Content Process Theory and Interdependent Members Within Families
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Content Process Theory and Interdependent Members Within Families

Families are often interdependent upon each other whether they are a functional family or a dysfunctional one. They need each other in some way and will make excuses about why that is so even when the family does not work. Therapists listen to what the families say to each other and what those messages can be interpreted to be.

Warren Bennis was a student of Kurt Lewin, he developed the idea that families are interdependent upon each other.  In other words they need each other in some ways. We can see this clearly when one spouse is very sick and needs the other, at the same time, the other is a caregiver at heart, and needs to be needed.

A dysfunctional family is often a family which is interdependent, yet they stay together because they are emotionally crippled and feed off of each for their support and their reason for anger. They often say they want to leave the family because they see how it is dysfunctional, but come up with excuses such as “I don’t have the money to make it on my own,” or “Who would care for Joey if I left?”

Clinicians help families through various methods

Content process theory

Content process is an important feature of group therapy.  A good therapist has to listen to what family members are saying to each other and to see if what they are saying is helpful.  For example, a mother who tells her teenage daughter to dress like a young lady is sending a positive message. However, if she said “Stop dressing like a slut”, this message could be interpreted by that daughter as negative and that her mother sees her as a slut.

Sometimes it is hard for therapists to see the difference between what is being said when it is actually good and what message it is sending to the other person.  If a mother tells to her teenage boy to stay in school, no therapist would see anything wrong with that.  This is what the boy should do to be successful in life.  The content was good but what process is going on with the boy?  The boy might have mumbled something or not responded at all.  This could mean that the mother is not fostering an environment where the boy can be assertive and speak his mind.  He may be afraid to state his opinions for fear that they will be shot down by a very strong-willed parent.  He might feel his opinions are not listened to and so why bother stating them in the first place. 

The clinician must recognize that the teenage years are very trying but teenagers don’t always rebel to break away from everything they have been taught. They are trying to make their way in life, to forge an identity for them.  Therapists need to provide the mother and teenager with tools to open the channel of communication.  The family needs to talk through situations with mutual respect.


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Comments (4)

Well done! This is an awesome piece. I'm like I am with Jerry... you should write text books.

Ranked #2 in Psychology

thanks hon

Excellent, Carol!

Ranked #2 in Psychology

thanks Sandy