Experiential Family Therapy (of Carl Whitaker)

Essay by bjornyesterdayUniversity, Master'sA, January 2005

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Experiential 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...