Pathology of the family and therapeutic interventions in a democratic environement: what impact? (artículo en inglés)


After lengthy periods of democratic regimes interrupted by military coups since 1930, and most of all after the dreadful years of the last dictatorship which started in 1976 and ended in 1983 (the most cruel and devastating dictatorship, responsible for numerous murders, torture, rapes, depradations, the disappearance of thousands of people, the economic bankruptcy of the country and the launching of a war against Great Britain in 1982 – the swan song of the most sinister military regime in the country’s history), Argentina entered an unprecedented period of Presidential elections. Argentinian society finally succeeded in restoring a stable democracy, in spite of a process of Presidential succession that unrolled, generally speaking, in an atmosphere of anxiety (for instance, the first democratic President, Raúl Alfonsín, was  confronted with two military coups and resigned almost one year before the end of his mandate, in the midst of an economic crisis characterized by chronic inflation that created a genuine panic among the population).

The period following the lengthy and corrupt Presidency (two mandates) of Carlos Menem, to which I shall return later, ended with people demonstrating in the streets and the President’s flight from the Presidential Palace, escaping from the crowd and rushing to his helicopter.
Immediately after that, five interim Presidents succeeded one another within a period of ten days. Following that period, marked by severe social and political disorders, the Nation was shaken again by a deep economic crisis that gave it the status of «default» country vis à vis the International Monetary Fund. Soon after, in December 2001, the last interim President decided to freeze bank deposits and, during that period, savings made in USD were converted into pesos, losing two-thirds of their value. In the best cases, millions of Argentinians had to wait
months or even years to recover the monies held by the State in what was called the «corralito» (small corral). This fraudulent measure temporarily prevented citizens from accessing their money deposited in banks. In most cases, they recovered the totality or a major part of the money deposited in pesos, but only one-third of their savings in dollars.

Psychological field

In the realm of psychology, following the «night of bludgeons» in 1967 (during which the army entered the University and beat up both lecturers and students, thus violating the State campus that was undergoing the most brilliant period in its history), hundreds of lecturers, prestigious psychotherapists and academics were expelled from the University, put before Courts of Justice and, in some cases, kidnapped and murdered. Many went into exile; some of them benefited from the re-establishment of democracy in 1983 and decided to come back while
others left forever. These events were repeated in 1976 with even more virulence and cruelty, and numerous other psychologists experienced the same fate.

Slowly, lacanian psychology started to impose itself in the whole University. Due to an abstruse language and an obvious loss of interest in politics, and in particular the adoption of  an a-critical position vis à vis the dictatorial regime, Lacanian psychology settled definitively in the universities and exerted a undisputed hegemony over many years.

Recently, starting in 1983, at a very slow pace and mainly in private universities that have curricula teaching a variety of theories and clinical practices, we witnessed in academic circles a considerable interest in the integration of cognitive and systemic psychology.
The hegemony of psychoanalysis in general has so deeply penetrated the language (in spite of the considerable number of clinical psychologists belonging to various conceptual orientations), that even today, notwithstanding information provided by the media and the time elapsed, most people undergoing a non psychoanalytic therapy say that they go to their systemic «analyst»

Nevertheless, the psychotherapeutic landscape has considerably changed in Argentina as a consequence of new programmes and extended choices and opportunities provided by short therapies, systemic family and couple therapy, cognitivism and updated psychoanalytical procedures. Above all, patients and clients are better informed, more demanding and less compliant than during dictatorial regimes. New consultants no longer accept the couch, and much prefer the symmetry of dialogue or exchange, or even discussion, to long periods of silence that generate anxiety, or to a complementary role and the position of power of the psychotherapist who «knows everything» while the patient is ignorant and deprived of any knowledge and awaits the interpretation of the oracle. Today, consultants seek concrete solutions to concrete problems.
The situation has evolved considerably with the emergence of new methods and better adapted frameworks (e.g. self managed groups co-ordinated by a professional, group therapy, multi-family psycho-educational groups, mediation and network interventions) that expanded with the exponential development of NGOs, offering new ways to generate change, solve conflicts and overcome difficulties.

