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An Interview with Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., on Family Therapy

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: May 13th 2011

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Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.Clinical Psychologist and author Dr. Marilyn Wedge is the originator of strategic child-focused family therapy, following in the family systems therapy tradition of Jay Haley. She strongly opposes the over-diagnosis of children with psychiatric disorders and the use of medication to treat childhood behavioral, emotional and social problems. A better approach, she believes, is the application of strategic family therapy which conceptualizes the child's problem in relationship to other problems occurring within the family. A frequent pattern is that a child will manifest a problem as a way to help draw parents attention away from their own problems. The therapist can then take on the role of helper within the system, relieving the child of that duty. As parental problems resolve or are isolated from the child, children tend to get better. Various systems techniques (such as the invariant question) and case histories are discussed.

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show, we'll be talking with clinical psychologist Dr. Marilyn Wedge about her new book on the practice of strategic child-focused family therapy. Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., is a family therapist with more than 20 years of experience helping children, adolescents, and families. She's the author of two books. The first is In the Therapist's Mirror: Reality in the Making, and her most recent, Suffer the Children: The Case Against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative. She's the originator of strategic child-focused family therapy, which empowers parents to help their children heal without labeling them with so-called psychiatric disorders or medicating them with psychotropic drugs.

Marilyn has a doctorate from the University of Chicago and did a post-doctoral fellowship at the Hastings Center for Bioethics in New York. She has taught at the California State University East Bay, the College of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Chicago YMCA Community College. She lives in Oak Park, California with her husband Gene, and in her free time she enjoys ocean swimming, bicycling, and sailing.

Now, here's the interview.

Dr. Marilyn Wedge, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, thank you, David. It's my pleasure.

David: Well, you've written a very impressive book titled Suffer the Children, which is about your practice of strategic child-focused family therapy, and before we get into that, though, the subtitle of your book is The Case Against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative. So let's start with the medicalization of the emotional problems of children. From your point of view, what are the issues there?

Marilyn Wedge: Well, the issues I think are we are a pill-taking society, and we're kind of used to an instant cure. If we have a headache, we take a pain reliever. If we have a stomach ache, we take something for that. If we have depression, we take something for that. And a lot of adults have had good success with antidepressant medication, so of course when their child has a problem, they begin to think in terms of the same solution. But unfortunately these medications were not meant for children, they weren't tested on children, and we don't have long-term results on what effects they have on children's brains.

David: Right. I can see that. And also you talk about the pitfalls of hanging psychiatric labels on children. How widespread is that?

Marilyn Wedge: Well, it's very widespread. Depending on whose numbers you use, there are more than 6 million children diagnosed as ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There's a million children diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and more than a million who are said to be clinically depressed or who have anxiety disorders. It's very widespread.

David: Right. And there's some evidence that diagnostic labels wax and wane in their popularity. Which labels are au courant right now?

Marilyn Wedge: Well, au courant is ADHD. ADD, which was a diagnosis in the 1984 edition of the DSM, is no longer a diagnosis in the DSM-IV. It's only Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. So ADD has waned. I understand that in the next edition of the DSM, the DSM-V coming out the next few years, certain disorders will not be there, such as narcissistic personality disorder; that's going to be gone. So these things come and go because they are decided by committee and not by scientific evidence.

David: Yes. Isn't that fascinating? And I read one article that suggested that the problems run so deep that DSM-V may be the last one, and they may just discard that approach altogether.

Marilyn Wedge: I hadn't heard that. That is very interesting.

David: Yeah, it may just be a rumor. I'm not sure. Now, what's the downside of labeling children's emotional problems in this way?

Marilyn Wedge: Well, it's not very effective. What I find is - well, for example, one little girl - her name is Laura in the book - she came in taking nine pills a day for anxiety, depression, and ADHD, and she still wasn't doing well at school, and she in fact threatened suicide. So they aren't - you know whereas stimulant drugs like Ritalin or Adderall are effective in helping a child focus, they are also effective in helping anyone focus, whether they have an attention deficit or not. So those are two downsides: one, that they are not effective, and secondly, amphetamine-type drugs are effective but they have serious side effects.

