Normal Family Processes, Third Edition: Growing Diversity and Complexity / Edition 3

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Since its original publication two decades ago, this widely adopted text has been acclaimed as a milestone in the clinical literature. Surveying the vast diversity of family forms, life challenges, and value systems in our rapidly changing society, the volume has helped redefine the boundaries of "normal family life" for generations of students and practitioners. This fully revised and expanded third edition once again brings together leading contributors to illuminate the complexities of healthy family functioning across varied structural arrangements and sociocultural and developmental contexts. Existing chapters have been updated or fully rewritten to reflect the latest theories, research, demographic trends, and clinical practices. Seven entirely new chapters address single parent families, immigrant families, spirituality, family resilience, key processes in marital success and failure, and more.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Froma Walsh's work has moved the study of family processes from a deficit approach to an inclusive, strengths perspective that is critical to the teaching of Human Behavior and the Social Environment."--Roberta R. Greene, PhD, School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin

"This volume is like an exquisite quilt, whose individual sections each can capture our interest and imagination and enlarge our vision. Taken as a whole, the book provides depth, breadth, and a sense of connection to all families in their struggle to grow and persevere in the face of adversity. Enabling us to inhabit and embrace differences in family structures, processes, relationships, behavior, and beliefs, Walsh and her contributors have given the mental health field an especially fitting gift. Our imperative as clinicians and researchers to reclaim an expansive, layered conceptualization of normal families--in the face of an increasingly narrow and divisive right-wing political agenda--is powerfully facilitated by this sweeping book. Graduate students and practitioners in every mental health discipline will gain a new vision of what it means to be a family in the 21st century, and new respect for family resilience as a reliable partner in any therapeutic endeavor."--Evan Imber Black, PhD, Director, Center for Families and Health, Ackerman Institute for the Family

"If you think that you are up to date with the changing issues that challenge today's families, read this book and think again! This completely new third edition from Froma Walsh will be exciting for both old-timers and newcomers to family therapy research and practice. The broad and rapidly growing diversity in family life is freshly examined from a systemic perspective. From immigrant families to gay/lesbian families, from behavioral genetics to family social policy, from race to spirituality and beyond, these distinguished authors probe the complex multiplicity of what was once a single model of the family. Truly a great book."--Lyman C. Wynne, MD, PhD

"A wonderful antidote to the typical focus on family dysfunction, Normal Family Processes examines what works in families and what makes them resilient. Froma Walsh has found the formula for an indispensable text: the right topics about today's diverse families, and the best authors to address those topics. This classic text grows better with each edition."--William J. Doherty, PhD, Marriage and Family Therapy Program, University of Minnesota

"As in previous editions, the great asset of this book is the deep understanding of its editor and authors regarding the many forms of family life existing today. These writers take a strengths perspective as they see the potential for coping found in different types of families. The coverage of each family form is superb and fully up to date in view of recent scholarly findings. The book can serve as a classroom text in graduate and undergraduate courses in either family life or family practice. Practitioners will also rely on this book as the major reference on families."--Charles Garvin, PhD, School of Social Work, The University of Michigan

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781572308169
  • Publisher: Guilford Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/20/2002
  • Edition description: Third Edition
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 678
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Froma Walsh, MSW, PhD, is a Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and the Department of Psychiatry, Pritzker School of Medicine, and Co-Director of the Center for Family Health at the University of Chicago. A member of the Board of Directors of [i]Family Process[/i], she is a past editor of the [i]Journal of Marital and Family Therapy[/i], past president of the American Family Therapy Academy, and the recipient of numerous awards for her distinguished contributions to the field of mental health. Dr. Walsh's authored or edited publications include [i]Strengthening Family Resilience[/i] and [i]Spiritual Resources in Family Therapy[/i].
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Read an Excerpt

Normal Family Processes

Growing Diversity and Complexity

The Guilford Press

Copyright © 2003 The Guilford Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57230-816-8

Chapter One


Reconstructing Family Normality

Froma Walsh

All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. -Tolstoy

All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike. -Nabokov

The first edition of this volume (Walsh, 1982) posed the question, "What is a normal family?" Many believed that Tolstoy was right: that families must conform to one model to be happy and raise their children well. The second edition (Walsh, 1993) grappled with the dilemmas in defining family normality, with their growing diversity and the recognition that "normality" is socially constructed. Over the past two decades, families have become increasingly varied and complex. Despite the dire predictions of family demise by single model advocates, it appears that Nabokov got it right: Research attests to the potential for healthy functioning in a variety of family arrangements. In the turmoil of our rapidly changing world, families in their rich diversity are more important than ever. As Maya Angelou put it, "The ache for home lives in all of us; the safe place where we can go...." Yet families today face unprecedented challenges that need to be understood and addressed.

