Family Therapy as the Rites of Passage
© 1998 Janet S. Ishikawa, Ph. D. and Daniel W. Fullmer,
Reprinted with permission. First published by Pi Lambda Theta,
Hawaii Chapter, in Educational Involvement, Volume VI, November
Passage" describes how one moves from infancy to adulthood
in any and all cultures. In the American complex post-industrial
information society, the process requires about 20 years of formal
schooling before a child becomes a fully functioning adult. Very
few people complete 20 years of formal education let alone continue
their education for the rest of their lives! Consequently, many
people are stuck at a level of functioning that is below their
potential because they are without the necessary skills, knowledge
and wisdom that would make them functionally literate both in
emotional and cognitive behavior. (1998 News Report says 90 million
American adults are functionally illiterate). An example is someone
who has information about how to manage a human group but cannot
use it because she/he has not learned how to learn to work with
people. She/he did not complete the culture's Rites of Passage.
Rites of Passage differ from culture to culture and are perpetuated
from generation to generation. This is called intergenerational
transfer of behavior. One example encountered in family therapy
is the cycle of "welfare begets welfare." Another is
the "blue collar" thinking process begets "blue
collar" thinking process. One of the more destructive patterns
in the intergenerational transfer of dysfunctional family behaviors.
These disorders are created in families due to incomplete or inadequate
Rites of Passage. Family therapy is the process by which the family
behavior patterns are interrupted; otherwise, the patterns are
perpetuated from generation to generation. It is very difficult
to interrupt any behavior pattern. If you have ever tried to change
one of your behaviors, you would understand. First, one must want
to change; second, one must recognize which behavior needs to
be changed; and third, one must be willing to persevere to make
Rites of Passage are the substance of family therapy process.
The cultural Rites of Passage are functionally literate. The family
therapy co-therapists must lead the process through the functionally
literate behaviors that rehabilitate the dysfunctional behavior
in the family members.
Dysfunctional families beget dysfunctional families by a process
called Object Relations. That is, you catch-on to your behavior
largely out of awareness while in interaction with other persons
(environment/milieu). Because one catches on to his/her behavior
(it isn't taught), the person replicates whatever behavior is
extant in his/her milieu. If your family is dysfunctional, you
will most likely be dysfunctional. It is all because of and to
what and how one is exposed to behavior. Remember, how one is
exposed or comes into contact with an experience is as powerful
or more powerful than the event itself. An example is: would you
prefer your daughter learned about sexual intercourse by normal
means or by rape? Both experience sex, but one is disabling for
life, the other is life fulfilling. Family therapy frequently
treats the consequences of BAD EXPOSURE.
A major contributing factor to the condition of emotional/mental
dysfunction in America today is the absence of appropriate behavior,
skills, knowledge, wisdom and the discipline to use them. If the
person does not know a behavior to use in a situation s/he may
avoid that setting. The person may use an inappropriate behavior
that doesn't work and results in dysfunction for the person and
for society. Almost everyone knows someone who avoids may of life's
encounters because of deficits in their social skills repertoire.
It is a common malady.
Interaction is the healing process in every culture. Because interaction
can heal, it also has the potential for pathology. What was described
previously about Rites of Passage where deviant is the social
norm t hat exists, a limit to family therapy is revealed. It cannot
"cure" some pathologies where a major conflict with
the culture exists.What is done in those cases includes the sharing
of coping skills to use to compensate for the schism one lives
with in a society that does not accommodate the deviant behavior.
(Parents Who Kill, Ishikawa & Fullmer, in process).
The late Gregory Bateson (1972) described a condition in parent-child
relationships that can produce schizophrenia, a condition where
interaction creates a pathological context. Interaction can be
very powerful. The notion is: If a parent-child relationship exists
in a context of mutually contradictory interaction, the resulting
behavior for one or both is most likely pathological. For example,
if we agree that yes means no and no means yes, we can continue
to interact, in health. But if we treat yes and no as interchangeable,
there is no way to decide the true meaning, we each are left with
undecidable consequences (confused). When an interaction is undecidable,
there can be no confirmation, only disconfirmation. If I believe
what my common sense tells me, I am wrong for having ignored the
other person's interaction., the consequence for me is to be unable
to decide, thus I shall appear confused like any schizophrenic
personality. This example requires the principal person (schizophrenic)
to be locked in relationship so the interaction cannot be escaped.
When locked into this context, the interaction has a pathological
An example of health giving interaction is much more common. The
essence of interaction gives a clear definition of self. The impact
gives definition of self. There is no confusion of signals, symbols
or messages. They each mean what they appear to mean. Yes means
yes and no means no. It all seems so simple. It is, when it works.
