seen of their raising essential, but hidden concerns; mediating conflicts; acting as a calming force; and motivating each of the participants to speak for him/herself.
In subsequent chapters, the readers learn more about the relationship between Carolyn and her mother, the latter who is a very dominating and controlling woman. The readers also see more of the tension between Carolyn and David. Whitaker explains that marriage starts out with each partner expecting that the other will help complete the difficult task of growing up. To an extent that happens. However, people bring too many needs to the relationship. They become fearful that their partner's personal demands are too great, considering they are trying to deal with their own problems. Anger replaces fear, since no one likes admitting they are weak and cannot provide help to a loved one. Both individuals begin to see the other as the parent figure. It is necessary in this case, therefore, for David and Carolyn to redefine their individuality. But, where does this leave Claudia?
When families become dysfunctional, each has its role(s) to play. One of Claudia's jobs is to keep the friction alive between her father and mother. If David and Carolyn begin to become stronger and more independent and gain greater self-esteem, Claudia's role becomes diminished. She once again must become a scared vulnerable young girl who has to lash out. This shows that when therapy begins to help, it is necessary to do more than remove problematic roles. The individuals have to have new ones to take their place, or they flounder.
The other concern that therapists have is to know when to call it quits. When does the family rely too much on the therapy and not enough on themselves to get through the tougher times? The therapists talk about becoming the parents, as well. When is it time for them to let go of their children? Part of a fight is the intimacy of making up, say Napier and Whitaker. The will to work out one's problems can be a family's strongest asset and essential in therapy. As with David and Carolyn, it is important to support the Brice's sense of well-being and independence. Although there is much more work to be accomplished, the family can always return to therapy if and when help is needed.
Two months after their last session, the Brice's again contact the therapists. They had begun therapy in August and it is now October. However, this time the problem is not Claudia but Don. It is deja vu. Instead of Claudia being put in the middle of the situation between Carolyn and David, Don is the middleman. The parents have changed the roles this time. They are still afraid of confronting each other and still need a spokesperson in the middle.
The family's dynamics continues to change. Don starts wrestling with David on a regular basis, needing his strength. These bouts made David recall his father and the distance between the two of them. For once, David becomes the one opening up and crying. Such unexpected turn of events show that no one, not even the therapists, realizes the ramifications of discussions and behavior. Carl and Don fight out their anger, which could have been a negative. (Sometimes it is easy to forget that the therapists are also human and have their own baggage.) However, it instead leads to David fighting some of his own demons.
In February, David and Carolyn are still not making much headway with their problems, although the children are no longer being scapegoated. The couple is expecting Napier and Whitaker to make the pain go away, as they had with the other problems. The therapists stress that Carolyn has to rely on herself to find the answers. She begins to see herself in a different light and independent of David and the family. Then David, who has changed little since the beginning of the therapy, receives an interview for a job in another city. When David finds out that his father is behind the potential new position, he finally begins to open. He agrees to undergo therapy and have his parents involved, and Carolyn decides to work harder on their relationship rather than seriously consider a divorce. With time, their partnership is rebuilt. Carolyn starts taking college courses, Claudia goes to Paris to establish her independence, Don is in a high school rock band and staying out of trouble and Laura is slowly establishing her own independence from her mother. David and Carolyn continue to argue, but what married couple doesn't?
Since this book was written in the late 1970s, family therapy has become much more common. By no means do all relationships end on as positive a note as the Brice's. However, this form of therapy has since helped scores of people come to a better understanding of their relationship not only with a present-day nuclear family, but with the individuals who have raised them. In fact, with the many changes in family structure that are occurring in the United States today, this therapy has become more important than ever.
Family therapy is based on family systems theory, which recognizes that the family is a living organism, which is much greater than the sum of its individual members. Family therapy uses systems theory to evaluate family members in terms…