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Lexicon of Couples and Family Counseling

A - C


AAMFT. Abbreviation for American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.


abnormal. An evaluative term used to indicate structures, interactions, feelings, or behaviors that are considered outside of expected norms, values, or processes.


accommodation. The act of coordinating one’s functioning to the needs of a situation or another person.


Ackerman Family Therapy Institute. Started by Nathan Ackerman in 1960 in New York City, this was one of the premier scholar-practitioner centers in the United States. Over the years, Evan Imber-Black, Jorge Colapinto, Lynn Hoffman, Peggy Papp, and Olga Silverstein, to name a few, have worked there.


Ackerman, Nathan. In 1960, he founded the Family Institute, now the Ackerman Family Therapy Institute, in New York City, a major clinical center and training ground for family therapy. His best known work is The Psychodynamics of the Family.


acting “as if.” An intervention favored in both Adlerian therapy and cognitive-behavioral family therapy that involves practicing new behaviors and new positions or roles in the family “as if” family members were the people they wanted to be—in some cases, “as if” they were the family they wanted to be.


activating event. The A in Ellis’ A-B-C theory of personality.


active commitment. The fifth stage of a feminist identity development model characterized by self-appreciation, personal freedom, pride in and appreciation for women in general, and even a selective appreciation for parts of the dominant culture. But most important, this stage is characterized by an understanding that the personal is political and that real change requires political and social activism.


active listening (reflection). A term coined by Thomas Gordon in parent effectiveness training, it means to paraphrase (or reflect) what is heard in a conversation with an emphasis on the feelings that underlie the meaning of the message.


Active Parenting. Developed by Michael Popkin, Active Parenting is an Adlerian-based parent-education program that teaches parents effective ways of engaging with children and adolescents.


Adler, Alfred. Founder and developer of individual psychology (now called Adlerian psychology and therapy).


Adlerian brief therapy. A model of Adlerian therapy with individuals, couples, and families. It differs only slightly from Adlerian therapy in general by focusing on interventions based on systemic and brief, time-limited strategies and by embracing a resiliency model.


Adlerian family counseling or therapy. Adlerian therapy or Adlerian brief therapy applied to families in either an open forum or in private and focusing on the teleology of interactions and family processes. This model employs encouragement and supports democratic childrearing, especially the use of natural and logical consequences and other effective parenting processes described in STEP: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting and Active Parenting.


Adlerian therapy. A comprehensive therapy based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs.


advice/advise. Providing suggestion or guidance about what others might do with themselves or their lives.


ageism. The discrimination and oppression of people based on age. The presumption of privilege for those who are young or younger.


Alexander, James. A behavioral therapist associated with functional family therapy.


alignment. The ways in which some members of a family will join together. Alignments are often coalitions against third or other parties.


alternate story. From narrative therapy, a story within the family system that challenges or contradicts the dominant family story.


altruism. Being concerned with and doing for others; unselfishness; sharing thoughts and feelings with others; and working for the common good. Similar to the Adlerian notions community feeling and social interest.


amplifying family difficulties. A strategic paradoxical intervention by which family problems are directed to increase so that the systemic needs being met by the family problem can be understood and used.


anal stage. Freud’s second stage of child development where the child learns to delay gratification and use reality testing. Personalities associated with this stage are anal incorporative (miserly hoarding) or anal expulsive (dumping). The issues at this stage are all about control. Defense mechanisms of the ego include rationalization and intellectualization.


Andersen, Tom. A Norwegian psychologist who developed the use of reflecting teams.


Anderson, Carol. One of the first people to look at the effects that mental illness had on family systems, reversing the original systemic conceptualization that the family system maintained the illness; also a collaborator with Monica McGoldrick and Froma Walsh.


Anderson, Harlene. A colleague of the late Harold Goolishian who developed a linguistic approach to family therapy that featured the adoption by therapists of a not-knowing position and a privileging of clients-as-expert.


Ansbacher, Heinz L. Often called the Dean of Adlerian Psychology, he is the co-author with his wife Rowena of three volumes and numerous articles on Adlerian psychology.


Ansbacher, Rowena R. Co-author with her husband, Heinz, of three volumes on Adlerian psychology.


Anthony, Susan B. First-wave feminist who succeeded in passing an amendment that gave women the right to vote.