David: Yes, now that's the downside of the drugs, but I was asking about the downside of labeling children's emotional problems with those labels, and just what's driving that practice that just doesn't seem to go away.

Marilyn Wedge: Okay. The downside is that the child feels like they have a problem. It eventually erodes their self-esteem; they don't like to be a problem. And as far as the widespread use of drugs - was that the second part?

David: No. The second part was just asking what perpetuates the practice of labeling kids.

Marilyn Wedge: Okay, sure. That's the biological model of psychiatry, which is the au courant model. So in this model of psychiatry you label, you medicate.

David: Yes. And in getting back to the drugs, talk about the role of the pharmaceutical companies, which we sometimes refer to as Big Pharma.

Marilyn Wedge: Well, Big Pharma was very successful. I want to say that many adults - I think I already said it, but I'd like to say it again - many adults have benefited from antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs. It's helped many adults lead normal lives and just be able to function in their jobs and their relationships. But Little Pharma - giving these drugs to children - is certainly profitable, and it's more profit driven, as I see it, than driven by the best interests of the child.

David: I don't recall if you already said it in this interviews, but I know in your book you point out that most of these drugs that are given to children haven't been tested on children. They were tested on adults.

Marilyn Wedge: Correct.

David: About a year ago, I interviewed Dr. Peter Breggin, who I'm sure you've heard of, on what he calls the psychopharmaceutical complex. His views are controversial. Do you think he exaggerates the severity of the problem?

Marilyn Wedge: I have not read Dr. Breggin's work, so I would be hesitant to comment.

David: Okay. Do you ever find that psychopharmaceutical interventions with children makes sense?

Marilyn Wedge: In my experience, no.

David: Okay, well, that's clear.

Marilyn Wedge: Yeah. In my experience, no. I guess that's my answer.

David: Okay. I was intrigued by your evolution from play therapist to family therapist. Tell us about that.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, yeah. Well, in the late '80s I was a child play therapist. I had three children of my own, and - Dave, do you have children?

David: Yes, I do.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, good. All right, so you understand. I was a parent, and I enjoyed playing with my children and helping them grow, and I was very attracted to working with children in therapy. But I would do play therapy and play games and sand play, and I didn't get very quick results. After four or five sessions, I'd get a little results, but then I discovered that my conversations with parents in the waiting room was giving me better results, when we talk about being consistent about discipline and so forth.

But I really wanted to be more effective. I wanted that gratification of seeing that my interventions worked. So I sought out other methods, and I came upon Jay Haley. I went to a workshop of Jay Haley, one of the great masters of family therapy, and I was intrigued when he said that the average number of sessions to entirely resolve a child's problem was seven.

David: Seven sessions.

Marilyn Wedge: This was for me. Seven sessions. The seven session cure.

David: Okay.

Marilyn Wedge: And I would sometimes do 10 or 12 sessions and see very little change. So I flew out to Washington - left my three children with my husband and flew out to Washington for a week's training with Jay at the Family Therapy Institute. And that was kind of a revelation, an epiphany. I started to see the world in a different way. And then I took phone supervision with Jay - because he was in Washington, I was in California - and I took phone supervision on difficult cases for several years, and I began to see change. I began to see change in two, three, four sessions.

David: Wow.

Marilyn Wedge: So that's how I became a family therapist.

David: Well, I love the historical overview that you give in the book of strategic family therapy as developed by such figures as not only Jay Haley, but also Milton Erickson, Gregory Bateson, and Salvador Minuchin. It's very readable, and I think it would be useful for both the general reader and for students. If I were teaching a course on family therapy, or even therapy generally, I would definitely consider your book as an assigned text. You cover a lot of ground in a very straightforward, non-technical, unpretentious way.

Marilyn Wedge: Well, thank you very much, Dave. That is one of the nicest compliments I've ever had.

David: Well, I'm happy to be able to offer it, and it's just - I've taught courses like that in the past, and unfortunately, or fortunately, I'm retired, so I won't have a chance to put that into operation, but feel free to quote me on that as you promote your book.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, I will. Thank you so much. I might do that. That's a wonderful endorsement from an experienced therapist like yourself.

