If you are anything like me, you have spent a great deal of time in your life trying to figure out “why you are the way you are.” From your athletic ability to your thought processes, from your aptitude to your allergies. Many of us claim to remember where we came from, but fewer of us actually take the time to study the intricacies of the root and subsequent growth of the branch.
While events of significance such as being the victim of a crime, achieving a major accomplishment or the death of a loved one do shape who we are, it is often the small, monotonous and mundane which are not given much thought. While there are a myriad of avenues to approach the looking glass, in November of 2011 I took a look at my family history in search of answers, specifically outlining my family dynamics with the assistance of a genogram. To have an objective, I purposed this effort with discovering how my family of origin may impact my ability to assist clients in a clinical therapeutic setting.
I found that my family of origin provides me with both advantages and disadvantages in regard to my ability to provide therapeutic assistance to others. The complexities concerning my mother and father, both as a married couple and individually, provide such examples.
My mother has had a long history of mental illness and instability as well as multiple bouts with drug, alcohol and a variety of health issues. One may have a valid case depicting her as the quintessential candidate for therapeutic assistance. Though throughout my childhood I did not necessarily equate my disturbed relationship with her with the multitude of personal issues she had; however, it is relatively easy in hindsight to see how her issues played a role in the problems within our nuclear family.
My mother and father divorced when I was two years old and I did not have a relationship with my father from that point. My mother raised me until I was eight years old, at which time I became a tenant of a children’s home until the age of eighteen. Utilizing my own experiences with divorce and separation, I feel that I may be able to display certain empathy towards clients dealing with the same. Likewise, clients who have experienced an upbringing without a “standard” nuclear family may find it comfortable to discuss these matters with a person with a similar history. In this instance, having the experience of divorce and separation will give me the advantage of asking relevant questions, and implementing an array of techniques, concerning such.
Adversely, when working with clients of a “standard” nuclear family, I will likely rely on client input and professional research while having little life experience to guide me through the therapeutic process.
Also applicable to my family of origin is the concept of differentiation. When examining my role within my family system, it becomes clear that there was limited enmeshment, resulting in my centrifugal force propelling me towards differentiation. It is my aspiration to utilize my own processes for attaining differentiation to assist others who are dealing with fusion to gain flexible and adaptive traits as a means of conquering their dominant auto-emotional system.
I am the youngest of the three children born to my mother–one half-sister and one half-brother; as well I share my father with two half-brothers. No two of us grew up in the same household; however, starting in my young adulthood I was fortunate to begin establishing solid relationships with both of my maternal siblings; to date no significant relationships have been developed between myself and my paternal siblings.
Although I never experienced “sibling rivalry” with them, my relationships with them have exposed me to the concept of sibling position and how apparent it is that many of our personality traits can be attributed to our respective position. By growing up separately and then forging our sibling relationships as adults, I have the advantage of viewing my family more objectively; and this quality will prove to be quite beneficial as a clinician when attempting to have clients separate themselves from the emotionality surrounding any familial issues for which they are seeking treatment.
The hierarchical roles regarding the structure of my family provide another avenue for which I will have the ability to identify with families who need reframing. As a child, my sister was adopted and raised by my maternal grandparents, so in many ways she has fulfilled her role in the hierarchy not only as a sister, but also an aunt, and at times a parent.
Considering the nature of my relationships with the individuals in my family of origin, I did not necessarily notice any previously undiscovered factors based on the completion of the genogram. However, one notable aspect of Psychodynamic Therapy of which I had not previously considered is that of invisible loyalties as pertains to my relationship with my mother. I believe it would take some outside assistance to discern if this concept applies, but in my own assertion, it may explain why I have been able to reestablish my relationship with her after such an absence.
I understand that I felt resentment for her as a youth as a result of our separation; however, as an adult I have become more understanding, and in turn our relationship closed significant distance. Taking the time to use the genogram on myself has provoked me to redefine my family of origin in order to truly encompass my “family.” To accomplish this, I need to further this undertaking by way of including the relationships that occurred outside of my biological family of origin.
Based on my evaluations, I will move forward to construct a new “genogram” that includes other relationships that I believe to have been “like” family. In this plight, I hope to attain a greater understanding of whom my family really consists.
In summation, the structure of my family, my relationships with each member of the system, and how I grew up, are the primary reasons I possess such a significant interest in Marriage and Family Therapy. I acknowledge that it will be my responsibility to conduct as much research as possible regarding treatment for the entire spectrum of “family types.” However, I already hold the position that every patient will be different, and no two families will ever be identical.
My family and life experiences will allow me to identify with non-traditional families in a unique manner of which I hope to be both sensitive and therapeutic. Also, by exposing descriptions of my family life with clients, they will be comforted by understanding my competency in treating them, it will also allow for a greater level of professional trust, which will significantly progress treatment.
Finally, as I continue my efforts to become credentialed to provide Marriage and Family Therapy, I believe that taking the time to explore and become familiarized with the tools available to the profession is critical to establishing who I will be as a professional. During my graduate education, Family Systems was one area that I enjoyed studying, thus the efforts such as the one mentioned above, I believe will help me transition my interests into practice, even before I am able to sit face-to-face with a client.
I have utilized a similar approach to familiarizing myself with items such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis.
Continue to follow this blog to learn about my experiences with these personality assessments and other therapeutic tools.