This overview chapter seeks to advance our knowledge of the diversity and complexity of contemporary families. First, we consider the social construction of family normality and clarify four major perspectives from the clinical field and the social sciences. The value of a systems orientation is highlighted, to understand "normal" family processes in terms of typical and optimal family functioning. Next, we survey the emerging trends and challenges for families, examining the myths of idealized family models and actual family patterns from sociohistorical and multicultural perspectives. Chapter 2 examines the implications for clinical practice, family research, and social policy.


The Social Construction of Normality

Clinicians and family scholars have become increasingly aware that definitions of normality are socially constructed, influenced by subjective worldviews and by the larger culture (Gergen, 1991; Hoffman, 1990). Family therapists have become wary of the term "normal," taking to heart Foucault's (1980) criticism that too often in history, theories of normality have been constructed by dominant groups, reified by religion or science, and used to pathologize or oppress others who do not fit ideal standards.

The very concept of the family has been undergoing redefinition as tumultuous social and economic changes of recent decades have altered the landscape of family life (Coontz, 1997). Societies worldwide are experiencing rapid transformation and uncertainties about the future. Amid the turmoil, couples and families have been forging new and varied arrangements as they strive to build caring and committed relationships. These efforts are made more difficult by questions about their normality. Therefore, our current conceptualizations of normal family processes-both typical and optimal-must take into account the changing views of changing families in a changing world.

Although some might argue that the subjectivity of any constructions of normality, along with the growing complexity and diversity of families, make it impossible or unwise to address the topic at all, this very subjectivity makes it all the more imperative. Notions of normality sanction and privilege certain family arrangements while stigmatizing and marginalizing others. They powerfully influence all clinical theory, practice, research, and policy. It is crucial to be aware of the explicit and implicit assumptions about normal families that are embedded in our cultural, professional, and personal belief systems.

Perspectives on Family Normality

The definition of family normality is also problematic in that the term "normal" is used to refer to quite different concepts, from varying frames of reference, influenced by the subjective position of the observer and the surrounding culture. The label may hold quite different meanings to a clinician, a researcher, or a family concerned about its own normality. Our language confounds understanding when such terms as "healthy," "typical," and "functional" are used interchangeably with the label "normal." In an overview of concepts of mental health in the clinical and social science literature, Offer and Sabshin (1974) were struck by the varied definitions of a "normal" person. Building on their synthesis of views of individual normality, four perspectives can be usefully distinguished to clarify conceptions of a normal family (Walsh, 1982, 1993): (1) normal as asymptomatic; (2) normal as typical, average; (3) normal as ideal; and (4) normal in relation to systemic transactional processes.

Normal Families as Asymptomatic

From this clinical perspective grounded in the medical/psychiatric model, the judgment of normality is based on a negative criterion: the absence of pathology. Therefore, a family is regarded as normal-and healthy-if there are no symptoms of disorder in any member. This perspective is limited by its deficit-based skew and inattention to positive attributes of family well-being. Healthy family functioning involves more than the absence of problems and can be found in the midst of problems, as in family resilience (Walsh, 1998; see also Chapter 15, this volume). As Minuchin (1974) has emphasized, no families are problem-free. Thus, the presence of distress is not necessarily an indication of family pathology. Similarly, freedom from symptoms is rare: Kleinman (1988) reported that, at any given time, 75% of all people are "symptomatic," experiencing physical or psychological distress. Most do not seek treatment but instead define it as part of normal life.

Another problem lies in the common assumption that an individual disorder is invariably a symptom of family dysfunction. It is erroneous to presume that all individual problems are necessarily symptomatic of-and caused by-a dysfunctional family. Conversely, it cannot be assumed that a healthy person is the product of a healthy family. Studies of resilience find many healthy individuals who successfully overcome the adversities of growing up in seriously troubled families (see Walsh, 1996).

