Four years ago, we did something that’s a total no-no in the brand-conscious world of magazine publishing–we changed our name. For the preceding 24 years, we’d called ourselves the Family Therapy Networker, and before that, we’d existed in a mercifully brief mimeographed incarnation as The Family Schtick. In spite of having long since expanded our purview to include the whole field of psychotherapy rather than just family therapy, we owed our existence to the shift in mind-set created by the flowering of the family therapy movement of the ’70s and early ’80s. Although we were still committed to a view of psychotherapy that recognized how profoundly individual human beings are shaped by family relationships, social context, class, and economic status, for many long-time subscribers, our name change felt like an act of disloyalty to our intellectual and clinical roots.

But by the late 1990s, it was becoming painfully clear that fewer and fewer psychotherapists–our potential readers–were identifying themselves as “family therapists.” What had been a badge of honor, a sign of being in the vanguard of a radical new movement, was now for many just another specialty, no more or less innovative or enlightening than any number of new methods in the therapy marketplace. I knew the time had come to change when, at several consecutive therapy conferences, as I was standing next to the Family Therapy Networker exhibit booth, attendees would stop, take one look at our magazine, and say, “Oh, I’m not a family therapist,” before walking away. More than being merely a part of growing up and evolving with the times, changing our name became a matter of sheer survival.

So why are we taking a look at family therapy in this issue? Enough time has now passed to see that what happened to family therapy has a lot more to do with our society than with the field of psychotherapy. It’s increasingly clear that the entire cultural and economic context in which family therapy could thrive has changed dramatically. For one thing, family therapy’s “original customer–the family–is now stressed and shattered beyond recognition,” writes Peter Fraenkel in “Whatever Happened to Family Therapy?” An unrelentingly workaholic society, argues Fraenkel, as well as depersonalizing technologies (e-mail, iPod, cell phones, video games), the splintering of marriages, and the lack of family-friendly public policies, have transformed family life in ways that none of the early pioneers of the field could possibly have imagined.

And yet, family therapy has succeeded, even if not exactly in the way its founders intended. Few clinicians of any persuasion would dream of not taking into account their patient’s family structure, social network, gender, race, social class, and ethnicity. The structure of family systems is taught to medical doctors, nurses, psychologists, public-school counselors, and social workers. As Fraenkel suggests, “when the world didn’t come to us, we went to the world.” Family-systems thinking itself, if not always the name, has been integrated into virtually every mental health discipline out there.

Still, times are tough for family therapy as a distinct discipline. Perhaps what the field really needs to bring it roaring back to life is the vision of some of its founders–Virginia Satir, Murray Bowen, Jay Haley, Carl Whitaker–or another Salvador Minuchin, whose contributions over the past 50 years are chronicled by Senior Editor Mary Sykes Wylie in this issue. An extraordinarily compelling presence and a therapist of preternaturally dazzling skills, he earned his stripes as a fighter for human justice when he was jailed as a college student for challenging the dictatorship of Juan Pero┬┤n in Argentina. Minuchin has long been a master at shaking things up, whether individual families or the entire psychotherapy profession. He’s always been at his best when fighting two-front battles–against the internal forces locking families in dysfunctional stasis and the external forces of powerful institutions breaking families apart. These days, when therapy itself sometimes seems in danger of becoming just another arm of corporate America, more than ever our field needs a new generation of Minuchins.

Rich Simon

Richard Simon, PhD, founded Psychotherapy Networker and served as the editor for more than 40 years. He received every major magazine industry honor, including the National Magazine Award. Rich passed away November 2020, and we honor his memory and contributions to the field every day.