David: Yeah, thank you. I was struck by the fact, though, that you didn't mention Virginia Satir. Wasn't she also a key contributor? It left me wondering if perhaps you had some unpleasant personal history with her or something.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, no. Not at all. Not at all. I think the reason is I began to study strategic family therapy specifically, and so I really didn't even have connection with Minuchin personally. I strictly studied strategic, and Virginia Satir, well, she was a little earlier, and she had a different kind of way of working with families. But, no, no. That was unintentional.

David: Okay.

Marilyn Wedge: I mean there are also some other people I couldn't include either because I couldn't include the whole universe.

David: Right. She's just somebody that I associate very strongly with Jay Haley and Bateson and Milton Erickson. She was kind of influenced very much by that group as well. You're very careful to give credit to these pioneers of family therapy, and at the same time, it seems you have gone beyond to develop some unique approaches of your own in working with children and their families, which you refer to as strategic child-focused family therapy. So tell us about that.

Marilyn Wedge: Well, my own approach - it's kind of a honing and polishing of the strategic approach. I like to give parents very simple and clear, easy to understand directives. So, for example, my directives could be "no arguing in front of the children. If you want to have a discussion about your differences, get a babysitter, go out to dinner, air out what's on your mind, have your fights and arguments there." Another one would be "tell your children only the positive things about your day." Don't tell them about your problems with your boss or any distressing news because children tend to magnify these in their minds, and even though your problem with your boss may come and go, a child may get really worried.

David: Yeah, I was really struck by those sorts of instructions which occurred in a number of the cases that you gave in the book. And it's so easy for us as parents I think to sort of be mindless about that dimension, not to be aware of just how sensitive children are and that they can really, as you say, magnify. We tend to fret and worry in the course of our lives, but things tend to work out, but the child might really latch onto that anxiety in a bigger way than even we as a parent might be experiencing it.

Marilyn Wedge: Exactly. And parents are always amazed that this is what was troubling their child; that something that they didn't think was that big a deal, the child was very worried about it.

David: In most of the cases in the book, the child's symptoms are a reaction to or an expression of parental issues. Maybe there's a case that comes to mind that would help to illustrate that.

Marilyn Wedge: Well, yeah. I love the case of Alex. His parents were a delightful young couple in their 30s, and the father was a professional tennis coach. And Alex, he was starting to have problems at school. He was hitting kids. He was throwing things in the classroom, and it was quite unusual. It was abrupt change from his usual happy self. So the teacher referred Alex's parents to get him evaluated for ADHD or ODD, and they took Alex to his pediatrician. And the pediatrician said, "Well, he's just behaving like a boy. I'm not going to diagnose or medicate him. He's too young." He was only five and a half.

So they came to me. The pediatrician said, "Why don't you go and see a family therapist? Maybe there's something bugging him in the family." So they came to me - and lovely couple - and so I chatted with them for a while, and then, as I usually do, I asked them to sit in my comfortable waiting room, and I asked just to see Alex alone. And he was so adorable, this boy. He had blond curls and big, blue eyes, and we were sitting on the carpet playing a game of Don't Break the Ice, and I asked him my usual question: "Are you worried about your mommy or your daddy?" And Alex said, "I'm worried about Daddy because he doesn't have a occupation."

Well, I thought, what could he mean by this? So we talked some more, and he said, "Well, Daddy doesn't go to work any more." Well, I called the parents back in, and the father was wearing a big cast on his arm, and he had broken his arm, which is a terrible thing for a tennis coach.

David: Right.

Marilyn Wedge: Right. He was a pro tennis coach. And he hadn't been going to work. He was on disability, but the arm was healing, and there were some discussions; his wife was very concerned because she was on maternity leave and the disability wasn't enough to make ends meet, and they were very worried about finances, and they were - you know, a little arguing about this at times. But I said, "Well, Alex - you know he's worried, so I want you to reassure him that everything's going to be all right, that Mommy's not going to cry any more, and even take him to the tennis club and show him where you work. Have him meet the other coaches, meet your students, and that's going to help."