In my opinion, the final re-establishment of democracy opened unprecedented opportunities and, inevitably, new types of conflict. But it also did away with military regimes and coups that had received implicitly or explicitly the support of a considerable number of citizens, including some political parties, intellectuals, media and the Catholic clergy. This was the starting point of a long and difficult road leading to a non-authoritarian society that decided to exit from an endless night of silence, secrets and denouncement to the open expression of problems and differences, risking freely to express differences, and peacefully to resolve family and social disputes, irrespective of the complexity of such issues. Just like in family or couple therapy, in which each member, and each version of a story is listened to with due respect, all the actions of Democracy and all the sectors involved in social disputes have the right to voice in their turn their opinions in a legitimate way.

The crisis of the Welfare State

The crisis of the Welfare State, which already existed, exploded during the 1990s, under the extremely corrupt Presidency of Carlos Menem : neo-liberal economic procedures were wildly applied (this also happened during the dictatorial regime 1976-1982) and de-stabilized argentinian society in an unprecedented and devastating manner. The impact of these global neo-liberal economic measures wrecked all the welfare networks and led to a dramatic increase in unemployment, affecting all social layers, entrepreneurs, middle managers,
workers and so on.

The impact on families was terrible: the dismantling of family hierarchy, the loss of the father’s role and unemployment, accompanied in many cases by depression, violence, alcoholism and desertion of households by these jobless men, unprotected by the State. Women, who had previously been just about present in the labour market were now propelled onto that market, and many of them also had the responsibility of caring for their families. The disappearance of
welfare marked whole families, including the prominent middle class already severely hit by previous crises, unleashing all sorts of pathologies: violence, sexual abuse, addictions, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency and criminality, in general. The splitting of numerous families resulted in the forced emigration of some of their members or the up-rooting of entire families.
Some of them have come back in recent years and others, as before, have left forever.

Family Functions : family as a relational network

André Gide’s provocative outcry – «Families, I hate you» – that had so much popularity in the 1960s, characterized by a return to the Paris Commune and vagrancy, seems to have been replaced nowadays by a discreet complaint «Families, we miss you» (Fernando Savater).

Many professionals specializing in the study of families in the present context indicate that family prestige is increasing because of a psychological need for them in the face of a loss of their institutional importance. 
On this point, Luis Flaquer (1998) insists that : «The loss of importance of the family in our social organization was followed by an increasing attention given to it as a source of emotional identification. The more it is deprived of its weight as an institution the more we appreciate it. One of the principles of economic sciences is that we precisely appreciate what is missing and not abundancy. This also applies to the field of affects: while family was too present in the 1960s, we miss it today «. And he adds «The family is a human group whose raison d’être is the pro-creation, education and socialization of children. We find this basic parental micro-system almost in every society».

In addition, the family group is, for some authors, the fundamental element of our social status: a nucleus of social relations, a lever for the constitution of our heritage, a platform for finding a job and a support should crises arise, and a system of protection and care in the event of health problems. For most people, the essential quality of family life is that it constitutes a contract, or an emotional or affective involvement, in spite of its possible conflicts and internal difficulties.

Family, society and going back to the roots. The «J’accuse l’intégrisme économique» by Albert Jacquard and the «Refondation anthropologico-politique» by Edgard Morin

«We are told that economy governs the world, that the laws of market and profit are the absolute truth. But can human society live without any other value than merchant value?
Whoever questions this new religion is immediately considered as irresponsible» writes Albert Jacquard in demonstrating the evils of triumphant and fanatical economism that pretends to govern our lives today. In his book he invites us to reject the fatality of economic fundamentalism. «Western liberalism» states Jacquard «means slavery for the great majority of men whether they are citizens of countries of the South or pushed into the deprived group of population in the North. The most urgent task is not what is presently done by the World Bank and the IMF to surrender the deprived to the greediness of the rich but to sustainably preserve the social and environmental safeguards very often obtained through hard struggle. Then, to extend these guarantees to all the inhabitants of the world«.

Further, he adds «… Collective wealth is produced by the establishment of communication lines between those who have needs and those capable of answering them. Our wealth is represented by the Others. Or, more precisely, it is the possibility to exchange with them…
What constitutes a human being is exchange… It is the fact of exchanging which represents a need, not the content of that exchange».

