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The Family of Soul Food

Different families have different problems and make use of different approaches to address the problems they face. Intervention is one of the main strategies that can be used to tackle problems at the family level. Intervention refers to the use of professional help in dealing with a problem that an individual or a group of individuals are facing. In this paper, the goal is to devise the appropriate family intervention technique to be applied in the family portrayed in the 1997 film, Soul Food, which is an African American extended family. The paper outlines family composition, assesses internal and external family environment, and then develops an intervention approach that can be used to tackle the problems experienced by the family.


Family Composition

The family in Soul Food film (the Joseph family) is an extended family that comprises of Mother Joe, who has 3 daughters, each having different levels of success. Teri is the oldest daughter and a successful lawyer. She is married to Miles. The family entirely comprises of African Americans. Teri is portrayed as having relationship problems. Miles is also a lawyer but wishes to pursue his music career, something that Teri does not seem to support. Maxine is the second daughter and is married to Kenny. They have five children: Ahmad (11 years), Kelly, Brooke, and twins. Robin is the youngest daughter of Mother Joe and is married to an ex-convict, Lem Van Adams. They have a son, Jeremiah. Robin, who is nicknamed "Bird", owns a beauty parlor. Almost all members of the family are troubled with her marriage with an ex-convict.

Type of Problems

There are numerous problems that are evident in the family. First, Teri and Maxine are in constant feud. This is a result of Teri's envy for the successful relationship between Maxine and Kenny (her former boyfriend while at school) and her disappointments with the family, who are apparently taking advantage of her financial success. The feud between Maxine and Teri is caused by the fact that Maxine is offended by Teri's bossiness as well as his indifference towards family traditions. This feud is one of the primary factors that caused family split, thereby threatening family cohesion.

The second problem evident in the family is that the family unity is solely dependent on Mother Joe to an extent whereby her missing in action threatened family unity. Essentially, the family was united because Mother Joe was alive and made sure that her children remained close by preserving family tradition, soul food, every Sunday. After she is hospitalized, family views on whether or not to carry on with the family tradition become divided. Thirdly, the fact that daughters had different levels of success is also a potential threat to a family unit. Teri is more successful than her other sisters. As a result, she thinks that family is exploiting her financial success.

In addition, there are other problems at the individual level that are threatening unity of the family. For instance, Teri and Miles marriage is not stable in the sense that Teri is not supportive of Miles' dream of being a musician. Miles eventually finds solace in Faith (a cousin, who understand him) and eventually sleeps with her. Teri blames this incident on the family. Robin, the youngest one, also had problems in her relationship with her husband. Since her husband (Lem) is an ex-convict, he is having difficulties in securing a job. Robin makes an uncomfortable agreement with her ex-boyfriend to help Lem secure a job. However, this causes several problems that eventually bring Lem back to jail. Maxine and Kenny are portrayed as a stable and happy couple, who have no problems at all. All these witnessed problems threaten unity of both the extended family as well as nuclear families of Mother Joe's three children. It is evident in the film that the extended family was broken at the time Mother Joe was hospitalized: Teri and Miles marriage resulted in a divorce, and Robin and Lem had numerous problems in their marriage.

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Strengths of the Family

Despite the aforementioned problems faced by the family, there are also many strengths. First, Mother Joe, who is a caring and wise matriarch of the Joseph family, helped bring the family together using family tradition of soul food every Sunday. Mother Joe is considered to be the glue holding the family together to the extent that her hospitalization threatens family unity. There is no doubt that family tradition was a pillar of the family, and abandoning this family tradition played a pivotal role in driving the family apart. The second strength of the family is Ahmad, 11 year old son of Maxine. He is portrayed as an intelligent young boy who has shown a level of maturity that exceeded his age. Ahmad also had a special relationship with his grandmother. When the family was close to being permanently divided, Ahmad came up with a plan to have all his adult relatives attend a Sunday dinner. This ultimately led to forgiveness and reconciliation among the conflicting family members. Reunion of the family can be attributed to the efforts of Ahmad.