Further problems arise when therapy is used as the marker for family health or dysfunction, such as when researchers compare clinical and nonclinical families as disturbed and normal samples. Simply because no family member is in treatment, we cannot presume that a family is healthy. "Nonclinical" families are a heterogeneous group spanning the entire range of functioning. What is defined as a problem and whether help is sought vary with different family and cultural norms; worrisome conflict in one family might be considered a healthy airing of differences in another. A troubled family may not seek therapy or may attempt to handle problems in other ways, such as through kin support or religion. Conversely, as mental health professionals are the first to avow, seeking help can be a sign of health.

Normal Families as Typical, Average

From this perspective, a family is viewed as normal if it fits patterns that are common or expectable in ordinary families. This approach has been widely used by social scientists, with statistical measures of frequency or central tendency. In the normal distribution (or bell-shaped curve), the middle range on a continuum is taken as normal and both extremes as deviant. Thus, by definition, families deviating from the norm are "abnormal." Unfortunately, the negative connotations of deviance lead to the pathologizing of difference. Note also that from this perspective, an optimally functioning family would be abnormal (i.e., atypical). This approach disengages the concept of normality from health and absence of symptoms. Family patterns that are common are not necessarily healthy and may even be destructive, as in violence. Moreover, because average families have occasional problems, this would not in itself signal family abnormality/ pathology.

Normal Families as Ideal, Healthy

This perspective on normality defines a healthy family in terms of ideal traits for optimal functioning. A well-functioning family is seen as successful in accomplishing family tasks and promoting the growth and wellbeing of individual members. We must be cautious about standards of healthy families derived from clinical theory based on inference from disturbed cases. The pervasiveness of cultural ideals must also be considered. Social norms of the ideal family are culturally constructed values that prescribe how families ought to be. A certain range of conduct and particular family form and roles are considered desirable, or even essential, according to prevailing standards in the dominant society. Yet ideals may vary with particular ethnic or religious values. Moreover, unconventional family arrangements may be optimal for the functioning of a particular family in its context.

It is crucial not to conflate concepts of normal as typical and normal as ideal. Talcott Parsons's influential studies of "the normal family" in the 1950s made a theoretical leap from description of a sample of typical white, middle-class, suburban, nuclear families to the prescription of those patterns, such as rigid gender roles, as universal and essential for the healthy development of offspring (Parsons & Bales, 1955). Psychiatrists then extrapolated from that model to hold that deviation from those patterns is inherently pathogenic for children, even contributing to schizophrenia (Lidz, 1963; Lidz, Fleck, & Cornelison, 1965). Such pathologizing of differences from the norm-either typical or ideal-stigmatizes families that do not conform to the standard, such as single-parent and gay and lesbian families (see Part II, this volume).

Normal Family Processes

This perspective, grounded in systems theory, considers both typical and optimal functioning in terms of basic processes in human systems, dependent on an interaction of biopsychosocial variables (Bertalanffy, 1968; Grinker, 1967). Viewing functioning in developmental and cultural contexts, this approach allows for unique coping styles and multiple adaptational pathways. This transactional view attends to ongoing processes over time (Wynne, 1988). In contrast, others have generally sought to identify fixed traits of a so-called normal family-thought of as a static, timeless entity or viewed cross-sectionally at a single point in time.

Normal functioning is conceptualized in terms of basic patterns of interaction (Bateson, 1979; Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967). Such processes support the integration and maintenance of the family unit and its ability to carry out essential tasks for the growth and well-being of its members, such as the nurturance and protection of children, elders, and other vulnerable members. Families develop their own internal norms, expressed through explicit and unspoken relationship rules (Jackson, 1965). Conveyed in family stories and ongoing transactions, a relatively small set of patterned and predictable rules regulate family processes and provide expectations about roles, actions, and consequences. Family belief systems are shared values and assumptions that provide meaning and organize experience in the social world and guide family life (Hess & Handel, 1959; Reiss, 1981). Cultural and religious values strongly influence family norms (Spiegel, 1971; McGoldrick, Giordano, & Pearce, 1996; see McGoldrick, Chapter 9, Walsh and Pryce, Chapter 13, this volume, and Walsh, 1999b).

A biopsychosocial systems orientation takes into account the multiple, recursive influences in individual and family functioning. Thus, there is no simple 1:1 correlation between individual and family health or dysfunction. A disturbed child is not necessarily the product of a dysfunctional family; genetic/biological vulnerabilities and larger social influences must be assessed (Reiss, Hetherington, Plomin, & Neiderhiser, 2000; see Towers et al., Chapter 22, this volume). From an ecosystemic perspective (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Keeney & Sprenkle, 1982), each family's capabilities and coping style are considered in relation to the needs of individual members and to the larger social systems in which the family is embedded. Successful family functioning is dependent on the fit, or compatibility, between the family, its individual members, and other social systems. Family distress is viewed in context: It may be generated by internal stressors, such as the strain of coping with an illness, and complicated by external influences, such as inadequate health care (see Rolland, Chapter 17, this volume).