When some interference or disconfirming element is inserted: i.e.,
a parent with a narcissistic need t control the child, consequences
turns pathological. This condition is called a SYMBIOSIS.
Interaction is a cultural healing process in itself and is essence
of therapeutic treatment. Interaction accumulates, whether in
verbal/nonverbal or contextual experiences. Thus, it is clear
how culture is acquired through accumulating interactions (Bateson,
1936, 1958). Language and other behavior are acquired through
similar interaction processes. The nature of the interaction is
both a cause and an effect because it is as important how one
comes into new knowledge (experiences) as it is what one comes
t know and do; i.e., rape.
The imprinting pattern is the baseline for all knowledge and skill.
The metaphor may be a program for the brain that permits perception
of blue but not green. The blind spot is the color green. To see
green will required reprogramming the brain. The re-programming
process is called learning-how-to-learn (imprinting). The perception
of green will happen when the re-programming is complete, not
before. Re-programming is done by imprinting. Subsequent to early
imprinting with the linguistic pattern of a language, we are constantly
exposed to possible new imprinting patterns through our life experiences
but often times they are missed because one is not ready to learn.
A simple way to experience the idea above is to learn a new word.
Then notice how many writers have begun to use it. Genre, for
instance, is one common example.
When clients are told that family therapy is about human behavior,
something you always have with you, they seem unimpressed. When
a comment is given that says, in effect, "Here is what you
are right now" because what you perceive is all you can be.
If you can see yourself talking these lines you have read and
write some for others to read, then perhaps, you can see yourself,
perhaps hear yourself. Self awareness and self-disclosure are
first cousins of learning-how-to-learn. Family members sometimes
are able to see themselves, at least in parts. It is difficult
to get them not to judge what they see, and just let it be. Get
acquainted with yourself before making judgments.
How to Learn
In a linear thinking Western culture
learning process follows a sequential paradigm. The paradigm is
a context and context is the source of meaning. This is how we
learn new knowledge only if it fits into one's existing paradigm
Learning how to learn requires one to go beyond the limits of
the existing knowledge or paradigm or context. One will need to
learn how to acquire a new context. One may have to create it.
The meaning of behavior is resident in a context. An example of
how to learn to create a new context is found in Edwin Abbott's
FLATLAND, (1884). The middle-aged Square experienced space land-a
place where there are three dimensions. He could never explain
this to his Flatlanders because they had no context for three
dimensions. Their Flatland paradigm (context) had only two dimensions.
(see Appendix A).
The Three Levels of Interaction
learn how to learn by experiences in the third level of interaction.
There are a least three levels of interaction used in Family Therapy.
The first level of interaction is the verbal content level. The
verbal content level is almost useless for changing behavior.
The whole family has structures and patterns of behavior. These
structures become simplified because of dysfunction. To understand,
the theory used goes beyond systems theory. The family is treated
as a whole. The Systems Theory is too limited. The whole family
is influenced by interaction with an external environment the
therapists (one man and one woman) produce. In groups of families,
the entire collection of persons creates the milieu. The interaction
is on more than one level, all-at-once.
of the Three (3) Levels of Interaction
One (1) is the verbal/nonverbal content interaction using
the culture rules for engagement (engaging in conversation). Family
therapy has rules: no sex/no violence is one rule. Each person
will speak for him/herself is another rule and is enforced for
each family member. Family members will bring rules of their own.
We resist contrary rules. No one is to be punished
in any way for what that person says in the therapy session.
Level Two (2) is the context, milieu and/or environment.
There are several common references here to help understand how
context is an interaction. Readiness is a common concept that
one needs in order to make sense of an idea. For example, the
Flatland metaphor of a two dimensional world negates understanding
of a three dimensional place, see Sphere vs. Middle-aged-Square
in Appendix A.
Learning how to learn is creating a context for one's self where
none existed. Because meaning flows from context, understanding
a three dimensional world is impossible for the Square from Flatland,
a two dimensional world; until, the Sphere transforms the square
into a cube, three dimensions, an experience (transformation)
the Square could not forget or explain to flatlanders, etc. Contextual
interaction is so profound that one misses the experience until
one creates a new and appropriate context. (See, learning a new
word - then notice how many writers using it!)
Level Three (3) is not directly controlled by the family
therapists. However, level three interaction is a consequence
of the process of making the situation more complex, confusing,
stressful and chaotic. We make the situation for the family (a)
worse before they can reorder the system (dissipative structure)
before (b) it gets better.
