From a child's perspective : how children in family therapy characterize their families and view therapeutic change
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Effective treatment in family therapy requires the physical presence and emotional participation of children (Minuchin, 1974). Their perspectives and characterizations of their families provide important information and are crucial to positive treatment outcome. This study examined children’s views of their family before and after a family therapy intervention. The subjects included 131 families and 223 children, ranging in age from 7 to 17 years, who were participants in the Family-School Assessment and Intervention Program (FIP), a family therapy clinic at The University of Texas at Austin. Two different ethnic groups, Whites and Mexican Americans, were viii included in the investigation. The primary goal of this study was to examine the children’s perceptions of their families before and after treatment in regards to family social support and parental relationships. Secondly, this study investigated how adolescents (14 – 17 years of age) differ from preadolescents (11 – 13 years of age) in their view of family social support and family relationships. Lastly, behavioral measures were completed by the teachers before and after treatment as an additional index of treatment outcome. Preadolescents and adolescents who participated in the study were given self-report measures, which included the Family Relationship Index and the Family Assessment Measure. The younger children (ages 7 – 10 years of age) were administered the Parent Perception Inventory. Teachers completed the Teacher’s Report Form before and after treatment in order to measure the Identified Child Patients’ (ICPs’) emotional and behavioral status in a school setting. Ethnicity and the number of family therapy sessions completed were additional variables examined in relation to treatment outcome. Results indicated that the children who participated in the study perceived improvement in the family as a whole following the family therapy intervention. The type of change perceived was found to be related to the developmental level of the child. Following the family therapy intervention, each age group characterized the family as improved in different ways. Adolescents perceived changes with each parent. In contrast, preadolescents rated family social support as improved, and the younger children viewed their mother’s negative behaviors as decreasing. Teachers, who provided an outsider’s perspective, did not rate the ix ICPs as significantly improved in school-related behaviors. The number of family therapy sessions completed was not found to be related to the ICPs’ perception of change; however, the study demonstrated that there was improvement in the preadolescents’ relationship with their mother when given more sessions. Despite limitations related to methodological issues typical of clinical data, this study contributes to family therapy research by examining the unique perspective of children as a measure of treatment outcome. The investigation has implications for research and practice in showing that children do perceive improvement in their families following family therapy, and that their response to the therapeutic process is related to their own developmental stage.