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Transpersonal Feminist Approach to Family Systems

Transpersonal Feminist Approach to Family Systems

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International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
121
ranspersonal Approach to Family Systems
 A ranspersonal Feminist Approach to Family Systems
 Irene Sheiner Lazarus 
1
Chapel Hill, NC, USA Tis paper presents a preliminary description o A ranspersonal Feminist Approach to Family Systems (AFAFS) as taught at the Institute o ranspersonal Psychology (IP) between 1995and 2002. In this approach, students studied the principles o Murray Bowens amily systemstheory with attention to eminist revisions o the theory while simultaneously investigatintheir own multigenerational amily histories. Additionally, students kept a journal, recordedand worked with their dreams, and worked with a chosen creative expressive modality. Tey may also have worked with other transpersonal modalities. Student narratives, inormed by organic inquiry, illustrate aspects o the approach. Te paper concludes with a detailed look at students’ perceived benets and drawbacks o the approach.
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
,
29 
(2), 2010, pp. 121-136
his paper presents a preliminary description o  A ranspersonal Feminist Approach to Family Systems (AFAFS) as taught at the Instituteo ranspersonal Psychology (IP) between 1995and 2002. It is my hope that this description, basedin rich student narratives, will provide a sense o themultiaceted, instructive, and healing experiences that we, teacher and students, shared together. Te paper aimsto contribute to the “emerging transpersonal-humanisticamily-systems perspective” (Luko, 2005/2006, p. 4)and to the ongoing discussion concerning the training o transpersonal psychotherapists (Boorstein, 1986; Braud,2006; Hastings, 1983; Hutchins, 2002; Hutton, 1994;Kennett, Radha, & Frager, 1975; Lazarus, 1999; RamDass, 1975; Vaughan, 1979, 1982, 1991; Speeth, 1982). A single course in this topic was developed andtaught to graduate students at IP between 1995 and1999 as a method or inner transormational work andor the training o clinical graduate students. Since 1999,a curriculum based on this approach has been availableor Global distance-learning students at IP. In 1998, Iinitiated an exploratory organic qualitative study withinterested students o this course and approach to elicita more detailed description rom those who had usedit and to ascertain benets, drawbacks, and avenues orurther study.
Beginning with a Dream
I
t seems tting to begin with a dream o March 24,2006. I knew that I had allotted this day and the resto the weekend to prepare or a poster presentation orthe North Carolina Association o Marriage and Family conerence on the portion o this study ocusing on the useo dreams as a complement to amily study. My dream:I realize that I have put my son Ben to sleep in thereezer. I become worried about him and go to takehim out o the reezer. In the dream, he is a baby,maybe 6 months old, and I am very relieved to seethat he is breathing easily and his skin looks pink and healthy, though there is much ice orming inthe reezer. I take him out o the reezer. He says,“Mom, I did not want you to put me here.” As I watch, he suddenly begins to transorm and grow rapidly until he becomes the handsome 19 year oldhe currently is.At rst, I am perplexed and a bit alarmedabout this dream. Why would I be putting my son intoa reezer? I wonder i there is some unconscious way Ihave been harming my son, which this dream is trying to bring to consciousness. My husband reminds me how much I miss my son who is now nishing his sophomoreyear at Georgetown and has plans to stay in Georgetownall summer. My husband suggests I may have a wish toreeze Ben back in time. Ten I remember that this is the weekend I have set aside to nish my preparations or a poster presentation on dreams and amily study. I recallMarie-Louise von Franz’s reminder that young boys in women’s dreams can represent important work projects
Keywords:
 
multigenerational family systems, transpersonal, feminist, dreamwork, journ-aling, organic inquiry, creative expression.