Because the family is a system that is like other dissipative
structures, the family in extreme chaos (disorder) will suddenly
impose order from within. The family learns to change the rules
to fit the changed relationships. This begins in session one because
the therapists are present (The therapists are strangers in the
To understand how Family Therapy changes behavior (Rites of Passage),
we use ideas from more than one therapy. For example, a key concept
in Systems Theory is the fact that living organisms (families)
are self-organizing systems; that is, structure and function are
not imposed by the environment but are established by the system
by itself. This is what we call the SECOND LEVEL of interaction.
The Rites of Passage at this stage in family therapy are to help
the family members learn how to establish structure to support
the functions they wish to create.
The third level of interaction is when a less complex system (dysfunctional
family) moves from, or evolves into, a more complex system (functional
family members). The theory here is of dissipative structures
which states: "Order emerges because of entropy, not despite
of it." Translate entropy as confusion (unusable energy)
and disorder (dysfunction) in a family.
Theory in Practice
Dissipative structures are
open systems in which a structure (family) exchanges energy with
the surrounding environment. It can be a laboratory chemical solution,
an amino acid, a human being in a whole family. Their form or
pattern is self-organizing and is maintained by a continuous dynamic
flow of interaction with the environment.
The more complex the structure is, the more energy it must dissipate
(act out) in order to maintain homeostasis or equilibrium. The
dysfunctional family is stymied by not being able to act out-that
is to dissipate the accumulating energy from the interaction.
This state of flux or increased dysfunction makes the family system
highly unstable. If the family is somewhat unstable to begin with,
the increased instability can create sudden changes because of
the increased internal fluctuations. Family therapy intervention
overloads the dysfunctional system. The increased emotional "load"
creates a critical mass; i.e., a catalyst in a liquid creates
a solid, all at once. The state of the system, due to the fluctuations
and perturbations (intervention and interaction), reaches a critical
level of distress or stress (energy). These elements are amplified
by the system's (family's) many internal connections and can drive
the whole system into a NEW STATE or organization, even more adequately
ordered, coherent and emotionally connected (bonded) or less dysfunctional.
This process takes from six months to three years and results
in THE TRANSFORMATION described above.
The New State occurs as a SUDDEN SHIFT, much like a kaleidoscope
shifts into a new pattern, suddenly. The shift to a new state
is a non-linear event; that is, multiple factors act on each other
ALL AT ONCE. The Ishikawa and Fullmer method of Family Therapy
is an all at once intervention sans any agenda of any linear sequence
of techniques or functions. The intervention is continuous interaction
at all levels (at least three) in a dynamic context.
The theory of dissipative structures in families claims that with
each new change or state, there is greater potential for more
and different changes. Each new state (change) brings increased
complexity. There are new rules to handle the new relationships.
Ilya Prigogine claims in his theory, as Ilya puts it, there is
a change in the nature of the laws of nature. For example, one
can see this in a healthy family, one with little or no dysfunction.
The rules change constantly to keep pace with the changes - new
states of relationships within the family; i.e., when a new baby
is added, everything changes - new rules are in place and the
family grows. Healthy families live in constant conflict, but
each conflict is resolved almost immediately. Life moves on uninterrupted
using the new rules. Each conflict creates the opportunity to
create new rules. Without new rules to live by, an impasse is
created. Nothing can happen until the impasse is resolved. This
is the state a dysfunctional family lives in forever - no resolution
of conflict, no new rules, --sometimes for years at a time.
In a dysfunctional family, all the energy is made latent by the
impasse. The impasse creates a crisis. The crisis escalates. The
milieu is tense. All the energy of the family is trapped by the
impasse. Nothing is happening in the family. Nothing can happen.
The impasse condition continues as a way of life. Sometimes, persons
hold even their breath! The consequence is sometimes violence
- abuse of a family member or a victim in society or suicide.
Hopefully, the family enters therapy before the extreme acting
Selected Research Findings
the brain so it can hear, see, feel, smell and taste the world
(environment) you are in right now. The reason you do not do this
simplistic perception process rests on the premise that you project
from the myths you maintain to structure your world - in brief,
the way you have your brain/mind programmed. We perceive only
what we are expecting because it is all we have a context for
in our readiness condition. One's perception is one's reality.
There is a family in the research by Ishikawa and Fullmer (in
process) that has shown four (4) generations of transformed behavior
patterns of functioning behavior that replaced dysfunctional behavior
in a mother and four children. The mother was labeled a schizophrenic
and spent time in a mental hospital for several years. She and
her family participated in family therapy for four years. The
dysfunctional schizophrenic behavior pattern was replaced by functional
behavioral patterns she learned through family therapy and she
was not schizophrenic any more. Not only was the mother not schizophrenic
any more, but also, the next generation, another generation and
the fourth generation were not schizophrenic any more. The schizophrenic
behavior pattern was interrupted, intervened and influenced by
family therapy. The transformation which occurred in the schizophrenic
mother after 4 years of family therapy continued to the next generations.