Aponte, Harry. A structural family therapist who developed the ecostructural model.


arbitrary inference. A type of cognitive distortion: A conclusion generated about an event without substantiating evidence, such as deciding your child is engaged in delinquent behavior when he or she comes home 5 minutes late. This cognitive distortion is often noted in cognitive-behavioral family therapy.


assertiveness training. Learning appropriate ways of standing up for oneself. It is essential to self-esteem and to being strong, confident, and capable in the world: A skill-development intervention often used in feminist family therapy.


assumed disability. Another name for Dreikurs’ fourth goal of children’s misbehavior: The child, although being fully capable, adopts a position of hopelessness in an effort to get adults to leave her or him alone.


attachment. The human desire to seek closeness and care from survival beings.


attachment theory. Developed by John Bowlby, this model focuses on the early relationship of the mother-child union. The foundational model for most couples counseling.


attention getting. Dreikurs’ first goal of children’s misbehavior: a goal that invites parental responses of irritation, annoyance, or frustration.


authoritarian. Coming from a dictatorial position in which the designated boss rules. On the dysfunctional end of both Baumrind’s and Dreikurs’ parenting continuum, it is characterized by high demand (rules and order) and low responsiveness (often lacking warmth, reciprocity, or attachment).


authoritative-responsive parenting. Similar to the Adlerians’ democratic parenting, Baumrind uses this term to describe parents who are emotionally and pragmatically responsive to their children’s needs. This approach is characterized by both reasonable demands (order) and effective responsiveness (warmth, reciprocity, and attachment).


autocratic parenting. An approach to parenting based on authoritarianism.


automatic thoughts. Thoughts that are produced when triggered and that are specific applications of one’s cognitive schemas, as discussed in cognitive-behavioral family therapy.


autonomy. From principle ethics, the valuing of individuality, independent action, and individual freedom and responsibility.


AVANTA. An association of Satir-trained therapists, started in the 1970s and currently subsumed as part of the Satir Global Network.


aversive control. Use of punishment to suppress, control, or eliminate undesirable behaviors.


aversive stimuli. Negative or punishing experiences that serve to suppress undesirable behaviors.


Avis, Judith Myers. A feminist family therapist.


avoidance. Staying away from or not facing something. Bitter’s third supplemental goal to Dreikurs’ model for children’s misbehavior.


awareness. Conscious knowing or that to which attention is given. Part of the basic interests of Gestalt and experiential therapies.


Baldwin, Michelle. Co-author with Virginia Satir of Satir: Step-by-Step.


Bandura, Albert. The developer of social learning theory.



Banmen, John. A Satir scholar and trainer, who has done extensive work in Asia.


baseline. The measurement of a behavior or set of behaviors as they currently are so that later measurements of change can be made.


Bateson, Gregory. Co-founder of the Mental Research Institute, and the architect of integrating general systems theory and family therapy.


battle for initiative. From symbolic-experiential family therapy, the belief that the family must win a battle with the therapist and take charge of what happens in the therapy process, including any changes that might be initiated.


battle for structure. From symbolic-experiential family therapy, the belief that the therapist should win the battle with the family related to the structure and ground rules for therapy, including the question of who should come to the first session and how the therapy process should proceed.


Baumrind, Diana. Developed language and research for the assessment of effective parenting. Her parenting styles (authoritarian, authoritative-responsive, permissive, and neglectful) are now in common usage.


Bay Area Family Therapy Training Associates. A narrative therapy center in San Francisco, California, created by Jeffrey Zimmerman and Vicki Dickerson.


because clause. Object relations family therapists reason why things are the way they are—a form of interpretation.


Beck, Aaron. The founder and developer of cognitive therapy.


Beck, Judith. Daughter of Aaron Beck, and a leading contributor to cognitive therapy.


Becvar, Dorothy S. and Raphael J. Co-authors of Family Therapy: A Systemic Integration.


behavioral exchange agreements. Setting up trades in behavior in which people increase caring and love in a marriage or family.


behavioral extinction. See extinction.


behavioral family therapy. Family therapy focused on changing specific dysfunctional behaviors within families. Also, see cognitive-behavioral family therapy.


behavioral interventions. Methods derived from behaviorism that include shaping, reinforcement, desensitization, rewards and punishment, the Premack principle, etc.


behavioral observations. Assessments made by the therapist in cognitive-behavioral family therapy about who does what with whom: These assessments start from the moment the sessions begin.


behaviorism. Applied learning procedures based on either a classical conditioning model (Pavlov), an operant conditioning model (Skinner) or a social learning model (Bandura).


beliefs. Ideas or values that one holds strongly. The B in Ellis’ A-B-C theory of personality. In Ellis’ model, beliefs can be rational or irrational.


