An exploratory analysis of specific therapist skills and corresponding changes in family behaviors during marital and family therapy sessions

Mitchell, C. Dan
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The nature of the American family has changed so drastically over the past 25 years that a new type of relationship counseling has been demanded by the public. The profession of marital and family therapy has developed contextually in response to these needs. The training of early therapists was done by a few charismatic figures in the profession. Unfortunately, this training was not based on specific learning objectives.

The problem remains the absence of the discovery of the coexistence of therapist skills with changes in family behaviors. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to correlate therapist skills with changes in family behaviors during actual marital and family therapy sessions.

To address this issue, two scales which had shown promise in other contexts were field tested on videotapes of five therapists conducting therapy with five families. Three raters rated the therapists according to the Family Therapist Rating Scale by Dr. Roger Laird and Dr. Fred Piercy. Another three raters rated the families according to the Beavers-Timberlawn Family Evaluation Scale by Dr. W. Robert Beavers.

Although ratings were conducted according to the authors' directives, low interrater reliability (.52 on therapists and .42 on families) resulted. It was concluded that further field tests of both scales were indicated with the additive changes of the creation of manuals for both scales and training of raters according to the manuals.

An attempt was unsuccessfully made to correlate (r (GREATERTHEQ) .72 at (LESSTHEQ) .05) therapist skills with changes in family behavior upon highly selected (12.5% of total data) ratings that were in agreement (r (GREATERTHEQ) .72). A Bayesian analysis of these data indicated interesting but ungeneralizable trends regarding stages in treatment.

The conclusion of this exploratory study is the admission of a lack of technology at the present time to answer the central question: What can family therapists do to help certain types of families to change? The value of the present study to practitioners and researchers of marital and family therapy is to put clear focus on the important questions so that future researchers may provide answers needed for the growth of the profession.

Relationship oriented treatment, Family therapy movement, Family development