The Pathological Family

The Pathological Family: Postwar America and the Rise of Family Therapy

DEBORAH WEINSTEIN
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt1xx5s1
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  • Book Info
    The Pathological Family
    Book Description:

    While iconic popular images celebrated family life during the 1950s and 1960s, American families were simultaneously regarded as potentially menacing sources of social disruption. The history of family therapy makes the complicated power of the family at midcentury vividly apparent. Clinicians developed a new approach to psychotherapy that claimed to locate the cause and treatment of mental illness in observable patterns of family interaction and communication rather than in individual psyches. Drawing on cybernetics, systems theory, and the social and behavioral sciences, they ambitiously aimed to cure schizophrenia and stop juvenile delinquency. With particular sensitivity to the importance of scientific observation and visual technologies such as one-way mirrors and training films in shaping the young field, The Pathological Family examines how family therapy developed against the intellectual and cultural landscape of postwar America.

    As Deborah Weinstein shows, the midcentury expansion of America's therapeutic culture and the postwar fixation on family life profoundly affected one another. Family therapists and other postwar commentators alike framed the promotion of democracy in the language of personality formation and psychological health forged in the crucible of the family. As therapists in this era shifted their clinical gaze to whole families, they nevertheless grappled in particular with the role played by mothers in the onset of their children's aberrant behavior. Although attitudes toward family therapy have shifted during intervening generations, the relations between family and therapeutic culture remain salient today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6815-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION: THE POWER OF THE FAMILY
    (pp. 1-13)

    “Seeds of insanity could be lurking in your own home,” warned the narrator of a 1959 television program, The Fine Line.¹ The show’s title alluded to the “fine line” between sanity and insanity. To illustrate the fragility of this boundary, the show included enactments of two versions of a family’s interactions at their breakfast table, along with commentary about the hazardous implications of seemingly minor differences between the two scenarios from researchers in the newly formed field of family therapy. The pattern of communication in one scenario could induce schizophrenia in a child, these experts asserted, while the other would...

  6. CHAPTER ONE PERSONALITY FACTORIES
    (pp. 14-46)

    “What’s the matter with the family?” asked eminent American anthropologist Margaret Mead in Harper’s in the spring of 1945, several months before World War II ended. In the remaining years of the 1940s, academic journals and popular magazines alike published articles that echoed Mead’s query: “The American Family: Problem or Solution?,” “What’s Wrong with the Family?,” and “The American Family in Trouble,” among many others, debated such issues as the rising rates of divorce and the deleterious impact on juvenile delinquency of fathers’ overseas service and mothers’ wartime employment. Whether concerned with the state of marriage, the ferment of race...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “SYSTEMS EVERYWHERE”: SCHIZOPHRENIA, CYBERNETICS, AND THE DOUBLE BIND
    (pp. 47-81)

    In October 1956, the journal Behavioral Science published an article titled “Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia,” by Gregory Bateson, Don D. Jackson, Jay Haley, and John Weakland.¹ The article posited that the nature and causes of schizophrenia could be understood in terms of schizophrenics’ patterns of communication, specifically their inability to distinguish Logical Types. By Logical Types, the authors referred to the distinction made by philosopher Bertrand Russell between a class and the members of that class such that the class was of a higher Logical Type than its members. They further asserted that the schizophrenics’ inability to distinguish between...

  8. CHAPTER THREE THE CULTURE CONCEPT AT WORK
    (pp. 82-108)

    In 1952, the eminent American anthropologists Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn published a history and compilation of 164 of the definitions of “culture.”¹ They were not interested in culture in the humanistic sense of the pursuit of perfection in the humanities, arts, and personal character. Rather, they focused on the pluralistic, anthropological definitions of world cultures with diverse value systems, patterns of behavior, beliefs, and ways of life.² Although the historical distinction between an aesthetic and an anthropological notion of culture was not as clear-cut as Kroeber and Kluckhohn claimed, their catalog of definitions underscored both the centrality of the...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR OBSERVATIONAL PRACTICES AND NATURAL HABITATS
    (pp. 109-144)

    Social scientists became increasingly interested in studying the family as a scientific object during the middle third of the twentieth century, and family studies proliferated in fields including psychology, sociology, human development, and anthropology. In research on wide-ranging topics such as small groups, identity and socialization, prejudice, schizophrenia, delinquency, and the “Negro family,” scholars grappled with understanding families and their functions, patterns, interactions, and pathologies. They also faced methodological challenges in designing their research protocols, establishing the boundaries of their projects, and developing standards for sampling and controls.¹

    Among clinicians engaged in family studies research, carefully prescribed practices of observation...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE VISIONS OF FAMILY LIFE
    (pp. 145-171)

    In an early sequence from the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, the film’s main teenage characters glimpse each other at a police station after they are brought in on separate charges. The meeting between Sal Mineo’s character, Plato, and his delinquency officer focuses on Plato’s absent parents and leads to a referral to a psychiatrist. In a parallel scene, Natalie Woods’s character, Judy, worries about her troubled relationship with her father. Finally, James Dean’s character, Jim, leaves his delinquency officer to find his father, mother, and grandmother dressed in evening wear and waiting for him. After his mother and...

  11. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 172-180)

    In 1971, filmmaker Craig Gilbert and his documentary film crew spent seven months recording the everyday exploits of a white California family, the Louds, for the series An American Family, which PBS broadcast in 1973. The camera captured Pat Loud asking her husband for a divorce, the participation of the Louds’ oldest son Lance in the gay community in New York City’s Chelsea district, and other, more mundane matters, such as the morning breakfast routine. When An American Family aired in 1973, it drew widespread attention, including a cover story in Newsweek and a feature in the New York Times...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 181-224)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 225-252)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 253-262)