therapy sessions

Brice Family – Systems Paper

Claudia Rangel

Brice Family – Systems Paper

MFCC 561

Mrs. Cindy Christiansen

March 7, 2018

Brice Family

This paper is about the Brice family and how the first and second therapy sessions went. I will talk about what systems approach to therapy was used for this family’s difficulties, and I will also include how Napier and Whitaker conceptualized the family’s struggles. I will talk about what specific interventions they used to support their systemic understanding of this family. I will also describe how this differs from an individual understanding, and

First Session

The Brice family consist of five members. The mother Carolyn and angry mother, the father David a VIP lawyer, they also have a teenage daughter Claudia and enraged teenager, Laura is the youngest who is six-years old and younger son Don who is 11 and is the pacemaker. The family was referred to seek therapy by a psychiatrist who Claudia had been seen for her own personal problems. As her sessions progressed she felt that her whole family would benefit from joining her in therapy sessions. The entire family was included in the first session and it was a challenge for the therapist to get a clear picture of the family dynamics and the work that the individuals needed through this process. When Don the youngest son did not show up to the session with the family, Whitaker began to question the family’s commitment to the therapeutic process. According to Whitaker (1978, p. 6), “to start the process with one fifth of the family absent would be unfair to Don and I think unfair to you. He’s part of the family, and we need him here if the family as a whole is going to change.”

Mrs. Caroline felt that the main issues was their teenage daughter issues and did not believe that the whole family should be there in therapy. Both the daughter and mother waked in the room angry. The family were so angry that you felt the stressful tension in the therapy room. Mr. David was respectful and mentioned he was happy he was there, but his body posture and language told the therapist he was not comfortable being there. The youngest son Don did not show up for the first session.

Laura the youngest daughter seemed to be in a cheerful mood with high energy. An argument broke out during the sessions between the daughter and mother, The mother seems to think they are in this therapy session to resolve Claudia’s issues that have been affecting the entire family for months now, the mother doesn’t think the family as a unit has a problem. The two therapist in the session agreed that it would not be ideal to start the family session without Don who is the youngest son and did not show up to the session. Carol and David were not happy with this choice and felt the longer they waited for their daughter to get help the worst it would get. Carl the mother explained how important it was to have Don at the first therapy session, she also explained the dynamics of the family if they wanted to be a part of the family’s sessions they had to call and set up a time so that Don who is the youngest son would be included in the next session.

Dave who is the father did not hesitate and made the family next session appointment with the wife’s approval. Carolyn agreed with her husband and towards the end of the session Carl connected with her daughter Laura who is the youngest by engaging her in dialog and asking what she thought about everything that was going on in the family. Carl was able to show the family how her children and husband all have a special place in the sessions, and it is not just about one person but the whole family.

Second Session

As the session continued, Whitaker (1978) explored the family, trying to dig deeper and uncover the structure, and the patterns in the family that needed more attention and were more significant than Claudia’s problems. Some identified patterns include triangulation between Claudia, David, and Carolyn, and coalitions between David and Carolyn against Claudia, Carolyn and Don against David, and David and Claudia against Carolyn (Nichols, 2013, p. 78). The emotional divorce tone was also identified between Carolyn and David with the acknowledgement of the affair with work for David and the affair with the mother for Carolyn (p. 18). Whitaker conceptualized the affairs as a result of a fearfulness of dependency for the couple and the feelings of entrapment related to the old family of origin.

Whitaker and Napier conceptualized the family’s difficult times as a whole problem. They did not see it stem form one family member. They felt the family all had some issues as individuals and as a couple for the parents that were not address when they should have been. Because the issues were set aside they resurfaced and intensified along with Claudia’s changing attitude and miss behavior. This is one of the reasons both parents seem to focus on Claudia and identified her as the main cause of the family’s problems.

When using individual understanding of a family’s problem each family member is seen separate. The family is not taken in as a unit, but instead they work on the individual to be able to create harmony in the family. Each member issue are addressed individually and worked on without the rest of the family having a part. When looked at as individual there is a targeted behavior the individual is seeing as the problem not the family unit as a whole.

Carl used the systemic family approach with the Brice family, both therapist looked at the circular interaction of the family problem, the family role of each family member and how they fit in to contributing to the family dysfunction and made sure the entire family was present for the first intervention. Both therapist looked for positive contributions to the social organization of the family that they could look back on to start working with the family as one unit and not focus on one member of the family to be the problem. One of the interventions came by the simple sitting arrangement the family had. The family in the beginning of the session unconsciously sat according to the family structure and how they felt it was. By having the therapist change the seating arrangements was a symbolic change and shift in the family structure to what it should be.

Specific Systemic Interventions

Employing the systemic approach, Napier and Whitaker (1978) determine specific interventions designed to engage the entire Brice family in the process of change. Using the experiential premise that the root cause of family problems is emotional expression, both therapists engage the family in opportunities for emotional experiences (Nichols, 2013, p. 145). This is evidenced in the first session when Whitaker stated to Laura, “What do you think about all this crazy stuff?” (p. 11). The emotional expression opportunities continued with Whitaker pursuing emotional responses from all family members in attempt to gauge the family temperature.

Whitaker (1981) also denoted “There is no such thing as marriage, only two scapegoats sent out by their families to perpetuate themselves” (as cited in Nichols, 2013, p. 147). Accommodating this theoretical premise, Whitaker engaged in interventions designed to reveal the parental subsystem struggles as well as the dysfunctions in the marriage propagated onto the children. This is exemplified when the children identify the triangles in the family or the teams each member is a part of (Napier & Whitaker, 1978, p. 19).


In conclusion, Whitaker and Napier (1978) provide insight into this fragmented family system. Using the systemic approach, they conceptualize the family’s difficulties and employ experiential interventions in relation to their systemic understanding. The application of theoretical principles to the family as a whole sustains the family system and eliminates the need for one person to be responsible for the whole unit.


Baines, J. (2012). Theoretical modalities and the Brice family. Unpublished Manuscript, NV: University of Phoenix.

Napier, A. Y., & Whitaker, C. A. (1978). The family crucible: The intense experience of family therapy. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Nichols, M. (2013). Family therapy concepts and methods (10th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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