This analysis reinforces the need and importance of human relationships and a society based on exchange and communication, and puts the stress on the transition from economic  fundamentalism to the integration of human diversity that characterises our great universal family.
Edgar Morin (1997) says: «We need to re-introduce the human being as a means, an end, an object and subject of policy… However, we are not talking of the Man who, according to Marx, must find his salvation by dis-alienating himself, that is to say by freeing himself of everything alien to him. The concept of a dis-alienated man is irrational : autonomy and dependence are inseparable since we depend on what nourishes and develops us : life, sex, culture. The concepts of total liberation, conquest of nature, salvation on earth, correspond to an abstract delusion. However, Man… is a Trinitarian entity/ individual/species/society that reproduces itself by destroying itself during its History…We may keep the Marxian idea of a generic man who reproduces himself, but only if we complexify self-production into self-ecological production and accept that the building-process of Man («hominisation») is unfinished, uncertain and random. At the same time, we must restore in all its complexity a being who cannot be reduced to production or economic relations, but who is at the same time biological, social, economic and mythological.Terrestrial father/motherland is not an abstraction since mankind was born from it…human diversity is the most precious aspect of human unity which itself is the treasure of human  diversity. Hence, a double requirement : restore and accomplish human unity in the flourishing of diversity. Save singularities and diversities and also create a common fabric».

Family relational network : object of family therapy

This common fabric, this unity within diversity underlined by Edgar Morin, constitutes an excellent metaphor for the essential microsystem of Mankind : the Family. Families which are under attack in Argentina and elsewhere by consumerism, and by the laws of the market asunderlined by Professeur Jacquard, belong to the field of family therapy. Whenever we are called by that unit (composed of individuals of different genders and ages coming from more or less privileged or deprived social groups, various cultures and different religions), it is because they feel the need to be helped in painful circumstances: for example, addiction in one or several of its members, violence in the couple or in the parental/filial system, anorexia or panic attack, sexual abuse or adolescent pregnancy, even before mentioning the so-called psychiatric disorders or family crises resulting from unemployment or a severe illness of one of its members.

Family therapy meets these challenges by activating the resources of family members, facilitating self-help and mutual assistance, to increase their solidarity, control their emotions and communicate better. This helps restore the protective ecology and positive atmosphere of family affects and, at the same time, improves and enhances their connectivity, sense of belonging and active participation in their immediate neighbourhood.

This exercise to restore the roots of family welfare benefits from a democratic macro-ecosystem which, in spite of all its defects and limitations, enables us constantly to correct ourselves and solve conflicts. It includes a hierarchical structure, operational rules, a reward and sanction mechanism as well as procedures that are more or less efficient to protect children and elderly people. 
In fact, the Family, just like the Democratic State, deals in principles in relation to the education and health of its members. Thereby we can draw some analogies between the macro-system of Democracy and the micro-system of the Family
considered as living organisms, jointly evolving in an intertwined interdependence, in a spiral involving interactive and retroactive loops, Irène Théry (1997) considers that the modern family is no longer an institution, but a relational network. Family is no longer what it used to be because its function has radically changed.

Thus, François Singly, reflecting a general opinion, summarizes the situation as follows : 

«Yes, the family has changed. Not only has the institutional framework burst into pieces, but its basic function has also dramatically changed. For a long time, its fundamental purpose was to transmit the economic heritage and moral traditions of one generation to the next. Today, families tend to favour the building of a personal identity, both in marital and parental relationships«.

From this perspective, the family as a group may be viewed as the product of democratic individuality-building.

«In harmony with the increasing trend to give a greater psychological and emotional content to the family inner dynamic, the predominant idea today is inter-subjectivity. The raison d’être of the family, in the same way as that of love, is its mode of functioning» (Théry, 1997).
In spite of the diversity of opinions concerning the present state of the family and the many discussions between «pessimists» (the family is a threatened species) and «optimists» (the family is in good health), the family keeps some of its essential functions, abandons others and creates new tasks. Changes mainly occur in democratic macro-eco-systems.

The two major objectives of systemic family therapy are the coaching, support and promotion of the development of democracy as a healthy environment for the family, and of the family itself as a healthy environment for the individual. Both the family and democracy must be considered as relational networks, and as fundamental factors in the building of individual identity and social cohesion. This view is opposed to the entropy of exclusion, marginalization and lack of future vision that can occur in contemporary society.

