Understanding and working with Stepfamilies

Module Sections:

Forming a Unified Framework

Stepfamily Conceptual Model

Stepfamily Conceptual Model

Each of the models provides a framework for addressing stepfamilies: the SFD Model enables the clinician to address the current relational dynamics of a family at a particular stage of development while considering the mutigenerational components of those dynamics. The predominant focus of the SFD Model is on the family stressors and crises occurring at each transition. In order to provide a framework for considering the family strengths, resources, and meaning associated with the member's experiences, we suggest combining SFD with the Family FIRO model.

As previously suggested, the Family FIRO Model provides an additional resource to a clinician's therapeutic work. The model suggests setting therapeutic priorities that begin by focusing on building or rebuilding emotional connections between family members.

Consider three examples of stepfamily styles of development: (Parallel to the interaction of sound waves, the members of the family interact with one another as they attempt to establish a "harmonious" relationship)

Conflictual interactions occurring when members abandon efforts to connect after repeated attempts to communicate resulting in experiences of chaos and disharmony (similar to the cacophony heard when all of the instruments of an orchestra are warming up at the same time).

Stepfamilies Stages of Development-Conflictual Interactions

Disengagement reflected when members attempt to establish control and balance in the newly-formed relationships (cancelling waves that dampen or negate each others' attempts)

Stepfamilies Stages of Development-Disengagement-Reflected

Healthy connections occurring when members demonstrate respect for one another, acknowledge one another's experiences, and discover shared meaning (melodic and harmonious waves)

Stepfamilies Stages of Development-Healthy Connections

Members' emotional connections and identifications with one another serve as valuable resources for collaborating and deepening their intimacy with each other.

While the SFD Model suggests that all families experience stressors and crises throughout their development, the model also highlights the varied ways the individual development interacts with the varying intergenerational experiences of the family as a whole. The Family FIRO Model reminds the clinician and family that a priority must be placed on the family members' efforts to solidify and develop the relationships between them. These relationships serve as vital resources for each of the members and powerful reminders to care for one another. These resources foster collaborative efforts to address subsequent stressors and crises together

Audio Companion: Understanding Stepfamilies