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Counselling sessions are available online or experience in-person sessions at my office in Sooke, B. Contact me for a FREE 20 min consultation. Talking with my child is difficult, frustrating, and can be impossible. As can be seen from Table 2 , all four participants agreed that family harmony was important. Both Brother and Mother talked about the desirability of family harmony. Brother and Mother defined harmony behaviourally, as an absence of nagging from the mother in the family. Daughter and Brother were of the opinion that harmony could be shallow or deep.
According to Daughter:. My Dad … buys me stuff … I'll be very happy … when I'm happy, everybody will be happy … so maybe that's harmony already.
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But … That's just a side dish … the main thing is that … you are happy because … someone choose you to open up to, it's … wow thing. Both Mother and Daughter defined harmony as a process of opening up space for the positive aspects of disagreement and both also thought that good communication was an outcome of harmony. The first author noticed that Daughter defined family harmony as if she was defining marital harmony. Having faith in that person.
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Sister and Brother defined harmony behaviourally, as the absence of quarrelling. Both Sister and Daughter defined disharmony as quarrelling. Both Daughter and Mother talked about the lack of harmony in their home. Also, as she had done earlier in defining family harmony, Daughter seemed to define family disharmony in relation to marital disharmony which ultimately affected family harmony.
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He confirmed that the following summary of his definition of disharmony, that was more circular and interactional, fit him better:. When the bipolar symptoms come on, then you begin to become unreasonable. Then, your mum is … reasonably concerned … When you are high, then she … seem to you not reasonable … And then … disharmony starts. This study assumed that harmony was valued by Asians. Without prompting, all four participants talked about the importance of family harmony.
In doing so, what they said was embedded in the dominant discourse that harmony was appreciated in Singaporean society, as evident from our shared values. Following from this, a possible clinical implication is that therapists working with Singaporeans may wish to pay attention to issues of harmony and disharmony in the family.
As family harmony seems to be privileged, therapists may need more training in how to help family members speak out their stories of disharmony, both within the family and themselves. A similar appreciation of a systemic view of harmony was found in Mother, who defined disharmony as occurring when personal harmony was placed above social harmony.
This was also apparent in Daughter, who described family harmony or disharmony in terms of marital harmony or disharmony, thus highlighting the effects of the marital subsystem the larger part of the family system on her smaller part of the family system. In Family 2 the systemic aspects of harmony lay in the siblings' agreement that there was a disharmonious interaction between Brother and Mother that had an effect on the rest of the family system.
Family 1's definition of harmonious communication and Family 2's description of disharmonious interaction spoke to the former aspect of this definition that highlighted acts connected with harmony or disharmony. Harmony or disharmony was also frequently described in terms of omissions, such as the absence of nagging from mother and the lack of quarrelling. As hypothesized, there were many contributions towards harmony in therapy. The therapist and therapeutic environment facilitated some of the two families' contributions to notion of harmony and both families made contributions in their own right towards harmony.
Also, the two families made some contributions towards the notion of disharmony during therapy sessions. As can be seen from Table 5 , the therapist contributed to harmony in sessions by giving suggestions to promote family harmony; as well as in his roles of an impartial third party for example, observer, leader and facilitator , secure base and advisor. Lang et al. Besides therapist, some of the other roles they outlined were those of social controller and investigator Lang et al.
To these roles, Becvar and Becvar added that of the observer of the family system. The therapist contributed to harmony in his multiple roles as neutral third party, leader, facilitator and observer during therapy sessions. These roles were appreciated by Sister, Daughter and Mother. Attachment theory proposes that parents provide what they called a secure base from which children can explore and to which they can return to in times of trouble Ainsworth, , ; Bowlby, This could be seen from Daughter's comment that, if the therapist was not there while they had discussions, the family might be so violent that they would need hospitalization.
A potential implication of this for training systemic psychotherapists is that we may work on becoming a secure base for disharmonious families. In order to be a secure base for a whole family we may need to become adept at the juggling act of optimizing harmony between ourselves and each family member, as well as by maximizing harmony between the various family members.
Furthermore, even though the participants in this study seemed to value social harmony above personal harmony, systemic psychotherapists might still try to see how they can increase personal harmony while paying attention to social harmony. Family 2 appreciated the role of the therapist as an advisor and teacher according to Lang et al. The professional opinion on their family problems and suggestions about solutions was valued. It was interesting that the expertise of the systemic psychotherapist was very much esteemed, probably due to the cultural context of the research.