Robin, the youngest daughter of Mother Joe, is also another strength in the family. Robin is portrayed as being neutral and has no feuds with either of her sisters. She talks well with all of them and attempts to reconcile them. She is the one who made initial attempts to reconcile and reunite the family by trying to continue the family tradition (Sunday soul food) after their mother was hospitalized, although nobody showed up for the dinner. In addition, despite having problems in her relationships with Lem, she does not blame her woes on the family. This is in contrast to Teri, who blames almost all her problems on the family. Overall, there are four strengths in the family, which include Mother Joe, family tradition, Ahmad, and Robin.

Assessment of Family's Internal and External Environment

Since the family under discussion is an extended family, there are both internal and external factors that influence family unit. With regard to internal environment, there is no doubt that the family lacks cohesion. This is evident from constant feuds between Teri and Maxine and Teri blaming the family for all her problems. These internal conflicts have negative impact on communication at the family level. Essentially, Maxine and Teri cannot face each other and attempt to solve the problems they are facing. For example, they have differing views regarding the sale of the house after their mother passes away. In addition, they have differing opinions regarding continuing family tradition after their mother is hospitalized. With respect to family resources, the members of the family have different success levels. For instance, Teri is a successful lawyer and is financially successful. This makes her to be somewhat bossy assuming the lead role, something that widens the rift between her and Maxine. Regarding the structure of the family, Mother Joe is considered the matriarch and leader of the family comprising of three other families of her children. Unlike the sisters, husbands of her children have a good relationship among themselves. Regarding boundaries, it is apparent that the family is having boundary issues. This is evident from the fact that family members are apathetic towards each other and are under-involved in addressing the problems facing the family. In addition, there are no clearly defined boundaries between nuclear families that make up the extended family, which contributes to the problems at the extended family level. For instance, Teri bailed out Robin's husband out of jail without informing them about this. This would later result in a disagreement between them. This is perceived as an instance of crossing the boundary (boundary violation) regarding the involvement into the affairs of Robin's family. Another instance of boundary violation is when Faith (a troubled cousin of the sisters) slept with Miles (Teri's husband). Family's internal and external environments are shown in the genogram and the ecomap in the Appendix 1.

Evidence-Based Practice Literature Search for the Proposed Family Intervention

Search Phrases

  1. Search phrases developed for the literature search included the following:
  2. Practices in family therapy;
  3. Family based intervention techniques;
  4. How to do a family intervention?
  5. Family therapy interventions;
  6. Structural family therapy techniques;
  7. Family systems therapy techniques;
  8. Family intervention methods to reduce conflict.

Search Procedures

The first step in literature search strategy included identifying potential online databases, which included MedLine, Pub Med, Google Scholar, ProQuest, Ebscohost, and Jstor. After identifying online databases, search phrases were developed, which are outlined in a previous subsection. Inclusion and exclusion criteria were also developed to help identify relevant articles. Inclusion criteria included primary studies and meta-reviews of family therapy intervention techniques. Published studies that were more than 15 years old were excluded. This had the main objective of ensuring that the proposed intervention was consistent with current trends in family therapy.


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Literature search pointed out several published studies that could be used to develop appropriate intervention techniques to help solve problems in the family. More than 20 published studies were listed. However, only 10 were selected to help develop appropriate intervention procedures, which are discussed in the following section.

Intervention Procedures

Actual Intervention Procedures to Attempt Change in the Family System

Family-based intervention strategy to help address the problems in the family is family therapy. This is a form of psychotherapy (psychological counseling) that is undertaken with the aim to help members of a family improve communication as well as resolve conflicts (Barker, 2007; Lebow, 2000; Pinsof & Wynne, 2000). Family therapy professionals treat individual problems with respect to other family members and strive to work with all family members in order to change the dynamics in dysfunctional families. The underlying premise of family therapy intervention is that irrespective of whether the problem is perceived as a "family" or "individual" issue, involvement of the members of the family in its solution is pivotal to ensure positive outcomes of the intervention (Carr, 2009; Cook, 2007).