A family life-cycle framework considers processes in the multigenerational system as it moves forward over time (Carter & McGoldrick, 1999; see McGoldrick & Carter, Chapter 14, this volume). Normal family development is conceptualized in terms of adaptational processes that involve mastery of life-stage tasks and transitional stress (Duvall, 1977). The concept of normal as typical is useful systemically to describe expectable strains and transactional patterns over the course of the family life cycle. Optimal family processes vary with different developmental demands and structural configurations. For example, high cohesion is optimal in rearing small children but shifts in adolescence toward more autonomy (see Olson & Gorall, Chapter 19, this volume).

Normative stressors are those that are common and predictable (Boss, 2001). It is normal, and not necessarily indicative of family pathology, for disruption to be experienced with major transitions, such as the birth of the first child (see Cowan & Cowan, Chapter 16, this volume). Non-normative stressors, which are uncommon, unexpected, or "off-time" in the life cycle (Neugarten, 1976), tend to be more traumatic for families, as in the untimely death of a child. Family distress at such times is to be expected (i.e., normal, typical). Strains may be worsened by a pileup of stressors, or barriers of poverty and racism (see Boyd-Franklin, Chapter 10, this volume).


Excerpted from Normal Family Processes Copyright © 2003 by The Guilford Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Part I. Overview
1. Changing Families in a Changing World: Reconstructing Family Normality
Froma Walsh
2. Clinical Views of Family Normality, Health, and Dysfunction: From Deficit to Strengths Perspective
Froma Walsh

Part II. Varying Family Forms and Challenges
3. Contemporary Two-Parent Families: Navigating Work and Family Challenges Peter Fraenkel
4. Risk and Resilience after Divorce
Shannon M. Greene, Edward Anderson, E. Mavis Hetherington, Marion S. Forgatch, David S. DeGarmo
5. The Diversity, Strength, and Challenges of Single-Parent Households
Carol Anderson
6. Remarriage Families and Stepparenting
Emily B. Visher, John S. Visher, and Kay Pasley
7. Lesbian and Gay Families
Joan Laird
8. Adoptive Families
Cheryl Rampage, Marina Eovaldi, Cassandra Ma, Catherine Weigel-Foy

Part III. Cultural Dimensions in Family Functioning
9. Culture: A Challenge to Concepts of Normality
Monica McGoldrick
10. Race, Class, and Poverty
Nancy Boyd-Franklin
11. Immigrant Family Processes
Celia Jaes Falicov
12. Changing Gender Norms: Transitional Dilemmas
Shelley A. Haddock, Toni Schindler Zimmerman, Kevin P. Lyness
13. The Spiritual Dimension of Family Life
Froma Walsh, Julia Pryce

Part IV. Developmental Perspectives on Family Functioning
14. The Family Life Cycle
Monica McGoldrick, Betty Carter
15. Family Resilience: Recovery and Growth Out of Crisis and Challenge
Froma Walsh
16. Normal Family Transitions, Nonnal Family Process, and Healthy Child Development
Philip A. Cowan, Carolyn Pape Cowan
17. Mastering Family Challenges in Illness and Disability
John S. Rolland

Part V. Healthy Couple and Family Processes: Mapping the Complexity
18. Interactional Patterns in Marital Success and Failure
Janice Driver, Amber Tabares, Alyson Shapiro, Eun Young Nahm, John M. Gottman
19. Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems
David H. Olson, Dean M. Gorall
20. Measuring Family Competence: The Beavers Systems Model
W. Robert Beavers, Robert B. Hampson
21. The McMaster Model: A View of Healthy Family Functioning
Nathan Epstein, Christine E. Ryan, Duane S. Bishop, Ivan W. Miller, Gabor I. Keitner
22. Unraveling the Complexity of Genetic and Environmental Influences on Family Relationships
Hilary Towers, Erica Spotts, David Reiss

Part VI. Social Policy Perspectives: Societal Constructions of Family Health
23. Family Social Policy: Dilemmas, Controversies, and Opportunities
Ann Hartman

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