The Family Crucible: The Intense Experience of Family Therapy

The Family Crucible: The Intense Experience of Family Therapy

by Augustus Y. Napier PhD, Carl A. Whitaker M.D.


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“If you have a troubled marriage, a troubled child, a troubled self, if you’re in therapy or think that there’s no help for your predicament, The Family Crucible will give you insights . . . that are remarkably fresh and helpful.”—New York Times Book Review

The classic groundbreaking book on family therapy by acclaimed experts Augustus Y. Napier, Ph.D., and Carl Whitaker, M.D.

This extraordinary book presents scenarios of one family’s therapy experience and explains what underlies each encounter. You will discover the general patterns that are common to all families—stress, polarization and escalation, scapegoating, triangulation, blaming, and the diffusion of identity—and you will gain a vivid understanding of the intriguing field of family therapy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060914899
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 172,951
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Augustus Y. Napier was born in Decatur, Georgia, in 1938 and graduated from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in English. After deciding to become a therapist through a personal therapy experience, he earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina. During an internship in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he began to work with Dr. Whitaker as a student co-therapist, an experience which formed the basis of this book. Dr. Napier later served on the faculties of the Psychiatry Department and the Child and Family Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin. He now directs The Family Workshop, a family therapy training institute in Atlanta, Georgia, where he works frequently with his wife, Margaret, who is also a family therapist. A frequent consultant, he is the author of numerous papers and of The Fragile Bond, published by Harper & Row in 1988. The Napiers have three children.

Carl Whitaker, M.D., was professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. He was one of the founders of the field of family therapy.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Question of Structure

"Would you like to see a new family with me?" Carl said. The voice on the telephone was that of my present colleague and former teacher, and he sounded less casual and confident than usual. "A father who's a VIP lawyer, an angry mother, and a teenage daughter who sounds stormy as hell." His invitation sounded a little like a friendly dare.

"Sure," I said instantly. "When?" Usually I would think carefully before agreeing to be someone's co-therapist, but not when the person asking was Carl Whitaker.

We found a joint opening later in the week. "I'll check with the family," Carl promised. He was about to hang up when I asked, "Anything I should know before we begin?"

Carl was obviously in a hurry. "Nothing except that the situation is very tense. The family was referred by a child psychiatrist in town who says that the girl's getting worse. He's been seeing her individually. The family isn't sold on family therapy, but they say they'll all come once."

"How many in the family?" I asked.

"Five. There's a younger brother and sister."

"I'll bring my work gloves," I said amiably, letting him go. "See you Thursday."

Even though the distance from my office to the Psychiatry Department where Carl teaches is only a couple of miles, I was late for the appointment. It was a cool, beautiful June day, and I had let the drive be a leisurely one. As I strode into Carl's office, I realized that

I had unconsciously given him time to tell the family why he felt he needed a second therapist and to offer my credentials for the job. He would have mentioned that I was apsychologist in practice nearby and a trusted colleague. He would have talked about the power that families have and how we therapists can be more effective if we work as a team. Since the family had been referred primarily to him, the public relations effort would be helpful. I wasn't sorry for the delay.

Carl introduced me to the family. "This is David and Carolyn Brice, their daughters, Claudia and Laura. We're waiting for their son, Don."

Here was that perpetually awkward moment: not knowing whether to shake hands. There is a social component in the beginning of family therapy, but there is also a professional distance. Uncertain, we wavered between the two for a fraction of a second until the father resolved it by extending his hand to me and smiling anxiously. "Glad to meet you," he said, of course not meaning it. Still, he looked genial enough--a tall, square-shouldered man wearing glasses. He looked directly at me, a sharp, perceptive gaze, yet at the same time he seemed to recoil, as if he thought he might be hurt. He seemed at once assertive, alert, friendly, and afraid. The hesitant posture, the baggy tweeds, the glasses, the keen analytic gaze: clearly his work involved the use of his intellect.

His wife did not offer to shake hands. A slight woman, almost pretty, she looked depressed. Like her husband, she had dark, curly hair. She wore an expensive tailored suit of natural linen, a bright red scarf flaring out of the edge of the neat collar, and a silver pin curled sinuously on her jacket. I sensed that she was angry as well as depressed, her smile token.

The adolescent daughter smiled tightly, nodding to me, but sitting firm and unmoving. She was prettier than the mother, with the same delicate features, the same curly hair. She was very anxious and very angry. After she nodded, she looked down as if in shame, thus identifying herself as "it"--the reason the family was there.

The other daughter, about six, sat in Carl's miniature rocking chair, a little too big for it but pumping back and forth eagerly. "Hi," she said cheerfully. She looked like a happy, active child. The mother made a gesture in her direction to indicate that she should rock less energetically, and she slowed perceptibly.

Carl's office is furnished with two large leather sofas that face each other across the length of the room. At one end three leather-upholstered chairs fill the space between them. At the other end are Carl's swivel chair, placed beside his desk, which faces into the corner, and the co-therapist's chair. The seating forms a tidy rectangle. The father and adolescent daughter sat next to each other in two of the chairs, and the mother sat alone on one of the sofas. The youngest daughter was very near the mother in the little rocker. I noted the seating: each daughter with one of the parents, and the parents separated.

I settled in my chair, looking fondly around Carl's familiar office. It was clearly and comfortably his nest, lined with rows of bookcases, every available surface covered with the memorabilia of his career: sculptures, paintings, photographs, newspaper clippings, cartoons, posters, miscellaneous objects of art or interest, all joined together somehow by the complex pattern of a large Oriental rug.

Carl was sitting in his chair, smoking his pipe, relaxed and waiting. In his mid-sixties, he is professor of psychiatry at Wisconsin and is the department's resident family therapist. He is a solidly built man of medium height whose bearing conveys a mixture of casualness and precision, ease and alertness. He has kept the large forearms and hands shaped by his boyhood on a dairy farm, and he has also maintained the relaxed friendliness of those origins; but in the interim he has acquired a look of scholarly acuity, a subtle, worldly-wise half smile of the person of wide experience.

"So," I said to Carl, my voice relaxed, "can you tell me something about the family?" We deliberately save such briefings until the family is present.

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The Family Crucible: The Intense Experience of Family Therapy 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this 5 years ago, still one of my favorite reads. Excellent insight into family therapy but reads as a novel. Could not put it down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone studying to be a Marriage and Family Therapist MUST read this book. Carl Whitaker and his co-therapist disclose intimate details of a family they see for over two years. The family is completely disengaged in the beginning and full of detouring, suicidal ideation and coalitions. They end up HEALTHY in the end...A MUST READ for sure!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent. As a psychology student, it really helped me understand what actually happens in a family therapy session. I felt like I knew the family and could relate to their situation. It is a very easy and enjoyable read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nowhere in the literature on families and family therapy is there a book that is comparable to this one. It covers the abstract and difficult to master concepts in the study of family systems and family therapy in a form that's easy to digest. And the tale of this family's therapy reads like a novel, as the reader experiences what it's like to be inside the therapist's office. References to 70's culture may seem a bit dated, but the turmoil and struggle of family life is as fresh as if it were written yesterday.