In most cases, family therapy is short-term. Specific treatment depends on the current situation in the family. Numerous reviews of family therapy have been published for practitioners. Some of family therapy approaches include strategic therapy models (analysis of interaction patterns among the members of the family), emotion-focused therapy for couples, brief therapies (solution-focused therapy), and intensive family preservation approaches. Other approaches include structural therapy (involves re-ordering of the structural organization of the family) and relationship education (Minuchin & Fishman, 2004). For the family in question, the most appropriate family therapy technique is structural family therapy, which seeks to tackle the problems associated with functioning in a family. Structural family therapy involves the therapist joining or entering the family system in order to have an understanding of the invisible rules that govern functioning of the family and map family relationships in order to improve any dysfunctional relationships. This ultimately results in healthier relationship patterns among family members (Pinsof & Wynne, 2000; Booth & Cottone, 2000). The emphasis is not on the individual, but rather on the family system. In the family shown in the film, it is evident that problems emerge from its structural organization. For instance, since Teri is the eldest, she thinks she has the right to make decisions on behalf of the family, something that her other sisters are opposed to. The goal of structural family therapy intervention is to thwart repeating sequences by interrupting the covert of hierarchical structure of the family. This may entail distributing power to others by altering interaction styles. Family members, who have trouble contributing to solving the problems experienced in the family need modification in the family structure by strengthening organization and order. This entails realigning or changing behaviors associated with family structure by working with individual family members in order to enhance interaction (Vetere, 2001). During therapy sessions, changing family structure can be achieved by altering seating positions to reflect the desired family structure, altering power systems, and assigning tasks. In addition, structural family therapy makes use of family mapping in order to accommodate the family setting. Some areas that the therapist must observe include family interactions, resonance, flexibility, and transactional patterns (Waldegrave, 2009).

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Theoretical Rationale for Structural Family Therapy

Theoretical rationale underlying the structural family therapy is that family problems can be attributed to maladaptive boundaries as well as subsystems, which are a result of family's rules' systems and rituals that determine how they interact (Cook, 2007). In this context, family tradition is the rules system that influences interaction between family members. Therefore, the intervention would emphasize restoring family tradition after a demise of family's matriarch (Minuchin & Fishman, 2004).

Issues of Engagement or Joining

Regarding the issue of engagement or joining, structural family therapy emphasizes on the therapist working from inside, that is, the therapist must join or enter the family system in order to have an understanding of the invisible rules governing the functioning of the family. This can be achieved through accommodation, boundary marking, developing a workable reality, enactment, joining, and restructuring (Cook, 2007). Accommodation involves a therapist making adjustments to the family in order to have a therapeutic alliance with members of the family. Boundary marking refers to a strategy whereby the therapist stresses appropriate boundaries and thwarts unsuitable boundaries through a modification of transactional patterns. For example, in this case, the therapist may take a position between Maxine and Teri to avoid any confrontations during therapy sessions. Joining is an example of an accommodating maneuver whereby the therapist attempts to develop a rapport with members of the family in order to be a part of family system (Cook, 2007). Several studies have assessed the effectiveness of structural family therapy and have reported mostly positive outcomes. For instance, Carr (2009) found out that structural family therapy is an effective approach to address the problem of conflicts among family members.

Based on the analysis, a family-based intervention strategy that can help address the problems in the family is family therapy. Specifically, the most appropriate family therapy technique is structural family therapy, which seeks to tackle problems associated with functioning in a family. Structural family therapy involves the therapist joining or entering the family system in order to have an understanding of invisible rules that govern functioning of the family and map family relationships in order to combat any dysfunctional relationships. This process ultimately results in healthier relationshis among family members.

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