Once the transformation is complete, the new behavior will continue.
Transformation is a one-way event. For example, from caterpillar
to butterfly is a common experience of transformation. Once transformed
into a butterfly, it can never become a caterpillar. In a like
manner, once schizophrenic behavior is transformed, he/she will
never go back to being a schizophrenic again. This is how powerful
transformation is. However, when the transformation is not complete
(the family stops therapy before completion of transformation),
the family will regress to its original dysfunctional behavior.
The condition of dysfunction is profound in its effects upon performance
behaviors within the family generations. When dysfunctional behavior
patterns are transformed to functional behavior patterns, the
social system benefits. If there is no transformation of dysfunctional
behavior patterns, society inherits the dysfunction. Dysfunction
impacts society because the expectation is for everyone to be
functionally literate. Functional literacy (emotional and cognitive)
usually refers to the level of mastery of those functions one
must be able to perform autonomously in order to make the society
work for him/her. The concept includes emotional functional literacy.
Rites of Passage create functional behavior; incomplete Rites
of Passage result in less than functional literacy.
Family therapy research clearly indicates how individual behavior
toward self and others is primarily a function of the level of
skills, knowledge and discipline at his/her command. This condition
is especially true in the emotional behavior observed. The myth
that children do as adults what was done to them holds true at
a very disturbing frequency. One way to examine a person's level
of functioning is to access his/her private personal mythology.
We explore personal myths by asking each family member to write
his/her personal myth. It is a story with redundant themes. The
themes are the substance of the personal myth.
The private personal mythology defines the person by setting the
parameters of behavior and belief. Add to this any imprinting
and subsequent conditioning from past experiences and it will
cover most of the baseline for emotional response repertoire in
each person. (If you don't know, you can't do). The answer in
family therapy is to help members learn how to learn what they
need to know by first writing their myth. If you listen to each
person talk, you can sort out the myth that person lives by.
Experience with life situations is the source of learning the
skills and some of the knowledge and discipline needed to carry
one through the here and now of life. The primary difficulty for
most people studied was how to gain access to relevant life experiences
where one might learn the necessary skills and knowledge. Family
therapy is one way to access the necessary skills and knowledge.
Society is so successful at providing privacy that most people
are isolated from others who are skilled. (This is one consequence
of inadequate rites of passage). Consequently, for some families,
the isolation can be pathological. Take a family that has it all--appropriate
skills, vast knowledge and the necessary discipline to make life
work for them. How does one get access to this resource? There
is no way. Outside of family therapy, there is almost no way to
access such a family. It reflects the state of the art in interpersonal
skills and the myth of privacy extant in the contemporary society.
Consequently, those who have, keep; those who have not, lose out
because they have no access to those who have the skills and knowledge
they need. This is the condition addressed in family therapy.
Family therapy makes the resources available to dysfunctional
families. Family therapy is one way to access the necessary skills
Theory and Philosophy
theoretical basis of family therapy Ishikawa and Fullmer use comes
from philosophy, psychology and theology. Jean Paul Sartre claimed
in BEING AND NOTHINGNESS (1943) that humans continuously make
themselves. He claims that an individual's present (here and now)
being has meaning only in therms of the future context one can
create. Hope is essential to mental well being. The source of
hope is in the idea that one controls one's future. One of the
curative factors used in family therapy is to instill hope. To
accomplish this goal of instilling hope (control of one's future),
family therapy treats the milieu the family has created. The milieu
is everything influencing life in the family. The task is to find
and correct the cause that produces the noxious effect. Family
therapists create a milieu that generates a cause that produces
a desirable effect. Family therapists know how to create and control
their future. The demonstration is profound because the treatment
family is in the process with everyone else.
In more simple terms, the method of
treatment prevents the creation of noxious symptoms (effects/behavior).
The treatment system is unorthodox because it incorporates self-help.
Family therapy is a form of highly specialized education. The
education model helps families to learn new skills with which
to produce positive consequences. The education model permits
learning and learning-to-learn. The medical model does not provide
education. It is a professional (top) down to patient process.
This would not work in family therapy. The learning how to learn
process, as discussed, is extant in every culture.