And the father looked at me incredulously. He said, "You mean he's worried about my broken arm?" I said, "Yeah, and the fact that your wife is sad, and the fact that you're not going to work." Well, they - okay, they did it. They never discussed problems in front of Alex and the father did take Alex to the club and introduced him to everyone. And Alex's problem stopped.

David: Yeah, that's great. And another thing that that story illustrates is you asked what I think you call your "magic" question. I don't remember if that was what you called it.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, invariant question, yeah.

David: Yeah, that you almost always ask the child, "Which parent are you more worried about?"

Marilyn Wedge: Right. And sometimes you have to play around with it. You kind of do it in a playful way. So, "Are you more worried about Mommy, or are you more worried about Daddy?" And if they kind of are a little puzzled by this, I say, "Well, just pretend. If you were worried about one, what would it be?" And you know what? They always give me an answer. And one little boy last week, he said, "I'm worried about Daddy 'cause he cries all day." Unfortunately, his father had lost his job.

David: Wow.

Marilyn Wedge: And the little boy started acting out at school. So, yeah, it's amazing. If you do it in a playful kind of way on their level, they will always answer me. And even teenagers, even teenagers will answer me.

David: And then there's a kind of a follow-up that you do that I think is very interesting, and probably it comes from that strategic tradition, is that you say, "Well, I will be the helper now." Tell us a bit about that.

Marilyn Wedge: Right. Well, that is, I must say, my own invention, my own creation. It's based on the view that a child is actually helping a parent by having a problem. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but if the parents have to focus on the child's problem and take the child to therapy, take them to the pediatrician, the parents forget about their own problems and focus on the child. So I assume that the child is helping in some way, and I say to the child very casually, with my hand gestures, "Well, I'm going to be the helper now," and I point to their parents. I sort of gesture with my hand over to their parents. And the child always gets it. That's the key phrase. "I'm going to be the helper now. You can just go back to being a kid."

David: Yeah, that's almost like an Ericksonian suggestion, right?

Marilyn Wedge: It is. It is hypnotic. It's a little bit hypnotic, but because I feel that in the child's unconscious, and not very far from the surface, the child realizes that they are doing this to help. And the interesting thing, Dave, is with teenagers, they will say to me, just say it straight out, "I'm tired of helping my parents. I don't want to have problems any more."

David: Wow. Now, a lot of your work involves reframing or creating a new narrative. You made reference, in fact, to narrative therapy. And I was particularly struck by your doing that even with a child who you were told was autistic. And autism is a pretty severe diagnosis, and many people would consider it rather immutable. Maybe you can tell us about the case with I think it was Paolo.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, Brianna. Brianna.

David: Oh, okay.

Marilyn Wedge: Yeah, it was a girl. But the key thing there, Dave, no one ever told me that the child was autistic. No one ever used the word, because the child came in and the presenting problem was behavior problems and speech delay. And I called the pediatrician - this was a very wonderful pediatrician - and I said, "Are you concerned that this little girl could be autistic?" And the pediatrician said, "Don't use the word 'autistic.' Both the parents are doctors. Treat it as a behavior problem and a speech delay." And so that's what I did.

The parents were wonderful. They went out and got speech therapy three times a week for the girl, and I worked with the couple's issues that I thought were influencing the child. As you remember, it was quite a complicated story: the father was very unhappy; he wasn't able to practice medicine in this country. So she never was diagnosed by anyone as autistic.

David: Oh, okay.

Marilyn Wedge: We didn't frame it that way. We could have. If the pediatrician had framed it that way, he probably would have sent her to another therapist.

David: I do seem to recall that there were cases where it had been framed with a certain diagnosis, and then you reframed it. You created a new frame.

Marilyn Wedge: Right. In some cases with a boy who's acting out, instead of saying he's ODD, I said, "Well, he's mischievous. He's naughty. We've got to tighten up on discipline so he won't' be so mischievous."