Bell, John Elderkin. Inspired by the what he believed was John Bowlby’s work with a family in England, he returned to Clark University in Massachusetts to invent family group therapy.


belonging. Dreikurs believes belonging is the main goal that all humans have.


beneficence. From principle ethics: To do good, to make a positive difference.


Berg, Insoo Kim. The co-developer of solution-focused therapy.


biased explanation. Similar to private logic, biased explanations are cognitive distortions in which the individual communicates to self and others a belief or viewpoint unique to the individual, lacking consensual validation, and predisposed to a given outcome.


bibliotherapy. The use of books or other written materials as a supplement to family practice.


bio-ecological systems theory. A systems approach described by Urie Bronfenbrenner that posits five environmental systems that affect the individual: microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem.


Birdwhistell, Ray. A colleague of Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy at the first Family Therapy Department at Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute (EPPI): Birdwhistell focused on the development of kinesics, sometimes called body language in therapy.


birth order. The order in which children are born in families.


bisexual. Women or men who have a sexual/affectional orientation for either or both women and men.


Bitter, James Robert. An Adlerian family therapist who also trained with Virginia Satir, Erv and Miriam Polster, and Michael White. He is the author of Theory and Practice of Couples and Family Counseling.


blaming. Satir’s defensive communication stance, involving accusations and finger-pointing, it has a similar meaning to what Kfir calls the priority of significance.


blended family. Two families coming together by marriage or the agreement of a new couple or parental partnership.


Boscolo, Luigi. One of the Milan group who developed the Milan model of strategic family therapy.


Boston Family Institute. Formerly a premier family therapy training institute, founded and co-directed by Bunny and Fred Duhl, it no longer exists. Bunny Duhl, a close associate of Virginia Satir, continues to offer training throughout the world.


Boszormenyi-Nagy, Ivan. A psychoanalytically trained therapist who developed contextual family therapy, a model that placed a heavy emphasis on ethical family processes and mutual responsibility of family members to each other.


boundaries. Structural, emotional, and physical barriers that protect or enhance the functioning of individuals, subsystems, or families.


Bowen, Murray. The founder and developer of multigenerational family therapy.


Bowen family therapy. The multigenerational family therapy approach developed by Murray Bowen.


Bowlby, John. An English Freudian who developed the concept of attachment theory.


Boyd-Franklin, Nancy. A multicultural feminist who has analyzed and critiqued various models of family therapy.


Breunlin, Douglas C. Co-author of Metaframeworks.


brief family therapy. A model of strategic family therapy taught at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, this strategic approach is based on the ideas that the problem the family brings to therapy really is the problem and that everything the family has done so far has only served to maintain the problem. See also Fisch, Richard; Segal, Lynn; and Weakland, John.


Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The therapy and training center established by Steve de Shazer, Insoo Kim Berg, and colleagues; the location where solution-focused therapy was developed.


brief therapy project. A project at the Ackerman Institute conducted by Lynn Hoffman, Peggy Papp, and Olga Silverstein: It focused on the use of paradoxes in family therapy.


Bronfenbrenner, Urie. Developed bio-ecological systems theory.


Brown, Laura. A feminist therapist who specializes in work with a diverse range of women, families, and gender-based issues.


Bruner, Jerome. The epistemological philosopher that underlies postmodern, constructivist approaches to therapy and education.


Bumberry, William. Co-author with Carl Whitaker of Dancing with the Family, he also interviewed Whitaker on the tape A Different Kind of Caring.


Carlson, Jon. An Adlerian and author of numerous family therapy books and several video series featuring therapy with experts.


Carter, Betty. A feminist Bowen family therapist who, together with Monica McGoldrick, developed the family life cycle.


Cecchin, Gianfranco. One of the Milan group who developed the Milan model of strategic family therapy.


changing the doing of the problem. O’Hanlon and Weiner-Davis believe that changing the “doing” and “viewing” of the perceived problem changes the problem; that is, effective solutions have some relation to processes that counter problematic patterns.


chaos. The feeling of being disoriented; Satir’s third phase in the process of change.


Children: The Challenge. Co-authored by Rudolf Dreikurs and Vicki Soltz, this is the best-selling book on parenting in the world.