The task in family therapy is to transform behavior by helping
members to become aware of the gaps in their rites of passage
and learn the skills, knowledge and wisdom to fill the gaps. In
some 460 plus cultures in the world (Mead and Heyman, 1965) each
culture uses some form of a family group to pro-create, socialize,
acculturate and thus civilize its members. All cultures use interaction
over time to achieve the ends desired. As reported earlier, family
therapy transforms behavior that is dysfunctional so the family
can become functionally literate emotionally and cognitively.
The way family therapy helps people is to connect them with what
is happening in their "here and now." The task for the
family members is to prepare each one for a future she/he will
create. Rites of Passage are the substance that creates the purpose.
The purpose is to become functionally literate both emotionally
The substance consists of information, knowledge, wisdom and creative
imagination. The arena is a series of family therapy sessions
in which a "circle of wisdom" is created. The level
of wisdom is a variable. We begin wherever the family members
are. In six months to three or four years (still less than 20
years), the level of wisdom rises to a criterion set by the family
members. There are few sharp rise, plenty of plateaus and some
Family therapy uses imagination, myth, ritual and creativity in
living to find the necessary tools to use to create a passage
from (here) where one is to where one wants to be. It takes ingenuity,
time, energy and perseverance to complete the crossing from dysfunction
to function. There is usually resistance to change.
The time family therapy takes varies with each person and consequently
each family. Some want to change, but do not. Some say, "I
do not want to change," and do change. Interaction with the
family therapist over time changes nearly all persons and it happens
mostly out of awareness. Family therapy takes a long time. One
did no get one's behavior over night. Likewise, it will take considerable
time to change it. Change sounds as if one has to stop being oneself.
This is not true. Each person is capable of many behavior patterns.
The larger the repertoire, the greater the creative potential
is for each person.
Family therapy requires time because the interaction over time
formula does not change human behavior easily. It is a fact that
in almost every culture, interaction is a continuous process for
every member. The quality of the interaction is what family therapy
moderates to interrupt, intervene and influence family members'
behavior. A quick fix is shallow and no permanent transformation
is achieved. Consequently, the use of interaction over time is
a long-term process used to alter, in depth, a person's way of
being in this world.
Why does family therapy take so long? There is no quick fix as
was mentioned previously. Family therapy takes a long time because
the goal is TRANSFORMATION instead of "putting out the fire."
In the transformation process clients learn new ways of behaving
on their own time. They are never directed/instructed to behave
in a certain way. They are never told they are wrong. They are
guided into discovering "who they are" and how the choices
they make are getting them the consequences they have - they are
guided into looking at the consequences of their behavior. If
they don't like the consequences; then, look at the choices you
have made and perhaps learn to make different choices by first
selecting the consequence you prefer. Family therapy helps people
create their "heaven" instead of their "hell"
by learning to make choices that are productive rather than destructive
and by learning to think instead of reacting emotionally in a
disorganized way. Family therapy is a slice of real life. Like
real life, living is a process of creating options and alternatives
so one may choose. Choice creates consequences. Consequences are
largely irreversible. Once a choice is made, whether conscious
or unconscious, the consequence is probably irreversible. Family
therapy requires family members to learn that each person is responsible
to take title to (own) the consequence(s). For example, some of
the people you know chose to get a Ph.D. Others decided not to
get a graduate degree, an undergraduate degree, or go to college.
The consequences of those decisions are still with each of the
Response-ability - the ability to respond appropriately to a life
situation is functional literacy. Family therapy helps persons
take response-ability for the life they have created. If life
is absurd for a person, the person may tend to blame others or
the circumstances. This behavior is called externalizing one's
cause. Until a person learns to internalize one's cause in every
life event (take response-ability for her/his own choices/behavior),
life will continue to be more or less absurd. Family therapy helps
people learn how to become more mature (internalize the cause)
so they may create a life that is less absurd and hopefully works
The newer mythology in family therapy is to use less techniques
based upon personality theories and to use more interventions
based upon the causes of conflicts in personal relationships.
Conflicts that remain unresolved in personal relationships lead
toward increasingly greater dis-order in the lives of those involved.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Volume IV, calls all diagnoses
"dis-orders." Dis-order has replaced the older medical
concept of "dis-ease.." Instead of achieving a "cure,"
treatment leads toward increasing the level of order in behavior
and consequently in living. The order one experiences leads toward
increasing a sense of control in one's life. The more of a sense
of control one has, the more a future with hope is created. Consequently,
the person may exhibit fewer symptoms of dysfunction. The less
of a sense of being in control of one's life, the more symptoms
of dysfunction will be exhibited by that person.