Family Therapy

«If you want to see, learn how to act»
(Heinz von Foerster)

Systemic family therapy is a practice enshrined in an epistemology that not only gathers all the members of a family, a couple, organization or company in order to work together, but which is mainly characterized by an «accent put on the rules of inter-personal communication, on interactional processes (time-limited models), inter-personal structures (maps anchored in space, rigid or fuzzy borders), operational processes (relationships between micro-, meso and macro-systems), evolutionary processes (genesis and change in the systems) or second order
reiterative processes (relationship between the observer and the observed); this leads in its turn to survey what constitutes reality and the central role of narratives during therapy»(CarlosSluzki, 1991).

Multiples and simultaneous psychotherapeutical approach to the different systems

During the period 1993-97 I was invited to participate in the activities of the Secretariat on Addictions of the Province of Buenos Aires, the most densely populated province of Argentina (one-third of the total population). At that time, the situation was dramatic and this was only the beginning of the crisis: economic indices seemed all right but factories were closing down every day, unemployment reached alarming proportions and beggars became more and more common in cities, which had previously been far from the case in Argentina where begging on
a large scale was never observed. We worked with the macro-system of a population of 12 million inhabitants experiencing the total dismantling of its networks (hospitals, schools), various cases of violence, drug abuse and alcoholism as well as an alarming level of juveniledelinquency. 
The strong ideas that guided our intervention were those included in the elaborate thinking of Professeur Morin, who was invited by the Secretariat, and the systemic constructivist approach. We already knew that multiple variables were contributing to the general downfall: political and economic factors, and the weight of governmental institutions such as the police of the province of Buenos Aires linked to the most bloodshedding and criminal repression of the last military regime. The police forces had become one of the most
corrupt in the whole country and were the accomplices of drug dealers. Educators, schoolteachers, principals in primary schools and, in particular, headteachers in secondary schools were overwhelmed by the situation.

Theoretical reflection on that ecosystem in crisis : micro, meso, exo and macrosystem

«A human being is only an individual in the context of the social systems in which he integrates
himself. Without individualities there would be no human social relations or events»
(Humberto Maturana)

The eco-systemic analysis of family relationships tells us of the prime social layer that deals with relationships between the individual and its immediate neighbourhood, the Family. In our counselling sessions we start our work with that microsystem and involve ourselves in a codevelopmental process between its members. However, we are aware that although the familyhas considerable resources, the parents’ capacities to raise children and care for them with some chance of success largely depends on the social environment of those families. This second ecological layer, that Bronfenbrenner (1997) called mesosystem, deals with the issue of relations between ecosystems. This refers to the inter-relationship between the different host environments that participate in the education and development of a human being during a specific period of his/her life. For instance, we talk about relationships between the family and the school: each of these microsystems will impact on the other.

According to the same author, the third layer is the exosystem: the work environment, characteristics of the district, social networks, distribution systems for goods and services.
Events that occur in the parents’ working environment will undoubtedly have an impact on children’s lives.

Finally, the fourth layer, called macrosystem, represents cultural values, the system of beliefs and historical events (wars, social crises, floodings, etc.) that may also influence the other ecological systems. For example, criticism or approval of certain types of behaviour, tolerance/rejection of some differences, corporal punishment in educational institutions, attitudes vis à vis sexuality or drugs, societal reaction towards abortion, and so on. Family health and mental hygiene in a society depend on the possibility given to these parents and children to establish healthy relationships/connections, strong and sustainable links with other human systems outside the family. In turn, this will depend on the form and fashion used by external influences to penetrate the household and regulate parent-child relationships, most of all the rules of conduct of the immediate neighbourhood as well as the social and historical  circumstances and culture constituting these families’ macro ecosystems. In the case of the intervention made in the Province of Buenos Aires, we had to act simultaneously on the micro, meso, exo and macrosystems.

