|The contributors to this volume all share one basic assumption
about the nature of family research and the practice of family therapy.
That assumption is that both research and clinical practice should be guided
by a clearly articulated theory of family behaviour. This theory should
describe what is considered to be "normal", "healthy"
or "desirable" family functioning. It should also explain how
dysfunctional family structures and faulty family processes develop, and
why they remain stable over time and across generations. Implicit in this
assumption, is the belief that any instrument or procedure that is used
for pretreatment assessment, to monitor the therapeutic process, and to
evaluate treatment outcomes, must be reliable and valid measure of the particular
theoretical construct or constructs that are the focus of investigation
All the contributors to this volume report their clinical and research experiences concerning the use of the Family System Test (FAST) in their work with family systems. The FAST is a projective measure designed to assess the respondent's perceptions of two key constructs derived from family systems theory. These are: cohesion and hierarchy. The FAST is unique in that this figure placement procedure enables the respondent to translate what are essentially symbolic, abstract, analogical and highly subjective internal representations of family dynamics into concrete and digital depictions of family structures and processes that can be used for both qualitative and quantitative analyses. When used in conjunction with questions specifically designed to elicit information concerning the development and evolution of family structures and processes over time and across the family life cycle, the FAST becomes a very powerful clinical and research tool. For example, an individual can be asked to depict changes in group dynamics in his/her family of origin by responding to a few systems oriented questions, such as the ones developed by Bagarozzi and Anderson (1989). Questions designed to highlight changing patterns of cohesion are listed below:
"In your family of origin, when you were (a child, teenager, young adult, etc.), to whom were you the closest? Which person did you like the most? Which person did you like the least? Who owned you emotionally and what was the nature of the emotional attachment? Which person did you fear?"
In order to learn about how hierarchical arrangements are perceived to have changed over time, a respondent is asked:
"When you were (a child, teenager, young adult, etc.), who had the most power in your family of origin? What type of power was it? How and when was this power used? What type of power did each member of your family have? How and when did he/she use it?"
By observing the changes in figure placements in response to these various questions about cohesion and hierarchy, a dynamic picture of family systems development emerges. In the same vein, respondents can be asked to arrange FAST figures as they were perceived to have behaved during important lie events (e.g., family crises, family transitional stages, and family celebrations).
As I read through this volume, I found myself thinking of ways that the FAST might be used to answer some difficult research questions and respond to a number of clinical challenges that confront therapists who engage in family diagnostic testing (Bagarozzi, 1989). For example, when children are asked to depict relationships between and among other family members, it is important to consider how the validity and reliability of their responses are effected by limitations in their capacity for role taking and perspective reversal. A child's egocentrism (as conceptualised by cognitive developmentalists such as Piaget) must be taken into account, especially when children's arrangements are used to set treatment goals and evaluate therapeutic outcomes.
I believe that the FAST can be used to help the clinician unearth and assess family myths (Anderson and Bagarozzi, 1989; Bagarozzi and Anderson, 1989; Ferreira, 1963, 1966). For example, when a family group is asked to reach a consensus about figure placements and arrangements, the agreed upon constellation can be thought of as representing a family myth, i.e., the way the family would like to be perceived by outsiders. When a family is asked to reach a consensus about ideal family functioning, the spectre of experimenter effects emerges and poses a challenge to clinicians and researchers alike.
Each chapter in this volume stimulated my thinking. Each contributor to this work offers something new. Few research based texts, in my opinion, can appeal to both researchers and clinicians. Gehring, Debry and Smith, however, seem to have accomplished this difficult editorial feat with relative ease - no small accomplishment? I believe anyone who reads this volume will come away not only with a wealth of knowledge, but with a greater appreciation for the complementary relationship between empirical research and clinical practice.