In Asian societies such as Singapore, when families consult with a therapist, they are looking for an authoritative professional with expertise. This was exemplified by Brother's remark at one stage that his mother respected the therapist as a professional and so, listened to the therapist. Both families made contributions towards harmony and disharmony in the therapy, as can be seen from Table 6. The four participants talked about how family members openly shared and owned their family's disharmony during therapy sessions.
Mother and Daughter observed both harmonious and disharmonious reactions to other family members in therapy. My daughter said something … both of us were not happy about it … he turned away … you can feel … [there's a snip in] the flow of the whole comfortable moment … [she] turned … face[d] me … and then, start[ed] talking. Apparently, Daughter turned to face her Mother because of her Mother's socially harmonious reaction of smiling at her to encourage her to talk, despite the Mother's personal disharmony. Brother and Sister disagreed about mother's ability to grasp the proposed solution to their family's disharmony.
In a harmonious integration of effort, some of the two families' contributions to harmony in session were facilitated by the therapeutic environment or the therapist see Table 7. The idea that people could contain their disharmonious physical and or verbal aggression in a safe therapeutic holding environment see deMause, was echoed by both families. Sister, Mother and Daughter were of the opinion that family members who were usually more disharmonious restrained themselves in sessions, which contributed to harmony in therapy.
Mother and Daughter spoke about how the family members heard each other out in therapy. Mother commented on how this was very different from the way they normally talked to each other at home:. Oh, great difference! And then we will just listen and listen and listen … thinking through … what this person is saying. Main theme 1 highlighted the importance of family harmony to the four participants. It would be reasonable to assume that when these two families sought therapy they would have envisioned the therapist taking on the general role of promoting harmony and helping to resolve disharmony.
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Some of our findings in main theme 2 suggest that the therapist's roles also included that of an impartial third party, a secure base and an advisor. For the resulting family harmony to be more robust, it is our opinion that in all these roles, besides taking on roles that overtly promote harmony, therapists may also have to take on other roles that may not obviously promote harmony. Mother frequently mentioned that her husband was an extremely untalkative man who was reluctant to participate in therapy as he did not wish to talk to a stranger about private family matters.
Therefore, it was amazing that her husband was volunteering to come for individual sessions by the end of the first session and was the first to contribute the topic of family harmony to the therapeutic conversations. The therapist's skill in engaging the family was successful, so that everyone contributed to the therapeutic conversations. Postmodernist perspectives in psychotherapy have supported an evolution of therapy into a more conversational style, known as therapeutic conversations Gilligan and Price, This idea has found its way to Singapore Yeo, The value of talking was a key finding in a qualitative study done in Singapore of clients' experience of marital counselling Tan, Besides appreciating being understood by their therapist and their spouse when they talked, couples also sought out talk in the form of professional advice and opinions from their therapist.
The above findings suggest that family members in these two families made contributions to harmony or disharmony in sessions either in their own right or as facilitated by the therapist or therapeutic environment. They assert that, if therapists wish to become effective change agents we need to enlist the help of clients. In fact, change needs to be directed by the client rather than the therapist. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the therapist has no expertise. In the following section, evidence will be presented that, after therapy, these two families tried to internalize the harmony experienced in sessions that contributed towards increasing harmony in their previously more disharmonious family life.
However, sustaining the harmony generated in therapy proved to be difficult. These findings provide some support for the hypothesis that the harmonious effects of therapy go beyond the sessions to family life. Table 8 details the contributions that family members in both these families made to increase family harmony after therapy. Daughter and Mother thought that therapy contributed to changes in individuals, which subsequently effected systemic changes towards family harmony. As an example, Daughter thought that her father changed the most, followed by her and lastly her Mother, in the following ways:.
And do the right things. In addition, both agreed that the family was disagreeing in more harmonious ways after they had undergone therapy. Mother detailed the new way in which she approached disagreements:. Now is … even if it is … a disagreement, I will … look for positives.
I just disagree with your views. No doubt, there would have been some very unique things about the context of Mother and Family 1 that contributed to Mother being able to disagree in a harmonious way. It was probably very important for Mother that her spouse was the first one to express to the therapist that he wanted harmony in the family. Mother herself appeared to be very open to different ideas. Besides making efforts to sustain the harmony generated in therapy herself, Mother also appreciated the contributions from her husband and Daughter. Daughter made a supreme sacrifice for a teenager for the sake of family harmony; she gave up a boyfriend that her parents objected to.