Christensen, Oscar. An Adlerian family counselor and author of Adlerian Family Counseling; he is also a co-developer of Adlerian brief therapy.


chronosystem. The pattern of environmental events and transitions that occur over the life of the individual and the family. In family therapy, we note the development of the chronosystem across the family life cycle (McGoldrick, Carter, & Garcia-Preto, 2011).


circularity or circular causality. Systemic causality in which behaviors and interactions are understood to be recursive loops, each action influencing and being influenced by all the others.


circular questioning. A method of relational questioning developed by the strategic therapists in Milan that brings out differences among family members. Example: "What do you expect your mother will do when you and your father get into a fight?"


classical conditioning. A learning model based on Pavlov’s approach that pairs an unconditional stimulus (UCS), like meat powder on a dog’s tongue, which causes an unconditioned response (UCR), like salivation, with a conditioned stimulus (CS), like a tone, until the same response (CR) occurs.


classism. Discrimination and oppression based on socioeconomic status; a privileging of the rich.


clients-as-expert. A privileging of clients’ expertise; therapist power is counterbalanced by an honoring of and curiosity and interest in clients’ stories.


closed system. A collective group that places a rigid boundary around itself so that it does not interact with outside agents or events.


coaching. A therapeutic stance assumed by Bowen and his associates in relation to helping family members differentiate. Being a coach in relation to the family team is also a position that Whitaker occasionally assumed.


coalition. An alliance between two people or entities, often against a third.


cognitive-behavioral family therapy. A merging of the cognitive therapies of Ellis, Beck, and their associates and behavioral interventions based on classical and operant conditioning and social learning theory. Datillio is the major developer of the cognitive-behavioral family therapy model.


cognitive distortion. A pervasive or systematic error in thinking or reasoning.


cognitive restructuring. The identification and correcting of faulty or distorted thinking.


cognitive schemas. See schemas.


cognitive therapy. The application of reason over emotion. This approach includes models developed by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck.


cohesion. In family systems theory, the emotional bonding among family members.


Colapinto, Jorge. A structural family therapist who has worked and developed the model with Salvador Minuchin.


collaboration/collaborative practice. An egalitarian approach to working with, including, and/or privileging client perspectives in therapy. Used in models developed by Adlerian, Satir, solution-focused and solution-oriented, social constructionist, and feminist therapists.


collaborative language systems. Part of linguistic therapy, it is a postmodern clinical stance in which a partnership between the therapist and the family is emphasized, and the therapist adopts a curiosity about how the family attaches meaning to their lived experiences. This stance values talking with rather than to the family.


collectivist cultures. Cultures in which one’s place and relationship to the family and society are considered before one’s individual needs or interests can be met.


Combs, Gene. Evanston, Illinois, based narrative therapist and trainer; co-author with Jill Freedman of narrative therapy.


comfort. Avoiding pain or stress: One of Kfir’s personality priorities. It has a similar meaning to what Satir calls the irrelevant stance.


communication stances. Satir’s concept of stress positions that she refers to as blaming, placating, super-reasonable, and irrelevant. Congruence is the antidote to the stress stances. Also see personality priorities.


communication theory. An understanding of relationships based on verbal and nonverbal interactions.


communication training. Used by family practitioners in models ranging from Satir to cognitive-behavioral therapy, effective communication includes congruent expression of thoughts and feelings, listening to and acknowledging the messages of others, giving clear directives and polite requests, setting clear and reasonable limits and expectations, and using I-statements in relation to personal and family needs.


community feeling. Being concerned about the well-being of others; altruism; Adler’s term for mental health in individuals and families. The umbrella term for which social interest is the action line.


complaint-oriented stories. Solution-focused therapists’ description of presenting problems in individual and family counseling and therapy.


complementary relationships. Different qualities or entities that fit together and enhance one another.


complementary sequence. Structural family therapists use this term to describe an automatic exchange of opposite kinds of behaviors (for example, father’s anger leads to an asthma attack in the daughter); such complementary sequences signal problems in the power balance of the family.


compliments. Used by solution-focused therapists; to be effective, compliments come from a genuine appreciation of what the clients have done or have achieved. Questions of surprise and delight often are used to convey a compliment: “Wow! You really did that well. How did you do that?” Such compliments focus on strengths and direct family members toward successful interactions and interventions: solutions that already work.


conscience. A part of the superego that contains our sense of self when we are behaving or acting badly; this part of the superego is often associated with feelings of guilt or remorse. Some accidents (stumbling, falling, and mildly hurting oneself) are often interpreted as the person’ conscience rendering punishment for bad behavior.


