FAMILY KALEIDOSCOPE by Salvador Minuchin
Kirkus Star


Email this review


Vignettes of families in transition, of new and old family violence--in a delicate, resonant interplay of fact, fiction, and imaginary dialogues by one of our most esteemed family therapists. The aim: to learn ""our connectedness,"" to explore ""the infinite possibilities of flexibility and cooperation."" A family moving through divorce (""Trio"") establishes new, strengthening roles for both the older and younger daughter; two families in the process of blending (""Quartet""), and stuck in simultaneously negotiating issues of belonging and distancing, must disaffiliate and reaffiliate--without either ""side"" triumphing. In both cases, Minuchin stresses ""the creative possibilities of the new organism,"" the traditional family as only one ""of many possible family shapes."" Then, from a '60s consultation in Amsterdam involving a Marxist commune of four, he composes a playlet (""The Key"") in which the group succumbs to individual needs. ""The crux of the idea is that while you can initiate, you can't entirely predict consequences."" Centrally positioned and focal is ""An Anorectic Family."" All Minuchin's anorectic patients, he's found, come from families where the boundaries are blurred: in the Italian American Genottis we see Mama and eldest daughter Loretta, almost 16, locked in a subtle, deadly conflict that this family wishes not to recognize. (""What you're saying, Loretta, is that it's not a total change, but you would like your mother to be less worried about you. . . ."") Part II, ""Patterns of Violence,"" is even more a kaleidoscope: rueful reference to Minuchin's early work at Wiltwyck School for delinquents (on the basis of which ""I became Professor of Child Psychiatry. . .""); a day-in-a-British-court, where (""in the best interest of the child"") one after another family is dismembered; the 1973 murder of Mafia Colwell, age seven--basis of the present British system; the 1835 murder of his mother, and two siblings allied with her, by French peasant Pierre Rivière, his father's champion (in its milieu, the family couldn't integrate or separate); a recent Norwegian case of alcoholic violence and healing--all directed toward institutional and attitudinal change. (For one: fostered families instead of fostered children.) The last section--Minuchin's re-envisioning, in play-form, of the pre-WW I case of Ellen West, an anorectic suicide--is a direct attack on ""existential psychiatry's commitment to its own conceptualizations,"" and a satire (which the commune-playlet is not). Up to a point, it's successful as parody--but in its length and repetition it grows tiresome, even/especially as a mirror-image of the Genottis. The book has emotional and intellectual drama. It speaks at once for family therapy and (like Bohannon, above, but far more effectively) for family, all-family, mindedness.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0674292316
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press