David: Yes, and you also sometimes reframe it for the child, right? Because they may have held it in a very negative way against themselves.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, well, you know I find that if I fix the problem between the parents, or if I fix the problem in the family, the child just goes back to being a child. You know I think that's where modern neuroscience comes in. They say the brains of children are extremely plastic or malleable, so that if you fix the stressor in the child's environment, the child's brain starts to change and rewire itself, and the child goes back to being a kid.

David: One of the things I love about the book is that it is so chock full of case histories, and each of the case histories illustrates an important point. And they all seem so compelling and convincing. It does raise the question, which you also pose in the book, which is why isn't family therapy used more widely?

Marilyn Wedge: Well, there's a fairly simple answer to that. Have you ever seen the TV commercial advertising family therapy?

David: No, but I've seen a lot -

Marilyn Wedge: Have you ever seen one for drugs?

David: Yes. Every single news program seems to target us with lots of drug commercials.

Marilyn Wedge: Right. So the answer is follow the money.

David: Mm-hmm. But even among those who decide to become therapists - non-medical, non-prescribing therapists - I'm just wondering if - I haven't -

Marilyn Wedge: It's not the mainstream model. I can tell you why. It's not the mainstream, right. Okay, there's a few reasons for this. It's really difficult to learn because you have to shift your perspective from thinking about individuals who have a problem to thinking about individuals as responding to a system in which there's a problem. So in our society, we're kind of Aristotelian. We kind of see individuals with essences, and if the child is depressed, there's something wrong with the child. And it's not intuitive to say, well, maybe the parents are fighting, or maybe the mother's depressed about her job. It's not intuitive to make that connection. Wouldn't you agree?

David: Right, yes. I think that the systems thinking does take a while to really latch on to, and also to figure out how to apply it in the rough and tumble of multiple people in the room.

Marilyn Wedge: Exactly. Now, we don't always see everyone in the room together. That was one of the early kind of dogmas - you see everyone together - but sometimes I'll see the parents alone. Sometimes I'll treat a child without even meeting the child; I'll just see the parents. And then sometimes I'll bring the child in for one session. Or with a teenager, I would see perhaps a mother and a daughter, if the daughter's having problems. So it's difficult to learn. It took me I'd say five years with supervision to be able to -

David: Yeah, I was impressed by that, that you were very dogged in going after it. And also I think it takes a certain kind of humility to admit that one doesn't know it all and needs supervision, can grow from supervision and critique.

Marilyn Wedge: Exactly. And with this kind of therapy, what I found is that supervision is essential because it's so counterintuitive. And it's so counterintuitive that you have to have someone who's very distant from the situation telling you what to look for.

David: Now, you have quite a bit in the book about Milton Erickson, who has long been one of my therapeutic heroes, and I really regret that I never got to meet him while he was still alive. I didn't even know that was possible till I met people who had made that journey. You've got some great Erickson stories in your book. Maybe you could give our listeners a little background on Erickson and share one or two of your favorite Erickson stories.

Marilyn Wedge: Oh, sure, Dave. I share your regret too. I never got to study with Erickson. I wasn't even a therapist the year he passed away, but Jay Haley, of course, did work with Erickson and some of the other people in the field did, so I feel blessed and fortunate to have worked with them.

The one story I love is about a little girl - well, she wasn't so little; she was in her teens - a 16-year-old girl who had a anxiety about her feet being too big. And she started to isolate herself. She stayed home. She wouldn't go to school. She wouldn't go to church - just wouldn't go out in public because she felt that her feet were too big. She was terribly self-conscious.

So the mother went to Erickson, and Erickson devised a plan that he would come to their house pretending to examine the mother for her signs of the flu, and he instructed the mother to have the girl present. And Erickson was a master at manipulating the situation, manipulating the space in the room, so he arranged things so that he was between the mother in her bed and the teenage girl, who was standing behind Erickson. And suddenly he took an unexpected step backward, right down on the girl's toes, and this girl shrieked. It hurt. Erickson turned around and said, "Well, if those things were bigger, a man wouldn't have to step on them." And the girl was shocked. She was, "Why is my mother's doctor yelling at me because my feet are too small?" Well, later that day she decided to go out to a football game, and she never had any fear about her feet being too big again.

