I’m grateful to Sal Minuchin for helping us as family therapists understand, conceptualize and maneuver within the dynamic structures of families: the way that the emotional and legal connections of parents to their children over generations create fluid as well as fixed patterns of hierarchies, loyalties, rules, subsystems, coalitions and boundaries. While we may know these experiences instinctively, his theory gives us a vocabulary, structure and system of talking and thinking about these automatic family features.
I’m particularly glad for the way his ideas give us a way to talk about family power. How are marriages formed? How do parents use their power over children? What does it mean to be a grandparent, a sibling, a twin, a youngest or oldest child? Who creates the family rules? Who breaks them? Of critical importance is the way that this theory helps me to conceptualize children’s emotional dysfunction. I don’t have to think simply in individualistic, intrapersonal terms. I’m free to think, speak and intervene with children’s pain interpersonally by helping their parents better manage their own functioning, power, and relational well-being.
Every time I draw a new genogram, and hear about a conflicted marriage, a stressed child, or cut-off grandparents, and think about rules, power and family structure, I draw upon the core ideas of Minuchin and generations of clinicians after him who have helped us all become students of family structure.