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
122
Lazarus
(Boa & von Franz, 1994). Te teaching and developing o AFAFS is a work project very close to my heart, soclose that it is not surprising that my dreammaker wouldchoose my son Ben to represent it. I have been working on this particular project or almost as many years asmy son has been alive. I suppose I did put this belovedproject in the “reezer” when I let Caliornia and my teaching in the Residential program o IP in 1999 tomove to Chapel Hill, North Carolina with my amily. Itis delightul and reassuring to see that Ben in my dreamis healthy and unharmed, though not very happy aboutspending time in the reezer. It is my hope that, as Benhas matured in the dream, so has the work presentedhere.
 What Is A ranspersonal Feminist Approachto Family Systems?
 A 
FAFS is a method o working on the sel, usedin the training o transpersonal psychologists andpsychotherapists at IP. In this approach, students study principles o Murray Bowen’s amily system theory (Bowen, 1985/1990; Kerr & Bowen, 1988; Papero,1990) with attention to eminist revisions o the theory (Knudsen-Martin, 1994, 1996; Lerner, 1985, 1989;McGoldrick, 1998), while simultaneously investigating their own multigenerational amily histories using toolso the genogram and amily chronology (McGoldrick,Gerson, & Shellenberger, 1999). Additionally, studentskeep a journal (Goldberg, 1986; Pennebaker, 1991, 1996;Progo, 1992), record and work with their dreams (Boa & Von Franz, 1994; Mellick, 1996, 2001; aylor, 1992)and work with a chosen creative expressive modality (Cassout & Cubley, 1995; Mellick, 1996, 2001).
2
Tey may also choose to work with other transpersonalmodalities, such as prayer (Dossey, 1993, 1996) ormeditation (Hanh, 2003; LeShan, 1974). Students may choose to present their work in a nal project submittedprivately to the instructor, or they may elect to preparea amily presentation to be shared with their classmates.Students are encouraged to make sense o their amily history in their own terms and are encouraged to use whichever transpersonal modalities they deem useul.
Family Systems Aspects
 Te approach is built on the oundation o Murray Bowen’s (1985/1990) brilliant contributionto amily systems theory, particularly his ormulationo the multi-generational transmission process (thenotion that “individual dierences in unctioning andmultigenerational trends in unctioning reect an orderly and predictable relationship process that connects theunction o amily members across generations” (Kerr &Bowen, 1988, p. 224), his encouragement o the study o one’s amily o origin to become aware o amily history and patterns both or patients and as a method o psychotherapeutic training (Bowen, 1985/1990), and hiscoaching to move in one’s amily in a “dierentiated”(pp. 140-141) way. Bowen spoke avorably about thevalue o working on one’s amily o origin in a clinicaltraining program:Later in 1967 and 1968 I noted that this group o residents were doing better clinical work as amily therapists than any previous residents. At rst Isimply considered this an unusually good group o residents. As time passed I became aware that thedierence between these and previous residents was too great or such a simple explanation. Tedierence appeared to be related to something I wasdoing and I began to ask questions. Ten it becameclear that it was precisely those residents who haddone best in the eort with their parental amilies who were also doing best in their clinical work. (p.531)
Feminist Aspects
In the 1970s, in psychology and elsewhere,eminists mounted a challenge to traditional institutionsand disciplines, encouraging them to be more inclusive,transparent, and honoring o eminine ways o being. Inthis approach, Bowen’s work is presented with a eministrevision (Lerner, 1985, 1989; McGoldrick, 1998). First,the approach emphasizes sensitivity to issues o gender,race, and power (Ault-Riche, 1994; Belenky, Clinchy,Goldberger, & arule, 1997; Brown & Gilligan,1992; Knudson-Martin, 1994; Lerner, 1985, 1989;McGoldrick, 1998; Miller, 1986). Second, it encouragesthe empowerment o the individual (Lerner, 1985,1989). Rather than going to outside experts, students areencouraged to study their own amilies and make senseo their histories in their own terms. Tey are encouragedto become their own experts on themselves. Tey areencouraged to develop and strengthen their own voice.Tird, the use o story and narrative is important in thisapproach. Fourth, the value o eeling is acknowledgedalongside the value o thinking.
