Monday, October 5, 2020

What is the shape of your family' s story?

What is the shape of your family story?

I am a Psychiatric Social Worker, more formally titled, Licensed Clinical Social Work Psychotherapist, licensed to practice in New York State where I have worked in this profession since 1968 over 51 years.

I continue to practice in my own office about 3/4s time at age 74 seeing clients with various mental health concerns. I see people of all ages from 5 to 100. I meet with them individually, with their life partners, in families and sometimes therapy groups.

Like all psychotherapists, I have many models of understanding about what makes people tick and how to facilitate their getting their lives on a better track. I describe myself as being eclectic when it comes to choosing models to draw ideas from that I think might help my clients. If I am forced to choose though I find family systems theory and narrative theory the most helpful. So I was delighted to find Bruce Feiler’s great book, Life Is In The Transitions, to help me further crystalize my thinking about how to be helpful to my clients in therapy.

Here is a taste of what Mr. Feiler intends to describe in his book from the introduction:

Why would knowing your family’s story help you navigate your own? “All family narratives take one of three shapes,” Marshall explained. First is the ascending family narrative: We came from nothing, we worked hard, we made it big. Next, the descending narrative: We used to have it all. Then we lost everything. “The most healthful narrative,” he continued, “is the third one.” It’s called the oscillating family narrative. We’ve had ups and downs in our family. Your grandfather was vice president of the bank, but his house burned down. Your aunt was the first girl to go to college, but she got breast cancer. Children who know that lives take all different shapes are much better equipped to face life’s inevitable disruptions.

Feiler, Bruce. Life Is in the Transitions (p. 6). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

Further in the introduction, Feiler writes that what gets people into trouble is that they expect their life to be linear, a straight line from start to finish, but most lives don’t work like that any more. They are non linear with disruptions and when many disruptions occur together Feiler calls them “life quakes.”

The direction of people’s lives with their ups and downs Feiler calls their “shape.” How have our lives unfolded? Have they been straight lines, ups and downs like a saw blade, a circle, a spiral, and oblong object?

What everybody said, in one way or the other, was the same thing: My life has been disrupted, my dreams shattered, my confidence punctured. There’s a gap between the upward, dependable, “every problem can be cured with a pill, an app, or five minutes of meditation” life I was sold, and the unstable, unpredictable, utterly fluid life I’m forced to contend with. The life I’m living is not the life I expected. I’m living life out of order.

Feiler, Bruce. Life Is in the Transitions (p. 8). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

What shape has your life taken? How has it unfolded? Is it what you expected or has it surprised you? Referring back to Marshall’s three types of life narratives is the story of your family ascending, descending, or oscillating over the generations?

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