David: Yeah, and there are just all these wonderful stories about Erickson. Now, he was a psychiatrist, but a rather unconventional psychiatrist, right? I mean where did he get this stuff from? Was there anything in his -? There wasn't anything in his training that taught him to do these things, was there?

Marilyn Wedge: No. I don't know. There was not. Although I have a hunch - and this is not corroborated by anything in the literature - I have a hunch that he had read some of the moral treatment texts by Pinel, for example. But we don't know. But one thing we do know is that when he was a child, Erickson contracted polio very seriously, and his doctors predicted that he would never walk again. He was confined to his bed, and Erickson decided to rebel against that. He was very rebellious, and he decided to prove his doctors wrong.

And so by self-hypnosis, by learning to rewire his own brain, he began to walk, and he walked quite well. He had to use a cane, but for most of his life he walked quite well. In the later years, he was confined to a wheelchair. But I kind of think that rebelliousness, that desire to prove his doctors wrong, was what led to some of these paradoxical strategies.

David: Yeah, you mentioned paradox, and Erickson was a master of metaphor and a master of paradox and assigning the symptom. And in your own work, you will sometimes use paradoxical techniques with either a rebellious child or resistant parents. Tell us something about that and if there's a case that comes to mind.

Marilyn Wedge: Well, yeah. One case that comes to mind is Elizabeth. Elizabeth was washing her hands more than 20 times a day, and her hands were getting red and chapped, and the teacher was kind of worried. She called the parents and the parents were worried. And so what we do in that kind of situation is ask the mother to direct her washing her hands, and that if she started to wash her hands more than three times a day - you know before meals - then the mother would ask Elizabeth to wash her hands seven more times. And pretty soon Elizabeth got pretty tired of her mother directing her to do this behavior, so she rebelled and stopped washing her hands.

David: Yeah, that's great. That's great.

Marilyn Wedge: You know there were other family interventions as well. I had to take care of the mother as well. There were some worries. That's basically what the paradox was. Another one was - if you want another one - Joey refused to go to bed, a little boy. Four-and-a-half year old Joey refused to go to bed and was always getting up for a snack or a glass of water. And so I had the parents direct him to get up for these things. So they would say, "Now, Joey, you have to get up and ask for a snack. You have to get up and ask for -" You know he'd get comfortable, curl up with his teddy bear, and his mother would, "Come on, Joey. You have to come get a glass of water." Pretty soon he got tired of this, and he just started falling asleep.

David: That's great. I just love those stories. And Erickson was also a master of metaphor, and you have a whole chapter on metaphor in your book. Say a little bit about that.

Marilyn Wedge: Well, you have to look at the metaphorical level in the family, and, again, it's a counterintuitive kind of way of thinking, but what you sort of see is a child who is kind of metaphorically expressing a problem in the family. So, for example, the case of Cora, this nine-year-old little girl, and she was a perfect student, A student, sang in the church choir, just a perfect angel, and suddenly she started to fail at school. And the teacher said, "What's the matter?" and Cora couldn't explain. She couldn't tell the parents. When they brought her into me, I said, "What's the matter? Why are you not doing well at school?" and Cora said, "I don't know." She just didn't know.

And so I talked with Cora alone a little bit, and she said, "I feel like such a loser," and she started to cry. So what is going on here? So I got the parents in, and I said, "What else is going on in the family? What's the second biggest problem?" That's a key question: "What's the second biggest problem in your family?" And the parents, they looked at each other, and they said, "Well, it would be our son. He's lost his latest job, and he's living at home, and he can't keep a job, and he's got a lot of bills. He's a loser." And I said, "Well, has anyone called him a loser?" And the father said, "Yeah, I shouldn't have done that, but I got really angry when he lost his job, and I said 'You're a loser,' and Cora heard it."

So she was metaphorically expressing, by failing at school, her brother's problem. And so of course she was helping; she was helping not her parents - she was helping her brother.

David: Yes, interesting.

