Introduction to Family Counseling: A Case Study Approach


Judy Esposito & Abbi Hattem

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    This book is dedicated to our clinical mentors, Hildy Getz and

    Larry Allman, and to all the clients and students who contributed to our knowledge

    and to the creation of the Manning-Kelly and Jones families.


    As coauthors of this book, we are listed in alphabetical order, although we contributed equally to this collaborative writing. We each recognize and value the strengths and talents the other brought to this collaboration.

    We also wish to thank the following people, without whom this book would not have been possible. You all helped us in some way, either through support, encouragement, inspiration, or a combination thereof. We are forever grateful.

    Peter Felten, Deandra Little, Jessie Moore and the Elon University Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning

    Tim Peeples, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs

    Elon University Faculty Research and Development Committee

    Gabie Smith, Dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences

    Paul Anderson, Director of Writing Across the University

    Larry Basirico, Department of Sociology

    Student researchers:

    Georgia Lee

    Madalyn Pinto

    Scott Powell

    Students from Elon University HSS 212 classes 2013-2015

    Our wonderful editor, Kassie Graves, and production editor, Bennie Clark Allen

    Joshua and Benjamin Hattem and Bruce Hyman

    Chad, Ben, and Patrick Esposito and the Folmar family

    The many friends and colleagues who supported and encouraged us

    SAGE Publications gratefully acknowledges the following reviewers:

    Judith E. Beechler

    Midwestern State University

    Garry M. Breland

    William Carey University

    Kananur V. Chandras

    Fort Valley State University

    Jacalyn Claes

    North Carolina A&T State University and University of North Carolina Greensboro

    Kevin A. Curtin

    Alfred University

    Drew A. Curtis

    Angelo State University

    Gloria Dansby-Giles

    Jackson State University

    Lakitta D. Johnson

    Jackson State University

    Janel Lucas

    Lesley University

    Judith G. Miranti

    Xavier University of Louisiana

    Michael R. Perkins

    Columbia College

    Diana-Christine Teodorescu

    Saint Mary’s University

    Shannon Wolf

    Dallas Baptist University

    About the Authors

    Judy Esposito, PhD, is an associate professor of Human Service Studies at Elon University in North Carolina. A licensed professional counselor and former school counselor, Dr. Esposito specializes in play therapy with children and families. She lives in Elon, North Carolina, with her husband, Chad, two sons, Ben and Patrick, Ellie the dog, Sadie the cat, and Ozzie, the bearded dragon.

    Abbi Hattem, PhD, is an individual, marriage, and family therapist in private practice in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She specializes in the mental health sequelae of acute and chronic trauma and of chronic illnesses, including eating and dissociative disorders, for individuals and their families.

    She has been an adjunct faculty member at California State University at Northridge, the University of Southern California, and most recently Elon University. She has been a member of the faculties at Texas Tech University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. She has two grown sons and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her fiancé, Bruce, and their dog, Trotsky, and three cats, Rumpelteazer, Ashrei, and SugarRei.


    This book is intended to serve as an introduction to family counseling. The collaborative writing of this book arose from a recurrent conversation between two instructors who teach a course entitled Counseling Individuals and Families, an undergraduate level course in the Human Service Studies Program. The main goal of the course is for students to learn various theories and methods used by helping professionals in their work with individuals and families facing problems. Over the years of teaching this course, we have searched for a text appropriate for our students and, instead, finally decided to write our own. As such, this text is in response to decades of teaching introductory counseling skills to students who want to work with families. Our intent for this text is that it provides a broad view of working with families, and, simultaneously, an in-depth look at a particular family’s journey through the counseling process. We created this text for anyone interested in working with families in multiple contexts, including family therapy, human services, social work, public health, medicine, and family law.

    Though broad and generalist in nature, this book presents a clear focus on multicultural competence in working with families, paying close attention to our changing times and the changing needs of our society. Additionally, this text presents examples of how professionals can connect families with the appropriate services available to them, based on their unique needs and keeping in mind the family’s wishes and cultural values. This is what makes this text unique. While a typical book about family therapy would not be appropriate for a public health or education course, this book may prove to be quite useful in its careful examination of the complexities of the family system and its focus on how the larger systems in which families live impact each person in some way. Additionally, what makes this text different from other family counseling texts is its emphasis on family counseling concepts as they relate to one family, described in detail at the beginning of the book and followed throughout in transcripts from hypothetical counseling sessions, as well as in general discussion.

    Before we go further into family counseling, there are a couple of terms we want to clarify. In this book, we refer to the practice of family counseling. The words counselor and counseling get thrown around a lot. Technically, counseling can mean giving advice, so people in various fields may choose to describe what they do by using the word counseling, such as financial counseling or college admissions counseling. However, there are also licensed counselors who are trained to do psychological counseling and are endorsed by the state in which they live to do so. Furthermore, counseling from a licensed mental health professional rarely actually involves giving advice. Rather, the process of counseling is a collaborative relationship between a credentialed mental health professional and a client, or clients, in which problems are explored, goals established, and interventions are chosen and used. Thus, the authors of this book encourage readers to investigate the training and preparation of counselors for licensure in the states in which they reside.

    Psychotherapy and counseling are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, there are some distinctions between the two. Counseling by a licensed professional usually involves a short-term collaborative relationship in which a counselor and client focus on behavioral issues, such as how one functions in relationships or anxiety about changing careers. The term psychotherapy usually refers to long-term work focusing on deeper, more complex issues and disorders, such as dealing with the trauma of physical or sexual abuse. In both cases, a licensed counselor may be qualified to facilitate the client’s work, depending on the training and expertise of that counselor. While counseling can be with individuals, couples, groups, and families, the focus of this book is on families, their dynamics, and the complexities of family functioning.

    We begin our text with a description and genogram of our family case study: The Manning-Kelly and Jones family. Part of a blended family, we start with Christina, the identified patient and the family members she lives with. Each family member is described in detail in order to give students an idea of what a family counselor’s first impressions might be during the first session with them. Excerpts from a transcript of the first session are included. The next chapter describes the family life stages of development, providing examples from the family case as illustrations of each stage and typical issues that accompany the stages. The developmental stages provide background for an assessment of the family, which, along with several assessment methods, is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.

    In Part II, we chose to emphasize four main theoretical approaches to family therapy, with an additional chapter providing a summary of selected other approaches. Part III explores the complexities of the counseling relationship when working with families, including working with special populations or issues, the counselor’s personal challenges that may arise when working with a family, and the legal and ethical issues related to family counseling. During this section, we encourage students to examine their personal view of change. Understanding how people change, and what they need to be able to make positive changes, will inform one’s theoretical orientation. Students who have studied theories for counseling individuals should continue to develop their preferred theoretical approaches while reading about the ones in this text.

    Finally, in Part IV we explore potential situations that may warrant referring family clients to other agencies, referral resources and services available to families, and end with a look at how the family case is functioning and what their plans may be after a pivotal shift takes place.

    In the next chapter you will be introduced to the Manning-Kelly and Jones family. This family, like so many others, includes multiple generations, a wide array of personalities, lots of challenges, and many, many strengths. While the family is fictional, we have created the family members with the intent of preparing students for working with real families with real issues. Your responses to reading about this family, and imagining yourself working with them, may surprise you. You will like some of the Manning-Kelly and Jones family members more than others. Some you will want to defend, and others you may despise. Regardless of how you feel about them, it is our hope that you will connect with this family in a way that helps you understand more fully the concepts related to family counseling, and, perhaps, gain some insight into your own family dynamics and your place in them.


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