Interrupt, intervene and influence are the three steps in family
therapy. These steps overlap and are continuous throughout the
life of a family therapy treatment process. The primary task is
to interrupt the dysfunctional behavior pattern. Once the interrupting
process is a success, the intervention can begin. There are multiple
interventions used in family therapy on the three levels of interaction
mentioned previously. The primary intervention is the process
of verbally interacting with the family and its members. The interaction
has qualities that come from the psychologists' personalities,
skills, knowledge, wisdom and experiences. The three levels of
interaction are straight forward without any exploitation. The
therapy process requires the three levels of interaction to continue
with integrity. Integrity is the primary characteristic the therapists
must have to influence change if the therapy process is to lead
The essence of family therapy is to learn how to see oneself as
others might see her/him and then to change as you wish to be.
"To see myself as others see me" is the ultimate wisdom.
It is the goal of learning-how-to-learn in human behavior. Learning-how-to-learn
is the imprinting pattern acquired from accumulating interactions
over the earlier years of life or a given time period. The imprinting
pattern is the basis of one's perception. (Imprinting is used
here to be the baseline of all subsequent learning. Imprinting
overlaps conditioning but the intent here is to distinguish the
antecedent for conditioning, habit and rational thought). The
meaning in behavior is resident in the context. Context is always
physical, emotional, social and spiritual. Where I am coming from,
where I am and where you are coming from, all converge to create
the current context we share. If we do not share the context,
the meaning may be distorted. Each person needs to learn to listen
to what others are saying. One needs to make sure that what "I"
heard is what you intended "me" to hear.
The family usually needs help with learning how to listen to what
any other person is saying. Listening
is a skill. Family therapy uses a direct system to concretize
listening. It goes like this:
What did you hear "Jane" say?
What did you (second person) hear "Jane" say?, etc.
Ask Jane if you heard what she meant for you to hear?
Continue to check out each message for each person.
The typical "normal" listening pattern is something
like this: "I know you think you heard what I said. But I'm
not sure you know what I meant. Therefore, we may not be on the
same page or even in the same book."
The Process of Family Therapy
process created in Family therapy is a systematic ritual consisting
of discovering, analyzing and disclosing the intimate personal
myths, folklore, and values of each individual. The process can
happen in a group or in an individual context. The task for the
family therapists is to analyze the intimate material that each
member discloses. The personal myth cannot be accessed directly.
It is implied from the "stories" each one tells. The
therapists listen to the themes, especially t he repetitions of
themes in the intimate personal stories. The repeated themes are
the redundant themes that manage the person's perceptions (life).
The themes are interpreted as myths, the bases of belief. Remember,
the myths define the experience the person is having here-and-now!
Each person tries to confirm her/himself during each moment of
time by sharing intimate material (beliefs) so others may agree
or disagree with her/his belief. The task for family therapists
is to help the individual disclosing intimate material to perceive
accurately what others, especially significant others, may be
perceiving about her/him. The task is a constant challenge due
to the paradoxical nature of introspection and self-perception.
These show mystery because these conditions cannot be accessed
directly. There is no magic that these authors are aware of to
make the process work more quickly. However, the more honest and
open one can be, the more help and insights the therapist can
Perhaps, it will help the reader to understand the mystery is
real if the Navajo Medicine Man's method of treating schizophrenic
woman is shared. (Bergman, 1978). The Navajo culture is unique
and has its own methods of healing the "mind." The method
used by the medicine man was a ritual of chanting, sand painting
and dancing for a period of some sixty (60) hours over nine (9)
nights. The process is a complicated ritual and involves massive
preparation. To shorten the story, the woman treated claimed that
it was during one of the shared chants were both medicine man
and patient were singing the same chant, that she felt her mind
come back to her. The psychiatrist who reported this case said
he had treated the woman unsuccessfully at his clinic some years
earlier. He said she was cured by the medicine man's culturally
specific ritual and had been sane for many months. The mystery
is simply that the treatment must match the cultural imprinting.
Family patterns of interaction are the primary issues in family
therapy. How to get family members aware of the impact of the
family patterns is a big task. Self-conscious awareness is a major
goal in any successful family therapy. Family patterns of behavior
are passed from generation to generation by the intergenerational
transfer process discussed elsewhere in this article.
Interventions used in Family Therapy treatment strategies included,
but are not limited to, the following:
Change the basic personal myth you are using to give meaning to
your life experiences. Develop a new basic personal myth and change
the meaning your life experiences provide. Learn to live beyond
one or more of your early and subsequent imprints (limits). Learn
to live beyond one or more of your early and subsequent conditioning.
Use your head to change a behavior (cognitive restructuring).
