Introduction to Family
The target client is Lindsay Bluth Funke. She has had one session of therapy which she sought due to feeling anxious and as if life holds no meaning. She feels that her family only values her for her appearance; in fact, she feels that appearances are the most important thing to her family.
Lindsay is married to Tobias Funke who is a non-practicing psychoanalyst and is currently pursuing an unsuccessful acting career. It seems apparent to everyone but Tobias that he is likely gay. The couple has one child, Mae Funke, who goes by the nickname Maeby. Maeby is on her third attempt of her final year in high school.
Lindsay discovered in her adulthood that she was adopted. She had previously believed herself to be the twin of her brother Michael, who currently runs the family business. The news of her adoption was startling for her, but encouraging to Michael’s son George Michael, as he is in love with Maeby. Michael and Lindsay have an older brother George Oscar Bluth (GOB) who is an unemployed magician and who is unmarried but recently discovered he has a son. Despite having never done anything constructive, GOB often appears to have his father’s favour. They have a younger brother, Byron “Buster” Bluth who is the youngest in their family of origin and is extremely fused with their mother.
Lindsay’s adopted father is George Bluth, who created the family company and accrued a great deal of wealth for the family, meaning the adult children do not need to work. The exception to this is Michael who has taken over running the business and whose job it is to keep the family ‘together’. George often speaks cryptically. For example, all throughout their childhoods, the Bluth children have heard him say “There’s always money in the banana stand.” The banana stand is a beach front kiosk that sells frozen bananas. Michael takes this to mean that there is value and reward for working hard and serving the clients face to face, and it motivates him to work harder. George actually meant that there was literally money stashed in the banana stand, a fact Michael learns regrettably after accidentally burning down the banana stand. Buster has recently learned that George is not his father, but rather Oscar is. Oscar is the identical twin of George and he has had an intermittent affair with George’s wife, Lucille Bluth. While George attempts to mold his children by selectively withholding approval, Lucille’s method is selectively withholding affection. It is from Lucille that Lindsay, and on occasion her daughter Maeby most often receive the messaging that their values are held in their appearance.
Due to their wealth and their notoriety in the community, the Bluths are very much in the public eye. Lindsay is not concerned about her husband’s lack of income as they can draw funds from the family business. She feels that her freedom from employment prevents her from having any value in the world and deprives her from having a sense of purpose. When asked, “What about Maeby?” she replied, “OK, maybe I have no purpose. But if I have one, I don’t know what it is!”
When Lindsay told Tobias she was going to therapy, he was supportive of the idea and told her the problems he could see in her. She mentioned that they might go together, and he laughingly said that wouldn’t be needed because as a psychoanalyst himself, he has no problems. She asked her extended family if they would come because she felt their dynamic would be too difficult to describe in their absence, and they said she should try it out and if she didn’t lose interest, they would consider it. The intricacies of this family have been detailed by Modern Roots (n.d.) as shown in the following diagram.
Sessions One and Two – Lindsay
Solution Focused Therapy is selected to begin with Lindsay as she has some immediate feelings that are problems looking for solutions. As her family members do not see themselves to be in need of therapy, this model is not appropriate for them as clients need to want to change for this model to be effective (Gladding, 2019). Lindsay’s concerns are with her family, and how they view her, and the anxiety caused from wanting to see herself as worthy and valuable in other ways. The goal will be to help Lindsay create enough change to give her the “confidence and optimism” (Gladding, 2019, p.334) required to bring family members into future sessions.
In particular we will work with exceptions and assertiveness training. In session Lindsay will think of occasions her family has praised or valued her for something other than her physical appearance and will begin a list of ‘other things my family likes about me.’ Her homework in these early sessions is to notice and record any instance of her family praising her for anything other than her looks.
With assertiveness training under her belt, Lindsay’s other challenge at home will be to thank her family for noticing her other positive aspects thereby encouraging them to do more of what is working. Additionally, and more challenging, she will use ‘I statements’ (this is borrowed from feminist theory, which will flavour all sessions) to explain to her family how it affects her when they see her looks only. She has previously quietly accepted their appraisals, here she will “do something different.” (Gladding, 2019, p.333)
Sessions Three and Four – Lindsay, and then Lindsay with Tobias and Maeby
Feminist Family Therapy will inform the breadth of Lindsay’s treatment, but will be the focus of the middle sessions so that she, her husband, and their daughter gain insight into feminist thought and move together to a more egalitarian household. Some aspects of their family make Feminist Family Therapy appropriate: Lindsay is feeling powerless to resist the expectations and shallow thinking of her extended family; Lindsay has very little relationship with either her mother or her daughter; Tobias has crippling body image concerns that prevent him from ever being unclothed and refuses to look at his likely homosexuality in the context of his wife’s family where there is a wide gender divide and men make the money and the decisions. For each member of this family, the goal of Feminist Family Therapy as written by Bitter (2014) should be held up: to “seek to empower clients to take control of their lives and free them from rigid expectations and structures.” (p.355)
Care will be taken to establish an egalitarian therapeutic relationship with Lindsay from the outset. Despite her wealth and relative fame, there can still be a power difference in the counseling relationship and this needs to be leveled out so Lindsay experiences equality and a relationship where her words, thoughts, and feelings are valued and important. Once she is comfortable with this, and as her family members are brought in, they will see this consistently modeled. Maeby and Lucille will be able to experience Lindsay being treated with respect and can start to imagine this for themselves in other relationships.