confidentiality. The ethical obligation of counselors, therapists, social workers, and psychologists to protect the identities, communications, and privacy of clients, an obligation that is more difficult to maintain when the practitioner is engaged in family therapy with multiple members.


conflict induction. In structural family therapy, a technique of introducing a conflict during therapy when the family is engaged in conflict avoidance, and the therapist wants to help the family learn to manage and resolve conflicts.


congruence. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively what one thinks and feels in a manner that is appropriate to the context in which the communication is offered. Congruence is similar to emotional honesty.


conjoint family therapy. The first name that Satir initially gave to her family therapy process. The model was co-developed with Don Jackson.


consciousness-raising. A feminist therapy intervention, usually performed in groups, that allows women or men to talk with each other about what it means to them to have their gender identities impacted by patriarchy and other sociopolitical positions in society.


consequential emotions. The feelings that result from irrational thoughts or beliefs or distortions in cognitive schema. The C in Ellis’ A-B-C theory of personality.


constructivism. A perspectivist model based on the subjective construction of various (multiple) realities. Reality is created through interactions with one’s environment rather than having an independent, objective existence outside of the person perceiving it. Also see social constructionism.


contact. The way in which people interact with self, each other, and the environment; central to Gestalt and experiential therapies.


contempt. Devaluing another; approaching the other as unworthy; one of the Gottmans’ four horseman of the apocalypse, a predictor of the end of a marriage.


context. The situation, environment, or location in which events take place.


contextual family therapy. Boszormenyi-Nagy and Spark’s model of relational therapy.


contingency contracts. A behavioral agreement between family members that involves an exchange of rewards for desired behaviors.


continuous reinforcement. The application of a reinforcing stimulus every time a desired behavior occurs.


control. To gain power over others when power over a situation is failing; the second goal of adults faced with misbehaving children. One of Kfir’s personality priorities, it denotes efforts to keep life contained, especially emotions. It has a similar meaning to what Satir calls the super-reasonable stance.


coping questions. When situations are really difficult and overwhelming, solution-focused therapists will use coping questions: "WOW! With so much happening to you all at once, where do you get the courage to keep going?" or "How did you manage to keep things from getting worse?" or "How did you manage to get here today to see me?"


core competencies. A list of performance expectations for the helping professions. AAMFT and IAMFC both provide lists of core competencies for family counselors and therapists.


counter-paradox. Originated by the Milan strategic therapists, a counter-paradox is a directive that intends an interruption of the paradoxical family processes that keep and maintain a given problem. For example, if the family process is seen as designed to maintain a depressed individual, a counter-paradox would be for the family to not change.


counter-transference. A term that originated in psychoanalysis, referring to the personal or distorted feelings that arise in the counselor or therapist for the client. In family therapy, counter-transference occurs when emotional reactions are triggered due to the practitioner re-experiencing family-of-origin issues.


courage. Facing up to one’s fears; moving ahead in spite of fears.


courage to be imperfect. This is a phrase coined by Sofie Lazersfeld and used extensively by Rudolf Dreikurs and other Adlerians. This kind of courage comes from accepting ourselves as human beings who are not perfect and who make mistakes.


critical-evaluation model. Kitchener’s model of ethical decision making, based on the ethical principles of autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice.


criticism. Negatively evaluating and commenting on another; one of the Gottmans’ four horseman of the apocalypse, a predictor of the end of a marriage.


cross-generation coalitions. A multigenerational alliance that stands in opposition to a third member of the family.


cuing. A behavioral stimulus that initiates a behavior; for example, a family sitting down to dinner (the cue) may initiate a pleasant conversation or conflict among family members.


cultural competence. Sensitivity to and familiarity with multiple cultures and worldviews.


cultural feminists. Feminist therapists who believe that therapy could be an avenue for infusing society with women’s values, including altruism, cooperation, and connectedness. They note that oppression includes the devaluing of women’s strengths and that all people need a world that is more nurturing and relationally based.


cultural sensitivity. An awareness of cultural issues in families and a willingness to make these issues a central part of family practice, including an understanding of different values and beliefs, different levels of acculturation experiences, and the need to consider the marginalization, discrimination, and oppression of some cultures by the dominant culture.


culture. Shared experiences, language, and ways of being based on ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, ability, sexual/affectional orientation, and/or location.


cybernetics. How control processes work in systems, including the assessment and application of positive and negative feedback loops.

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