A Short History of Family Psychiatry
Psychiatrists have been central to the field of family therapy. Although social workers and marital counselors saw families from the early years of the 20th century, the field as a separate theoretical entity primarily began in the early 1950’s, when psychiatrists such as Lyman Wynne, Sal Minuchin, Carl Whitaker, Murray Bowen and Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy attempted to understand the connection between mental illness and family dysfunction, and to use the family’s strength and resilience for healing. Their writings about family functioning and therapy models brought the attention of psychiatry to the field. Their systemic paradigm challenged both medical and analytically based psychiatry, and the pioneers were often seen as outliers at best or apostates, at worst. Although the early theories of mental illness as primarily a response to family issues have proven to be too simplistic, it has also become clear that when a person has a mental illness the family’s ability to communicate clearly and support the ill person can mean the difference between a functioning and a non functioning patient. Many therapists in other disciplines became interested in family work at this time and the developing field became truly interdisciplinary. Many of the early physician family therapists developed models or training centers that trained hundreds of therapists in their models. Over the last 30 years, psychiatrists and other interested professionals have collaborated on the support and treatment of families with medical illness, addiction, and psychiatric illness, couples problems, and troubled children. In the last 15 years, pressure from hospitals and insurance companies to place psychiatrists into the role of medication provider without involving them in therapy have made it harder to teach family therapy within the confines of psychiatric training. However, it has made knowledge of brief family psychoeducation even more crucial, as families have become the main caregivers of our patients. Our website, therefore, represents family inclusion in all its forms–education, resources, family consultation, and family therapy.