Sessions Five and Six – Full Extended Family
While this family would benefit from a systems-based approach for therapy, it is unlikely they would commit to the work and time that this would entail. With the target client being Lindsay, we will work to create small changes in the family members and family as a whole to give Lindsay room to achieve her own goals and to maintain her change within her family setting. The success of this method will hinge on the family members accepting that the problem is actually a problem. The problem that Lindsay voiced and that is shared by the whole family in different ways is ‘caring only about appearance.’ The family business was established on appearances in that the homes they built look good but have no structural integrity. JOB’s career in magic is premised on appearances. Lucille is more concerned with the attractiveness and reputation of the family than with anyone’s well-being. For each family member it can be shown that there is a stark over-emphasis on appearance equaling worth. If the family can accept that this is a problem, the sessions will proceed to externalizing this problem. The benefit of this is the family can separate themselves as family members from the problem itself and cooperate in tackling the problem as they have banded together to fight external pressures such as keeping George and Lucille out of jail. As the family has many display models of their real estate development, one such model house can be used as a focal point to represent the problem in session, although gently perhaps as even the models are poorly constructed. In these sessions then, the Bluths will not be focused on ‘helping Lindsay’ but rather on building awareness of and solutions to their shared problem.
Inherent in this process will be asking questions around how the problem has affected each person” (p.348) according to Gladding (2019). Rather than address each other, which could start a pattern of blaming each other, the family members will address the model home as the problem of being over focused on appearances in statements formed in a semblance of “You have had this effect on my life and because of that I have done these things.” The family can learn more about each other, build awareness of how each has been affected by this family rule, and learn compassion for each other.
Another technique that will be used with the whole family, that comes from Narrative Therapy but is common to Solution Focused Therapy as well, is to look for exceptions. The family will be given the homework to look for exceptions in their appreciation of each other and take note of when these appreciations are for non-appearance traits. They will be further challenged to voice these compliments to each other and to note how it feels to be the giver or recipient of these compliments.
Reconvening after the first week of engaging in this homework, the family will be encouraged to discuss the compliments that were exchanged and thereby begin compiling an aggregate of family strengths. These strengths will be written down in a manner familiar to the family, perhaps on a flip chart if that is what is used in the business. The conversation will be opened up to brainstorming other strengths that are not immediately apparent, so the family learns to take pride in assets that are not tied to public image or physical appearance.
While the family will be moving into a new technique to bring some focus back onto Lindsay, we will not fully drop Narrative Therapy. Their homework will continue and as sessions draw to a close, the therapy team will give letters to the family members to “serve as a medium for continuation of the dialogue between the therapist and family members and as a reminder of what occurred in the therapy session” (p.350). Following the Narrative Therapy model, there will be a celebration complete with certificates to mark the last session of therapy as a group.
Sessions Seven and Eight – Full Extended Family
Leaning into the Bluth family’s love of entertaining, the next few sessions will culminate in a Parts Party taken from the Satir model (Satir, Banmen, Gerber, & Gomori, 1991). Lindsay will take the role of the host as our target client, and the family members will be cast as her varied parts. One reason this family might be so focused on external appearance could be that they carry shame for aspects of themselves; that they see some of their parts as ‘bad’. In a Parts Party, according to the authors, a participant “looks closely at the many parts we human beings have, how we handle them, and how we can transform them into resources for being whole and congruent” (p.175).
There are some expected outcomes from the Parts Party. Firstly, Lindsay can acknowledge, accept, and transform her parts and inner rules. There are bound to be hidden resources she will discover as well as parts of herself previously labeled as ‘bad’ that can be transformed into resources. By participating in this process for Lindsay, her family members will learn to see her as a complex and multi-layered whole instead of their current two-dimensional view of her.
Her family members, by virtue of interacting with and as Lindsay’s parts, will recognize and discover their own forgotten or hidden parts. They may find themselves surprised by how well they can portray one of Lindsay’s ‘bad’ parts and realize it is because they mirror the part within themselves. Recognizing this can build empathy within the family as well as build self-awareness and personal growth in the family members which is a goal of the sessions in order to give Lindsay a more fertile ground within which to plant the seeds of her personal change.
Another expected outcome will be as Lindsay uncovers and voices the unspoken rules she lives by; the family members can reflect on the extent to which they either also follow these rules or had a role in creating said rules. Done cooperatively, this uncovering of implied family rules can allow the family to transform them to more helpful messages together.
Session Nine and Beyond – Individual and Dyadic Sessions with Family Members
While each member of the Bluth family would benefit from Psychodynamic Therapy, many may not be willing to commit to the longer, more in-depth process. As therapy with the whole group will therefore be coming to a close, we will orient them to this upcoming ending and summarize the changes and discoveries that have been made. The final session with the group as a whole will include a ceremony and certificates in line with Narrative Therapy, and with a playful tone fitting to the Satir Model.
My hope is that Lindsay and Tobias will continue for a longer term delve into Psychodynamic Therapy. Up until this point, sessions have mostly focused on the present and on the future; on identifying problems and solving them, but not on how those problems arose. After doing so much personal work and building up her self-worth through saturation in the feminist model, my hope is that Lindsay will be willing to examine and heal the past that brought her to this point. Tobias, who is the most obviously conflicted of the group, may need to do the same in order to keep their marriage intact. Having uncovered and worked with aspects of her Self in the Satir model, and externalized and reauthored her problem with Narrative Therapy, Lindsay will have ample material to work with in a Psychodynamic model. With the confidence and sense of worth achieved through the influence of Solution Focused Therapy and Feminist Therapy, and through a strong therapeutic alliance, Lindsay will have the strength and resources required to take this next step in differentiation and personal freedom.
Bitter, J.R. (2014) Theory and practice of family therapy and counseling. 2nd ed. Belmont, CA:
Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
Gladding, S.T. (2019). Family therapy: History, theory, and practice (7th ed.). New York, NY:
Satir, V., Banmen, J., Gerber, J., Gomori, M. (1991). The Satir model. Family therapy and
beyond. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books, Inc.