Learning About Stepfamily Dynamics Stepfamily Education Programs

Many, if not most, stepfamilies that are experiencing problems need education rather than therapy (Visher & Visher, 1980). It is important that those who seek counseling or therapy also have an educational component incorporated into the therapeutic process (Browning & Artelt, 2012; Papernow, 2013; Visher & Visher, 1979, 1982, 1996). A common clinical response to the shock and awe of stepfamily living is to provide education about the unique structural, developmental, and procedural processes of stepfamilies. General clinical truisms are that stepfamily relationships run into problems for one or more of several reasons: (1) stepfamily members are poorly prepared for stepfamily living, particularly if they expect feelings and interactions that would be more normative for first marriage families; (2) stepfamily members who have unrealistic expectations and do not understand step- family dynamics try to solve problems in inappropriate ways that often make matters worse; (3) stepfamily members are not all equally motivated to make relationships positive and effective—for instance, stepchildren and nonresidential parents may be less motivated than residential parents and stepparents to make relationships better—and so respond less affirmatively to relational development strategies; and (4) stepfamily members may lack necessary skills to build and maintain close relationships (Ganong et al., 2002). Given these precepts, it is not surprising that clinicians highly value educational approaches that focus on helping stepfamily members understand the unique characteristics of their families and that normalize their feelings, thoughts, expectations, and interactions with step-kin and biological kin. The goal, however, is not simply to increase awareness of stepfamily dynamics and enhance the understanding of stepfamily structures; the goal is to increase awareness and understanding in ways that lead to improved emotional and cognitive reactions to other stepfamily members’ behaviors and that subsequently helps parents, stepparents, and stepchildren create new, stepfamily-centric, solutions to problems (Ganong et al., 2002).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >