Unformatted text preview: tinuous jumps, like a
set of stairs” (p. 58). The changes occur suddenly as the system exceeds its
capacity, such as when a fuse blows as the load of a circuit exceeds specific
amperes. Without a fuse, the whole system would break down, but once the
system is back within its limits and the fuse is replaced, the system is functional.
He refers to this as a step mechanism.
In a family, the stressor may be temporary. For example, a teenage daughter runs
away from home when she fails a mid-term exam. When the family discovers she
is only at her friend’s house and quickly hires a tutor, the circuit load has
returned to acceptable levels, and the fuse is replaced. On the other hand, the
stressor may be permanent and may result in a breakdown or require rapid
creative changes. For example, the fuse may blow when Dad loses his job. The
family might resort to old ways of functioning – replacing the fuse, so to speak –
without fixing the circuitry. If Dad becomes depressed and starts drinking, the
system may break down as former patterns of behavior fail and the fuse blows
again. The breakdown is a “step mechanism signaling the failure of the family’s
homeostatic mechanisms” (p. 60). Alternatively, Dad may decide to take an early
retirement and expand his gardening hobby into a business, and the family can
reorganize itself around the change.
Thus, in this model “symptomatic displays could…be thought of negatively as
aborted transformations – a failed leap – or positively as negotiations around the
possibility of change [or even as a] compromise between pressures for and
against change” (p. 61). Symptoms can function to prevent too rapid a change
from occurring, albeit at the expense of one member. They may also help
maintain pressure on the family to make needed changes. But, as Hoffman points
out, while a shift to a symptomatic pattern may be an immediate solution, it
neither indicates nor leads to a more functional transformation.
Implications For Treatment Hoffman explores the implications for these ideas in helping families negotiate
the environmental stressors and developmental stages so that they make the
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- Spring '09
- Family therapy, therapist, Jay Haley, Nichols & Schwartz