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by Lynn Hoffman
W.W. Norton, 2001
Review by Patricia Ferguson, Psy.D. on Sep 24th 2003

Family Therapy

 Author and family therapist Lynn Hoffman traces her journey as a therapist from 1963 to the present. The theme of this 294-page book is how the different transitional persuasions have determined her view of and role as a family therapist. As she notes, the field of family therapy closely parallels the historical models of therapy in general. Different models developed out of the culture or milieu in which it was being practiced.

 After briefly reviewing the historical models the therapeutic field went through, Hoffman points out one possibility for the therapist is to "set aside the models." (In my opinion, experienced therapists use whatever works best for any given situation with any given client, and I believe there was a study to prove that exact statement several years ago, although I don’t have the reference handy). 

 Hoffman talks about her experiences over the decades with more emphasis in the second half of the book on what she believes is helpful to families and therapists. For instance, she describes the "reflecting team," a group who is involved in all intakes. A certain format is followed.

 Hoffman uses vignettes throughout the book to help describe the models she is talking about, moving along a rather dry subject (models of therapy can only be interesting for so long). Essentially, this is a book of the history of family therapy, and more specifically, a personal journey. Her use of vignettes and personal discussions of what goes on in the treatment makes what otherwise might be a dry subject a more interesting one. The book takes the role of therapist from one of an "instrumental...causal" to a more "collaborative, communal one." Historically, the therapist’s role went from "fixing a system in trouble" and defining the problem as "maladaptive behavior" to "a dysfunctional family structure." The therapist also changed perspective from being considered outside the system and aloof and distancing, to various models where the therapist is considered to be more than outside the system. Some more radical models place the therapist within the family.

 I remember when I studied family therapy we focused more on Bowenian therapy, or at least I did. I found Bowen’s theory matched my personal beliefs of what would work best. When it came time to write up a pass/fail test in my last year, I used the Bowenian model for a female client who was a victim of domestic violence. I also incorporated feminist theory, and whatever else I found necessary or helpful.  After graduating, I found Harriet Goldhor-Lerner’s books, which didn’t even come out until I had graduated. Amazingly, she had translated Bowenian theory into much more readable format. In private practice, I typically use a combination of whatever applies to the family’s problems, although some models don’t even say the family has problems, even if they are in therapy for what they think are problems.

 I think anyone who is currently practicing family therapy should read this book, if for no other reason than to learn about new models, new ways of approaching helping families, and to make sure that the best possible ways of helping families are being used. Teachers might want to consider this "required reading" for their graduate students. It is beyond the level of undergraduate studies, but certainly well worth the time to teach several approaches in a very understandable way. It is not a textbook, but that makes it easier reading. The combination of her personal and professional information along with the vignettes makes this book a very good one for keeping abreast of the field of family therapy.


© 2003 Patricia Ferguson


Patricia Ferguson, PsyD is a licensed clinical psychologist, and freelance writer and editor. She is Editor-in-Chief of, and has most recently been published in Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That End Female Bullying. She specializes in women's issues and is a book reviewer for several venues.

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