General systemic intervention
 In addition to the well-know contributions of systemic practice – for example, interventions at the level of communication, correction of the dysfunctional structure of the family, adjustment of the hierarchy of power in the family, the possibility of reformulating a problem in order to solve other problems, or creating new evolutionary pathways to write new scenarios – an trend emerged in the 1980s that finally settled down and flourished : constructivist models. Based on narratives that were present in embryonic form in the writings of Paul Watzslawick, in the recentering technique adopted by the Palo Alto team, and in Milton Erickson’s hypnotic psychotherapy, these models became the avant-garde for the development of ideas in the domain of family therapy. They created, over time, a specific way of looking at psychotherapy : narrative therapy. This new method impregnated the systemic and cognitive field as well as the domain of mediation and conflict resolution.

In any case, the schematic formulation – «the description of the problem is the problem» – may be considered as the equivalent of «problems exist in the description we are using», «Problems are meanings around which we organise problematic behaviours» and «change is the process to express things differently». All these formulations share a common element : to STATE. In others words, through the praxis of language, the fact of narrating stories becomes a plausible
narrative method. By using this model as a landmark, we may use family therapy as a practice that helps people to alter their stories and narratives in order to increase the number and quality of their choices, possibilities, and value judgments, dissolving the problem that was until then anchored in their original narrative. Descriptions and stories (that is to say narrative structures) are semantic systems that include as constitutive elements a scenario («what»), characters («who») and context («where and when») (Sluzki, C. 1991).

Intervention in the Province of Buenos Aires : from the scenario «every man for himself» (help us, we are exhausted) to the scenario «one for all and all for one» (team work based on solidarity and the learning of self-help).

The Addictions Secretariat entrusted me and other colleagues with the training of professionals who worked in the Addiction Rehabilitation Centres established in the different cities and districts of the Province.
First of all, the systemic approach enabled these social workers and psychologists to establish contacts and to intervene in family environments with the parents, brothers and sisters, that is at a first micro-systemic level, a more efficient approach than treating a drug addict in isolation.
At the same time I took part in the training of educators, parish priests and voluntary, non professional co-ordinators in the Centres where neighbours used to meet in different districts. In this way, we tried to enlarge the concentric circles of our systemic intervention to reach the meso systemic level.

Gradually we started to move with the intention of reaching a new concentric circle, the   exosystem: inhabitants of the neighbourhood were invited to meet in schools, parishes, large conference halls or theatres and sports clubs. Authorities and schoolteachers involved  themselves in the fight against drugs. Above all, young people were invited to these meetings, where they were allowed to express their anger and grief, ask questions, talk about their teachers and the ill-treatment they were subjected to whenever they were accused of bad behaviour or impoliteness towards school authorities. I remember how surprised they were when I asked them to climb on the stage and handed them a microphone. 

At the end of these meetings, they used to come closer and ask me what they could do for their mates who were addicts or towards those who sold drugs in the school premises. The programme was specially meant for young people since they were the prime targets of dealers. They were summoned to these meetings, not to be preached at on moral issues, but to be informed so that they would involve themselves in the fight against drugs and rescue their friends, brothers, sisters, schoolteachers or neighbours. The aim was also «to train leaders», «ten thousand leaders for life», as stated by Dr; Juan Alberto Yaría, Director General of the Secretariat.

Finally, under the inspired and clever direction of Dr. Yaría, the programme tackled the macrosystem and centred its efforts on prevention. Intellectuals of renown were invited to participate in mass meetings, to write articles in newspapers, speak on the radio and intervene during TV broadcasts. I myself published two special issues of Systemic Perspectives, the journal of family therapy of which I am the editor. These examined the problem of network and the complex considerations applied to the treatment of drug addiction. These issues were freely distributed to thousands of professionals and volunteers who participated in the programme of assistance and prevention. The empirical complexity, the presence of random variables and existence of powerful and corrupt political and economic interests were addressed with considerable energy and purpose. This was mainly through a well-thought out strategy that took into account the complexity of the issue by applying, from the outset, a multi-discipline programme and organizational procedures appropriate to the huge challenge represented by the overpopulated Province of Buenos Aires (a district characterized by extreme poverty and shantytowns without running water. 