Accumulating interactions under controlled conditions to restructure
the emotional system (create new imprint patterns). Role play
simulated life experiences in the skills and knowledge needed
to change behavior. Create new knowledge and skills in a context
of advocates (as opposed to adversaries). Patients' perception
to grow and expand to include contemporary conflict as an important
part of one's current life-style (change one's context). Life
can become a self-fulfilling prophecy where prevention is a control
instead of a consequence. Positive addictions replace negative
addictions. Create experiences that reprogram the imprint patterns
of the individual. Create new conditioning friendly to contemporary
needs of the individual. Select a purpose for the live "I"
Understand "my" control drama - whether it is a "poor
me" or an "autonomous mature adult" one. Learn
your family dance.
Learn to use the Family Bond Inventory (1998).
The thesis in this
paper has evolved from over 40 years of practicing psychology
on a wide ranging sample of cases. The thesis says simply that
we might more carefully attend to the imprinting happening in
a person's life, if we wish to determine the cause for the behavior
observed. It is common knowledge that an abused child grows up
to abuse children. Alcoholics raise children who may frequently
abuse alcohol and other substances. Spouse abusers have a history
of having been raised in a spouse abusing environment. Why not
notice the conventional wisdom about the company one keeps can
cause the subsequent behavior, either positive or negative. The
thesis leads to a generalization that every addiction, negative
or positive, is the consequence of imprinting. For example, it
is widely accepted that only abstinence can dry up an alcoholic.
The chemically induced personality has an imprint pattern that
is different from the dry alcoholic in the same person. One addiction
is negative, the second addiction is seen as positive.
Drug abuse, spouse abuse, child abuse, smoking, obesity, anorexia,
gambling, stupidity, running, nutrition, positive health, positive
thinking, strong self-concept, or any other addictive behaviors
are each an example of imprinting. Elaboration with conditioning
and concretized by self-image, beliefs and the substance of personal
myths, extends the behavior into years of experiencing validation
and confirmation of one's self. If we are to change such behavior,
it is imperative that we develop a delivery system that people
can manage on their own with a minimum of monitoring by professional
American culture has evolved to a point where almost everyone
is addicted to the taxi-airplane mentality. That is, each person
expects to be able to hire someone to get "me" from
here to there. Here and there may be geographical points on a
map or here/there are social conditions/relationships, and "I"
can hire someone to "carry me" through the next happening.
Family therapists and other "professionals" are in this
APPENDIX A: FLATLAND, adapted from
Edwin A. Abbott
In this fantasy FLATLAND, the inhabitants are geometric forms;
i.e., circles, triangles, etc., who live in an exclusively two
(2) dimensional world. The narrator of the story is a middle-aged
square. He reports on a dream he had recently in which he visits
a one-dimensional world, Lineland. The inhabitants are variously
colored dots that can move only from point-to-point, creating
The middle-aged Square becomes very frustrated trying to explain
himself and his "strange" world. He tells the Linelanders
that he is a line of lines (sort of learning how to learn). He
is from a domain where you can move from side-to-side as well
as from point-to-point. The angry Linelanders are about to attack
him when he awakens.
Later that same day, the middle-aged Square is helping his grandson
do his homework. The bright little Hexagon suggests to his grandfather,
"There may be a third dimension"- a world of up and
down as well as point-to-point and side-to-side. The Square pronounces
the idea foolish because no such place can even be imagined.
That night the Square has an exciting life-altering encounter
with an extraterrestrial from Spaceland, a world of three dimensions.
At first the Square is merely puzzled by the Sphere, a peculiar
circle who seems to change size and even disappear. The visitor
explains to the Square that he is a Sphere and the experience
of appearing to change in size could be logically explained. "You
see, I was coming toward you through space and descending at the
same time." The Square asks, "What is space?" Realizing
that explanation alone was not enough, the exasperated Sphere
created for the Square t he experience of depth. The Square is
in shock. The Square reported his experience of depth as: a dizzy,
sickening sensation of sight that was not like seeing; I saw a
line that was not a line, space that was not space. I was myself
and not myself (cube). When I could find my voice, I shrieked
aloud in agony, "Either this is madness or it is Hell."
"It is neither," calmly replied the Sphere. "It
is knowledge; it is three dimensions. Open your eyes once again
and try to look steadily."
With this new insight-understanding of the third dimension's existence,
the Square becomes an evangelist and attempts to convince his
peers (Flatlanders) that Space is real. They see his idea as wild
and unimaginable. However, he persists and insists until they
lock him up. Every year thereafter the Chief Circle of Flatland
comes around to see if the Square has regained his senses, but
the stubborn Square continues to insist. He cannot forget it.
He cannot explain it. He can only be frustrated.
Transcendent experience cannot be properly communicated, only
experienced. Tao that can be described is not the Tao. The paradox
exists until the targeted learner has experienced it for himself.
