Stepfamily Therapy in Practice
For individuals in the U.S. & U.S. territories
Stepfamilies and first families have markedly different dynamics and developmental cycles, and clinicians too often approach stepfamily work with insufficient understanding of these differences.
Scott Browning's stepfamily therapy model differs from standard practice in its emphasis on stabilizing each family subsystem before moving on to more integrative work with the whole stepfamily. This model holds that stepfamilies are especially aided by comprehending the systemic dynamics that influence them, and that this understanding mitigates frustration with differences in personality style and leads to recognizing the importance of every family member's role. Specific interventions used by the therapist normalize the experiences of family members, which helps to shift perceptions and clarify intentions.
In this demonstration, Dr. Browning helps a stepfamily to normalize their experience, increase empathy among stepfamily members, identify mistaken beliefs and misperceptions that cause tension, and uncover techniques to avert issues that create impasses.
Stepfamily therapy is fully articulated in Stepfamily Therapy: A 10-Step Clinical Approach (Browning & Artelt, 2011). The model presupposes that generic family therapy often fails when applied to stepfamilies. Clinicians too often approach stepfamilies with little or no specific understanding of stepfamily dynamics. This is unfortunate because many stepfamilies desire therapists to have expertise that will assist their new family in being able to persevere through the often difficult adjustment to stepfamily life.
This approach is broken down in a manageable manner that provides both a theoretical rationale as well as extremely practical clinical suggestions.
While based on the concepts of traditional family therapy, stepfamily therapy differs from standard practice in its emphasis on the idea that a primary intervention is to stabilize each subsystem in a stepfamily before moving on to more integrative work with the entire stepfamily. Particular interventions are articulated to assist the clinician in normalizing the stepfamily's experience, shifting perceptions and clarifying intensions.
This approach clarifies specific reasons why family members often avoid a true understanding of each other's perspective. One particularly critical intervention is designed to greatly increase empathy, particularly between the remarried couple.
Treating stepfamilies requires that the clinician be aware of: development, structure, and emotions within the stepfamily.
This demonstration session examines
- normalizing the experience of the stepfamily
- techniques to avert issues that form an impasse
- creating increased empathy among the stepfamily members
- identifying mistaken beliefs and misperceptions that create tension
An overarching belief of the model is that stepfamilies are particularly aided by understanding the systemic dynamics that influence them. In this way, people are able to shift their frustration away from attacking personality styles and toward more appropriately recognizing the power of roles assumed in all stepfamilies.
Scott Browning, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Professional Psychology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. He is a noted authority on psychological treatment with stepfamilies.
Dr. Browning has been interviewed on Primetime with Diane Sawyer, and also interviewed twice about stepfamilies on National Public Radio. He has been invited on numerous occasions to teach about stepfamilies at the Catholic University of Milan in Italy.
As a scholar, teacher, and clinician, Dr. Browning has explored the intricacies of treating stepfamilies, and he has provided advanced clinical and graduate-level training both nationally and abroad in the treatment of stepfamilies. He is the author of numerous chapters and articles on the topics of stepfamilies, empathy, codependency, strategic family therapy and family therapy training practices (particularly a sophisticated approach to role-playing).
- Browning, S., & Artelt, E. (2011). Stepfamily therapy: A ten-step clinical approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Browning, S., & Bray, J. (2009). Treating stepfamilies: A subsystems-based approach. In M. Stanton & J. Bray (Eds.), Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Family Psychology (pp. 487–498). London, England: Blackwell Press.
- Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. H. (1997). Stepfamilies from the stepfamilies perspective. Marriage & Family Review, 26, 107–121.
- Papernow, P. (2003). Becoming a stepfamily. Hillside, NJ: The Analytic Press.
- Pasley, K., & Ihinger-Tallman, M. (Eds.). Stepparenting: Issues in theory, research and practice. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Visher, E. B., & Visher, J. S. (1996). Therapy with stepfamilies. New York, NY: Brunner/Mazel.
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- Family Therapy Over Time
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- Functional Family Therapy
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- Functional Family Therapy for High-Risk Adolescents
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- Integrative Family Therapy
- Multidimensional Family Therapy
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- Working With Stepfamilies
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- Casebook for Integrating Family Therapy: An Ecosystemic Approach
Edited by Susan H. McDaniel, Don-David Lusterman, and Carol L. Philpot
- Family Therapy
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- Functional Family Therapy for Adolescent Behavior Problems
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- Intervening in Children's Lives: An Ecological, Family-Centered Approach to Mental Health Care
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- Stepfamily Therapy: A 10-Step Clinical Approach
Scott Browning and Elise Artelt
- Therapeutic Alliances in Couple and Family Therapy: An Empirically Informed Guide to Practice
Myrna L. Friedlander, Valentin Escudero, and Laurie Heatherington