Therefore, we avoided the demagogical approach so often used by political parties – «assistancialism» and «alms-charity». Rather, we encouraged the taking of initiatives, pro-activity and the possibility of learning that «together, it is easier,
together, it is possible». So doing, we used old Argentinian traditions going back to the arrival of those European migrants who built this country.
One should remember that t learning means in cybernetic terms, that a system is capable of changing its behaviour and, sometimes, its mode of internal organization from analysing the results of its action. Information is not stable, but rather constitutes a process. 
By «information» we mean the content of our exchanges with the outer world while we are busy adjusting ourselves to it, and subjecting it to this same adaptation process. According to Norbert Winner, the founding-father of cybernetics «communication is the cement of society and those people whose job is to keep open communication paths are precisely those on whom depends the survival or fall of our civilization«. 

However, Winner was not only talking about dictatorial regimes, but anticipated and strongly criticized the submission of the press and radio to commercial interests . He said that communication paths are strangled and mutilated
whenever, they are exclusively dominated by the law of profit. The transformation of information into storable goods unavoidably means the deterioration and weakening of the continuous current that must irrigate society. The same is true as regards the accessibility of information. Despite what we call «security requirements», this implies a national discussion on the moral aspect of communication. I had the opportunity to express these ideas during mass
lectures and to organize visual demonstrations for hundreds of participants. 

At that time, many of our interventions were similar to the actions of American tv -evangelists, those media ministers in the United States who preach the word of God to millions of viewers. Our interventions similarly made use of big halls and teleconferences held simultaneously with thousands of viewers in all the districts of the huge Province of Buenos Aires and Argentina.

Family Therapy : Techniques and practice

As will demonstrated by many works presented during this Symposium, Democracy intends to facilitate and accept divorce, homosexual couples and families (still however controversial, but considerably less denied from a social perspective), deal with mono parental families, “stepfamilies” and so on. 

The distribution of precise and straightforward information makes it possible to avoid or remedy family or institutional abuse and contribute to the prevention of and assistance with cases of child sexual abuse. Many taboos and secrets will be unveiled and debated in the field of democratic ecology. Nevertheless, if the individual freedom proclaimed by democracy is not fraternal and based on solidarity and fails to take into account those networks that are necessary to promote equal opportunities for all the members of that society, such as access to education and health and state protection. If it allows itself to be dominated by merchant laws, then man merely becomes a wolf devouring his kin, as we see in big urban centres every day.
The law of the market takes no account of human beings. The multi-directional bias of Boszormenyi-Nagy (1996), at the beginning of the history of family therapy clearly expressed an idea of justice: «every man according to his merits, rewards, rights and responsibilities». The validation of feelings associated with each narrative and the legitimacy given to the vision version of family conflict by each member of a family calling upon us in our private or institutional consultations is conceptualised by the Milan Team as the neutrality concept. This concept produces a relationship of empathy on the side of the therapist or mediator vis-à-vis each consultant, and helps him to keep a meta-position in the middle of all his interlocutors.

Later, the curiosity concept developed by Gianfranco Cecchin (1989) enables consultations using circular questions that, although they are not neutral help to build another way of expressing oneself and acting on this.
Our democracies are characterized by a macro system of multinational companies, very often allied to accomplice governments which control media, sometimes belonging to the business world and related to corrupt civil servants and trade-unionists. Therefore, we deal with families but also with values and ideas concerning success, the ideology of winners or losers within a system based on consumption. In doing so we have learned from Milton Erickson always to
take into consideration the opportunities and resources of what are called today the resilient aspects of the individuals, couples, families or organisations which consult us.

Example of the consultant traumatized by forced exile and «de-exile» process

Juan, 35 years old, came back from his exile in France and asked me to treat his «de-exile trauma». He flew from Argentina as a political exile to save his life during the last military regime when he had been a political activist. What he expressed were the difficulties and symptoms that had appeared since he had returned to Argentina in 1983, when democracy was restored.
Following a period of empathy, of simply listening to his narrative with respect and attention, trying to understand his sufferings, I started to work thoroughly on his original narrative and to change it surreptitiously. Trauma, as we know well, is a word-concept that embodies passive suffering, and indelible traces requiring lengthy work for serious disorders. His experience had been extremely painful. He was suffering from a double up-rooting, first from his country and culture of origin and, secondly, once he had succeeded in integrating himself in another culture
after huge effort, in deciding to go back to Argentina eight years after leaving the country in haste. 
You will notice that I use the term «experience» and not «trauma». This is exactly what I did with Juan: first of all, while understanding his pain, I asked him what he had learned in France, a country with a long democratic tradition and a culture so rich and different from ours.
Gradually, he started a different account: guided by my questions first and later almost spontaneously he started to explain how he had joined some other Argentinian exiles, then found a job. During this period, and with considerable effort he had learned French, met a young French woman and spent the last years of his stay in France with her (more and more we’ve used the term stay instead of exile).