Then there is no need to talk about it; i.e., mountain climbers,
runners, martial artists, etc.
To learn how to learn one needs to create a context because meaning
comes from the context. A way to experience this fact of life
is to experience a new thing or process and transform your perception
. It is like returning home from college and though it is the
same house with the same persons, it is different. Your perception
APPENDIX B: Stages in Transformation:
1. Entry point is only known in retrospect. Until one lets go
of the unknown, the new knowledge is blocked. The permission to
be new and different may not come from outside the person. The
person must first change priorities--giving up something is one
example. At entry, one learns there are other ways of thinking.
2. The second stage is exploration. In exploration, one learns
there are systems to bring about new knowing. The quest is TRANSFORMATION.
Deliberately relaxing the grip on old understandings, priorities,
values, etc., is necessary before change can happen.
3. The third step is integration. In integration, one learns there
are other ways of being. Many old habits, ambitions, and strategies
are not appropriate to the new beliefs.
4. Stage for is conspiracy. One discovers new sources of power.
The power to become fully awake is the power to be in control
of oneself--no more need to control others. One discovers new
ways to use it (power) in service to others.
5. The fifth stage is synthesis. More fully awake, one moves in
harmony with the universe. The new paradigm renders the past beliefs
obsolete and creates an opportunity to learn beliefs to fit a
new and different dimension in life. One needs new rules of nature
to interact with the new paradigm or genre.
6. Stage six is the discovery of a new self - a self that does
not compete, because the newly integrated sense of oneself as
individual is linked to others as if we are one-self, perhaps
as one universe.
a self that is curious like a child.
a self that is fiercely autonomous, and intimately connected to
a self that seeks self knowledge not gain.
a self that knows it can never probe all of its depths--its furthest
I am simply me and let you be you. The joy of the self-quest is
to find the qualities we share with others and our own uniqueness.
There is no need to triumph over others.
ABBOTT, Edwin A. 1884. "A Square" now called Flatland,
Seely & Co., Ltd., London. Subsequent Publishers: 1952, 1979,
1992, Dover Thrift Editions, Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola,
ABERCROMBIE, M., 1960. The Anatomy of Judgment. New York: Basic
BATESON, Gregory, 1936, 1958. Naven, 2nd. Ed., Stanford: Stanford
BATESON, Gregory, 1972. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, New York:
BERGMAN, Robert L., M.D., 1978. "Navajo Medicine and Psychoanalysis,"
Human Behavior, July.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Volume IV, American Psychiatric
Association, Washington, D.C., 1994.
FULLMER, D. & ISHIKAWA, J., 1991. The Diagnosis and Treatment
of a Japanese Boy with a Visual Handicap. Honolulu, Hawaii.
FULLMER, D. & ISHIKAWA, J., 1991. The Family Therapy Dictionary.
FULLMER, D. & ISHIKAWA, J., 1998. "The Theory and
Research Supporting the Family Bond Inventory,: Honolulu, Hawaii,
ISHIKAWA, J., & FULLMER, D., (in process).
KEEN, Sam, 1988. "Personal Myths Guide Daily Life, the
Stories We Live By." Psychology Today, 22.:2, December, pp.
MEAD, M. and HEYMAN, K., 1965. Family, New York: MacMillan.
Ilya., A Belgian Physical Chemist who created the theory of
SARTRE, Jean-Paul, 1943. Being and Nothingness.
THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER - an education film to show how perception
is a projection from one's own mind set.
TWELVE ANGRY MEN - a film where 11 members change their vote
after realizing their initial vote was based on their prior experiences
in their own life history.
Janet Ishikawa-Fullmer, Ph.D, is a psychologist
in private practice; the president of Human Resources Development
Center, Inc.; Professor Emeritus, University of Hawaii; and a
former dean of students at Honolulu Community College. She is
listed in Marquis' Who's Who of American Women, and Marquis;
Worlds' Who's Who of Women. Janet received the Thomas Jefferson
award for outstanding public service, the Frances E. Clark award
for outstanding leadership in counseling & guidance, and the
Outstanding Educator of America Award.
Daniel W. Fullmer, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private
practice and a retired professor, University of Hawaii. He is
the vice prsident of Human Resources Development Center, Inc.,
and is listed in Who's Who in America. He received the
Thomas Jefferson award for outstanding public service.
For more information, please call or write to Dr. Ishikawa or
Dr. Fullmer at:
Human Resources Development Center, Inc.
1750 Kalakaua Avenue #809
Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
Last updated 18 August 1999
Posted with the author's permission by Duen
Annotated by Duen
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