Marilyn Wedge: Does that make sense? Does it make sense to you?

David: Yeah, sure.

Marilyn Wedge: Okay. And so, of course, then my job was to help the son, to help her brother get on his feet and move out, get a job, pay his debts. Yeah. And when I started working with the son, Cora went back to school and started getting A's.

David: Great. Well, you know some percentage of my listeners are students and/or are therapists already. Where do you recommend interested professionals go for training in strategic family therapy these days? Because most of those pioneers we talked about aren't around any more.

Marilyn Wedge: It's true, and that's an interesting question. There is a Family Therapy Institute in San Diego, and there are some family - it would take some digging and research, but you know what? I'm glad you asked that. I will try to put up on my website resources for students or therapists who want to get more training.

There are some conferences, like the Milton Erickson Conference, which I present at, that have some students of Erickson. Bill O'Hanlon, for example, was Erickson's gardener because that's the only way he could afford to study with Erickson. So there are some people around, but I think I would like to put up some resources for conferences where students could go and then get in touch with supervisors.

David: Hey, that's a great idea. As we wind down, let me end on a personal note, that is, get personal with you. Do you see anything in your family of origin that might have predisposed you to become a family therapist?

Marilyn Wedge: In my family of origin.

David: Yeah.

Marilyn Wedge: Wow. That's interesting, because my parents - they were second-generation. My father had to quit high school in order to support his family. It was during the Depression and so he didn't even graduate high school. My mother didn't go to college. She went to work right after high school to help out with the family and her siblings. It's an interesting question, and I would like to think about that more, Dave.

David: Okay.

Marilyn Wedge: I mean my father was a problem solver. He was a problem solver. He always said, "Well, okay. Let's try to think of a solution. Let's not go through the drama of emotion. Let's just look for the solution here." Maybe I got it from him.

David: Well, the other piece of it that comes to mind for me is that your professional career has been about rescuing kids, and often it's because they're carrying the things that their parents were carrying, and if your parents were in the Great Depression, maybe that somehow fed into your desire to help people.

Marilyn Wedge: It might be. They really - they did want to help people. They were very caring, very humble people. And I think humble people want to help other people.

David: Yeah, well, that's great. Well, Dr. Marilyn Wedge, thanks so much for being my guest on Wise Counsel.

Marilyn Wedge: Thank you so much, Dave. The pleasure was mine.

David: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Dr. Marilyn Wedge. As you heard, I'm quite impressed with her book. It's written in a non-technical way that would make it accessible to any interested reader, and yet it's solid enough that I think it would make a great text, or at least a supplementary text, for students or professionals interested in the approach.

You might also wish to visit her website at And if you're looking for a family therapist in your area, there is an appendix at the end of the book on how to find a family therapist.

You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the home page.

If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like ShrinkRapRadio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.


Links Relevant To This Podcast:

About Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.

Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D.Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D. is a family therapist with more than twenty years of experience helping children, adolescents and families. She is the author of two books: In the Therapist's Mirror: Reality in the Making and Suffer the Children: The Case against Labeling and Medicating and an Effective Alternative. She is the originator of "strategic child-focused family therapy," which empowers parents to help their children heal without labeling them with so-called "psychiatric disorders" or medicating them with psychotropic drugs.

Marilyn has a doctorate from the University of Chicago and did a post-doctoral fellowship at the Hastings Center for Bioethics in New York. She has taught at the California State University, East Bay, the College of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago YMCA Community College. She lives in Oak Park, California with her husband Gene. In her free time, she enjoys ocean swimming, bicycling and sailing.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Dr. Wedge Interview - Kathleen - May 17th 2011

I really enjoyed listening to your interview with Dr. Wedge.  Her ideas are insightful and I think reading her books might be helpful to parents even if their children have no problems (yet).  I think I am going to purchase one of her books because I loved hearing about her cases and how they were resolved.  Great interview!

Prescriptions for Children - Stav - May 17th 2011

Visiting Nurse Service of New York blogger and pediatric nurse specialist just posted about the problems with prescribing drugs to children at which I think is a useful discussion to have.




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