A Program for Treating Transgenerational Dysfunction

Transgenerational dysfunction refers to configurations of dysfunction which limit the potential for human development and are passed down through verbal and non-verbal linguistic patterns. Transgenerational dysfunction is a growing phenomenon found in virtually every social strata in varying degrees, but is especially perceptible in alternative school settings, court-ordered counseling situations, substance abuse and mental health treatment centers, homeless shelters, and prisons. Most experienced mental health professionals can readily identify severe transgenerational dysfunction.

To understand what you will find in this book and how you will be equipped, let’s get an understanding of the meanings behind certain terms found in the title, Uncapping Family Wis­dom: A Program for Recognizing, Treating, and Reconciling Transgenerational Dysfunction. The program has a positive premise that latent wisdom resides in the family system. Three steps are necessary to uncap the latent family wisdom:

  1. Recognizing transgenerational dysfunction: A self-evaluation tool allows the parents to reveal the developmental level of their children and then the level of their own development. Another self-evaluative exercise focuses on the specific general semantics of conflict found in their family.
  2. Treating transgenerational dysfunction: Conceptual information is transferred incrementally to family units in a community setting by the use of interactive educational presentations to the community, family self-assessments which assess and instruct, structured exercises which allow the family to apply what they learn immediately, and specific techniques for bypassing shame. As the family acquires information, they determine the desired change. The family learns in a safe community environment with healthy norms maintained by the therapist.
  3. Reconciling transgenerational dysfunction: Filling in gaps in conceptual information occurs by providing educational steps in life skills in the structured exercises. In the midst of a protective nurturing community, the family members practice the educational steps and learn how the family fits into a community.

The simply-structured program is easy to follow. The difficult work of cross-disciplinary integration has been done for you and is now built into the program, simplifying the facilitation. Exposure to new information is a very important part of the program. The families use the assessments to better understand their strengths and define exactly where interventions need to occur. Then, through the carefully structured exercises, the families proceed in the integration of each concept and fill in gaps in their information base. Participation is self-rewarding due to the growing freedom from disquiet in thoughts and feelings as the family members receive important developmental permissions.

A Community Setting

Although parts of the program can be used in private practice, one important facet of the program described in Uncapping Family Wisdom is the administration of the program within a supportive, controlled community setting. The program assumes that many of the problems come from societal impacts and immediately invites the families to find out how their family has been impacted by society. This process takes the blame for the problems off the individuals for a time until they have more information with which to address problems they find in the family. Knowing that others are learning is also affirming. In time, the responsibility for family discord becomes a family goal with choices that will build the self-esteem of the family.

Pinsof (1995) described the safe, warm envelope for family therapy in a private setting as a “holding environment.” In this program the community acts as the safe, warm, holding environment with the community as a large group and the family acting as a unit within that group. The facilitator sets the norms for the community. Understanding the pressures placed on the families, the facilitator acts to focus the community on norms that the community requires for safety and structure. With needed norms in place, the family can relax within the supportive environment of families, evaluate their own progress, and acquire missing conceptual information. This type of intervention is necessary because many of the families with generational dysfunction often have no sense of community. The families usually have been handling problems that could have been stopped by community boundaries if an organized community existed. Sometimes, families also have stressors coming from their family of origin. The stressors coming from the lack of community boundaries cause additional strain. Then, if the families begin to show the strain, they are blamed and stigmatized. The Uncapping Family Wisdom program maintains that given the right conceptual information, within a consistent holding environment, the family can gain confidence in their successes and work toward healing their family. They also have the opportunity to learn how they are connected to society and can become a powerful force for change.

Since many families have probably not experienced a community with knowledge of civilized established norms for the members, they are especially vulnerable to shame. Shame lies in the core of one’s personhood and is an overwhelming debilitating feeling that one may have done something wrong, improper, or immodest, perhaps even outside of one’s awareness. While guilt has to do with something one has done that is perceived as wrong or stupid, shame lurks in the very essence of a person’s perception of himself or herself. Shame can be very devastating in the process of self-scrutiny. The very language used by these families often includes shaming in direct and indirect communication, so addressing the potential for shame is critical to continuing treatment, attendance, and participation in the meetings. In Uncapping Family Wisdom, special forethought is given to techniques designed to bypass the element of shame in the program community setting.

Uncapping Family Wisdom offers a program which is flexible and easily specialized to various populations. In future chapters, you will read about three programs specialized to different populations. The linguistic and semantic information may be largely new to you, but the information is integrated in a style that is easy to learn. I think you will enjoy the assessments, based upon developmental observation and general semantics. The assessments are completed and evaluated by the families themselves, giving them more control of the interventions and allowing them to protect needed family boundaries. Careful directions are given to the community facilitator for the formation and process of the community environment.