ranspersonal Aspects
Tis approach incorporates various transper-sonal elements. It is holistic, encouraging integration o 
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
123
ranspersonal Approach to Family Systems
body, mind, spirit, emotions, creative expression, amily,and community. It is transpersonal, encouraging aspectsthat go beyond the personal ego level o development.Te approach uses transpersonal modalities such asdreamwork, ritual, journaling, prayer, and meditation.It ocuses on health as well as pathology and aims tocultivate transpersonal values such as love, wisdom,compassion, and mindulness. A vibrant, contemplative atmosphere was devel-oped in the class in several ways. Condentiality isestablished early on. Students are instructed that they may discuss their own amily work any time they eel it isappropriate to do so, but they may not discuss any otherstudent’s amily work without express permission. Tey are instructed to bring compassionate, non-judging, andmindul attention both to themselves and to others whoare presenting amily histories or are reading portions o their journals. A contemplative atmosphere is ostered inthe class through time spent in silence, journaling, andmeditating together, as well as through compassionatelistening to presentations o the multigenerational journeys o their classmates.
Te Emerging ranspersonal HumanisticFamily Systems Perspective
Z
innbauer and Camerota (2004) pointed outthat although the discipline o transpersonalpsychology has been working with the integration o spirituality and psychology or over 30 years, it is only recently that the mental health eld is turning attentionto this matter. Tis trend has been seen in the disciplineo amily therapy as well. Walsh’s chapter, “Belies,Spirituality, and ranscendence: Keys to Family Resilience,” appeared in McGoldrick’s (1998) importantbook,
Re-Visioning Family Terapy: Race, Culture, and Gender in Clinical Practice 
. Walsh discussed how corebelies and spiritual connections are important sourceso resilience that support clients in transcending adversity. More recently, Caldwell, Winek, and Becvar(2006), citing the growing acknowledgement o themind/body connection both within and outside o medical settings, studied the extent to which marriageand amily therapists were aected by and/or had animpact on this shit. Te authors, ater conducting a survey o a random sample o 1000 clinical memberso Te American Association o Marriage and Family Terapy (AAMF) regarding their relationship withComplementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)practices, ound that “most o the respondents indicatedknowledge o a variety o CAM practices” (p. 110)and recommended CAM. Interestingly, “a relatively small number o respondents indicated that they  were qualied to practice, supervise or teach relativeto a specic CAM modality. Such practices includerelaxation techniques, guided imagery, meditation,diet/liestyle changes, hypnosis, and prayer therapies”(p. 110). Te authors concluded:Te ndings o this study certainly are comparableto the results reported by Barnes et al. (2004)regarding the high percentage o use o CAMservices in this country. In the proessional arena,it appears that MFs and psychologists (Bassman& Uellendahl, 2003) also are experiencing a similar increase in awareness and utilization o CAM practices. (p. 110)Becvar, Caldwell, and Winek (2006) reported on a qualitative aspect o this study in which 54 respondents were interviewed. Notably, the respondents describeda sense o a “t” between CAM and marriage andamily therapy:Tere is requent agreement regarding the logicalt between the assumptions underlying amily therapy and those on which complementary alternative medicine is premised. It thereoreis not surprising that many MFs seem to haveestablished a comortable working relationship with a variety o CAM approaches and thus areopen to and desirous o learning more. (p. 123)I have certainly sensed this t in my own work as aninstructor and as a marriage and amily therapist.Outside the mainstream o amily therapy discourse, there have been some importantcontributions regarding the integration o transpersonal modalities in healing work withamilies. For example, Kenneth McAll (1982), a British psychiatrist, in his book entitled
Healing the Family ree 
, reported on his success curing psychiatricdisease through the Eucharist prayer or troubledmembers o the patient’s amily tree.Edward Bruce Bynum (1993) has beenconducting Te Family Dreams Research Project,“an ongoing national and cross cultural study in therelationship between dream lie and amily processes”(p. 227). Bynum (2000) described a ascinating concept called the amily unconscious:

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