I followed his account with genuine surprise and inserted micro-interventions, mostly positive connotations concerning, first, his capacity to survive and to adapt himself and, finally, his success in integrating himself to these new and trying circumstances. After a few conversations of this type we both concluded that his experience had rendered him more mature, that he had learned a foreign language – this enabled him to work for Air France in Argentina – and that the return of a person above the average Argentinian citizen, somebody that was at the very beginning of contemporary democracy.

Shortly after, many of his companions in exile came to see me and none of them asked me to treat his «exile trauma». Juan, proud of his past, of his journey and experience in France, and of his love for his country of origin, never again pronounced the word «trauma» to talk about his experience of «exile-stay» or his return to Argentina.

Conclusions : Challenges and opportunities arising from the joint evolution of the macrosystem of Democracy and the micro system of the Family

Democracy is the best organization or ecosystem available based on coexistence and social development. This is my opinion as a systemic constructivist therapist, and also as a citizen of a country that has had many difficulties in building a democratic context. I would say the same about the family and about building and developing individuality.

With all its rules of the game, rights and obligations, Democracy is a system open to change: the functioning of each step of its vital cycle constitutes a transition process. Moreover, this transition, viewed as a permanent and structural condition of Democracy, reminds us of the developmental process of social organizations and institutions, and that of the family life cycle and the evolutionary process of the individual. Whenever we work with families, organisations or institutions, we know that we are dealing with dynamic material, a living fabric in constant
change. Our observations and interventions thus constitute a form of intrusion, more or less respectful, into consulting systems, while these systems, observed and disturbed by our intervention, act in their turn upon us and change our perspective.

Moreover, in constructivist terms we must face another challenge: we do not work on the «genuine» family or the «real» system, but on a second order reality. This means that we continuously carve out one part of the «reality» in order to create an operational field with the purpose of focussing and applying a specific strategy, or simply to amplify the possibilities available to the members of that system who face any given problem. Whenever we put the «question of the miracle» (De Shazer, 1982): «how would your life be without that problem?», «what would you do differently if, by a miracle, this problem no longer existed?», «how do you think people around you will realize that you no longer have that difficulty?», we propose a different type of conversation. We lead our consultants to the menu of the «solution oriented therapy», a therapeutic practice that awakens unsuspected or simply forgotten resources. Subsequently, these resources are stimulated by direct or indirect language leading to action and change, which motivate and trigger a proactive behaviour that generates new learning and, sometimes, the «deutero apprenticeship» described by Gregory Bateson: the experience of learning to learn. The answers given to inductive questions open the possibility of a different future. This future conceived in detail helps us to act upon our present context, to correct or modify our present approach, as we have already seen in the case of exiles and the Secretariat on Addictions.

In societies that are sometimes indifferent, anomalous, extremely superficial, egoistic and competitive, it is finally these two aspects – creative imagination and the restless search for resources related to solidarity – that enable us to conceive a different reality, a future based on solidarity and the possibility of relating to Others by the opportunity to create common intimacies that are recognized and fair for each of us, or personal intimacies respected by our  Selves and Others.
Democracy and Family are indispensable constructs, but they do not suffice. 

The difference is made by the values and rules of cohabitation between the participants in these interdependent systems. When we form a genuine therapeutic alliance with our consultants and we understand their way of producing changes, their motivations, languages and mode of cooperation, we become at the same time the benevolent and curious witnesses and the discrete catalysts of these evolutionary processes, encouraging the structural reorganization and production of new narratives that alleviate symptoms, re-generate the relational fabric, vivify the past and make the present and futur merge to transform dreams into achievements. 

ICCFR conference Lyon 2006
Reviewed, Buenos Aires 2014 by Claudio Des Champs

About the author

Claudio Des Champs is a senior systemic psychotherapist, he  supervises and trains colleagues in Argentina and all over the world for thirty years and he is redsistemica editor (netsystemic) .

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