In family therapy, we often feel as though we’re witnessing a battle—but in this video, Carl Whitaker demonstrates that therapists must be willing to do battle with the family in order to truly help them overcome their dysfunction. Uncovering entrenched patterns and generating fruitful cross-dialogue aren’t easy therapeutic tasks, but Whitaker leaves no stone unturned in this two-session video showcasing the late master’s provocative style and pioneering approach to family systems therapy. In this rare set of live sessions, you’ll deepen your understanding of Whitaker’s theories and the experiential dynamics that make family therapy successful.
Here, Whitaker acts as a consultant to the therapist of a struggling family, presenting the essence of what he and a co-therapist would typically do. Arguing that the therapist must introduce stress to the family structure to enact change, Whitaker engages each family member in a pointed inquiry that challenges the system’s established, intergenerational patterns. Weaving together a unique style of warmth, sobering humour, and intimate self-disclosure, he gives the family just enough permission to look at their dark aspects with him, then deftly backs off to keep them engaged with each other. Demonstrating that it’s the therapist’s job to empower the family to take their own initiative, Whitaker holds them accountable for their own progress, keeping the “burden of change” firmly on his clients.
The video highlights the major points of his approach, including focusing on the here and now, the series of therapeutic “battles” a clinician must win, and treating every session as both the first and the last in order to reduce therapeutic dependence and emphasize choice. Whitaker debriefs with the family’s primary therapist at the end of each session, giving crucial insights into his process.
If you’re looking for a truly entertaining example of classic family therapy—with theoretical insights that continue to be relevant today—you’ll want to add this video to your library.
"Carl Whitaker is often called quirky and eccentric, but these sessions demonstrate how nuanced and profound his work really was. The video presents a simple, direct description of his experiential approach followed by two jaw-dropping consultations with a family, leaving the viewer in awe of his masterful way of connecting with and activating critical intergenerational dynamics. His warm and open discussion with the therapist that follows, in which he describes his experience with the family, is equally illuminating. Having worked and co-authored chapters with Whitaker, I can say that this is one of the most complete and satisfying teaching tools demonstrating his approach that I’ve seen."
— Robert Garfield, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania; founding member, American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA)
With a focus on process over progress, a co-created experiential field, and a therapeutic power exchange with the family, Carl Whitaker demonstrates a playfully ruthless brand of family therapy in this two-session video. His own past suicide attempt, “this ADD thing” the son experiences, dad’s leveraging his polio for psychological gain, and mom’s “conning” people into various states of unconscious compliance all get addressed here, as the renowned family therapist presents a rare live glimpse into the approach that’s influenced a generation of subsequent clinicians.
You’ll be shocked and delighted throughout this video—it’s truly a classic example of groundbreaking therapy from a one-of-a-kind clinician. While every therapist must ultimately develop their own style congruent with their personality, watching a vibrant master like Whitaker can inspire you to find your own voice—and not have it be squelched as you try to adhere to a specific orientation or manualized treatment.
By watching this video, you will:
- Discover the theoretical underpinnings of Whitaker’s pioneering approach.
- Understand the major characteristics of the therapeutic system with regard to families.
- Identify the four essential steps of the family therapy process.
This is an Instructor Version and can be used for groups and training purposes.
Carl Whitaker, MD, (1912-1995) was a physician and pioneering family therapist credited for the co-development of the symbolic-experiential approach to therapy and the use of co-therapy. Known for his charm and charismatic manner, he was one of the most powerful voices in shaping the practice of family therapy as it began to develop in the 1960s. Often provocative in his teaching, he told one interviewer, “Every marriage is a battle between two families struggling to reproduce themselves.”
Starting in 1946, Whitaker served as chairman of the department of psychiatry at Emory University, where he focused on treating schizophrenics and their families. He became a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1965 until his retirement in 1982. During his tenure there, he refined and articulated his ideas about psychotherapy, which he coined symbolic-experiential family therapy, and his national influence on the emerging field grew stronger. His book The Family Crucible, written with Dr. Augustus Napier in 1978, continues to be a highly influential work in the field.
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