Modular Family Therapy is an outgrowth of experience with the ever-changing form and structure of the modern family. The name implies that families, more precisely family units, present in modules (e.g., Module 1: mother, step-father and children; Module 2: father, step-mother, children, stepchildren). The 21st century has brought about fundamental changes in how we define “family.” Definitions of a family are now richer and more expansive and include: first and second families, single parents, biracial couples, married heterosexual couples, same-sex unions and marriages, and unrelated individuals sharing their lives together. Effective Couples and Family Therapy must now be richer and more expansive to include how it conceptualizes and works with families who are reconfiguring themselves from prior family structures.
Parents and their children today live “modular” lives—they configure and re-configure in family units. The New Family of the 21st Century shares little in common with our iconic picture of a family lifetime of Mom, Dad and their biologic children. “Modular” families are more the norm now than the married (one time) with children. Modular Family Therapy arises out of the need to provide education, guidance and therapy for the Modular Family.
We now have two generations of American families in which the reconfiguring of families is commonplace. The need for children (and parents) to adjust to change and loss and new parents, siblings, living arrangements, neighborhoods, friends, social and religious affiliations and relatives and friends presents new challenges that often need guidance and support. The Brady Bunch was illustrative of two widowed parents forming a family together under one roof. Hard enough a task for the most seasoned and balanced of parents, imagine adding complexity to forming new families that include not only a new parent and new (step) siblings but also moving back and forth between two households, with potentially two new parents, step and half siblings and new pets.
Therapists need to also be attuned to family issues that arise from the movement to and from differing family environments which include differing family structures, rules and relationships. Whenever possible, the therapist needs to assess and treat the entire family—and often this treatment will be done modularly. At the time of divorce, parents may have already entered into new relationships, but if not, they will often enter new relationships in the future. These new relationships will change the family’s existing structure, boundaries, rules, and living arrangements. These changes necessitate the need for learning about co-parenting, appropriate boundary setting and consideration for the many adjustments children need to make and accept for the health of each family module.
Dr. David Sanders is a clinical psychologist with an extensive background in couples and family work. He also brings his personal experiences from configuring and re-configuring his own family—modular thinking starts at home.