After thinking it through long and hard, she decided on her own that it was not worth causing such disharmony in her family, so she. The above example can also be construed as filial piety Chay and Han, , or showing respect to parents by following their wishes, a Confucian idea that many Chinese subscribe to. In this instance of tension between social or family and personal harmony, family harmony was again valued above personal harmony. Sister perceived that there was no change in the state of family harmony after therapy.
It seemed that her mother was too anxious about Brother to be able to take up the therapist's suggestion:. Because each time it happened, she said, but when he is high, she just wanted to know how he was. However, having married, she did not live with her mother anymore.
Er, seldom open her mouth already. Brother thought that there were lasting increases in family harmony after therapy. However, the other three participants reported difficulties in sustaining harmony generated by therapy, be it family or marital harmony see Table 9. Sister, Mother and Daughter reported on the fragility of harmony generated by therapy. Both Mother and Daughter reflected that, although family disharmony continued, it was less severe than before therapy.
Daughter observed the abiding strength of harmony:. After the first session, it became a lot better for a while. But I guess you can't avoid … quarrels between couples … but I guess the quarrel is not as bad as last time. Results from main theme 2 indicated that the two families contributed to harmony in therapy sessions, suggesting the possibility for healing by families themselves.
In this model, families were viewed as experts, actively participated in programme development and finally benefiting from the programme that they helped to develop.
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As previously mentioned, because the details of main themes 4 and 5 have already been published elsewhere, only a summary will be presented in this article. In main theme 4, the four participants detailed how harmony or disharmony was linked with individual and family systems, as summarized in Table At the individual level, a finding from both families was that individuals had a systemic impact on the family and contributed to family harmony or disharmony. It may therefore be worthwhile for therapists to see if there are such key individuals in the families who would acknowledge their impact on family members.
Guided by the above results, it is suggested that therapists should collaborate with family members to discover various ways to evolve towards more family harmony.
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Harmonious relations between members in these two families were also linked to three aspects of the sociocultural context, namely culture, spirituality and mental health concerns, as summarized in Table Based on these two families' experience, it appeared that there were some Chinese cultural notions that contributed towards harmony, which therapists might wish to encourage in families who are open to such ideas, including.
There was also a cultural notion that Family 2 experienced as constraining family harmony, that is, a feeling of shame when a family member did not conform to certain cultural expectations. Therapists might consider discouraging families from subscribing to this and other constraining cultural notions.
As previously mentioned, all four participants were Christians. Therefore, when they spoke about how spirituality influenced family harmony, what they said was skewed towards Christianity. Participants in both families described Christianity as a personalized faith with a focus on Christ. They believed that Christ had the power to foster harmonious family relationships. As a religion in Singapore, Christianity may have considerably more social and political influence than its number in the population Furthermore, in the eyes of many Singaporeans, Christianity is perceived to be a western religion that is associated with modernity and the English language Clammer, , and perhaps a more western individual belief system.
Although the Singaporean government is wary of external influences that may threaten family, from what the four participants in this study said, it appears that Christianity was not an influence that threatened these two families. Christianity seemed to strengthen rather than weaken harmonious family life in these two families. A possible clinical implication of the above results is that more discussion about the influence of both culture and spirituality on family harmony or disharmony may help members discern between more and less helpful aspects of both.
This led the authors to think about how this could differ for such families if therapists helped family members to. In conclusion, this study has presented qualitative analyses of the experiences of harmony and disharmony from the perspective of four Singaporean Chinese individuals. This sample size was smaller than desired — two families and four respondents. However, it satisfied the aim of the research to study perspectives from different families and to contrast various viewpoints from the same family.
Additionally, as this was not a quantitative study, it was not a research objective to be representative of the population. Another difficulty of this study was that there were two contexts in which the four participants, their therapist and the researchers were embedded within. One was the context of race — we were all Chinese. The other was the context of spirituality or religion — we were all Christians.
Interestingly, this combination was an intriguing mix of east Chinese and west Christian. Perhaps the results may have been different if other major racial and religious groups in Singapore had been sampled. Future research may investigate the influence of race and spirituality or religion on ideas of harmony or disharmony.
This study had many layers built into it. Harmony was studied at the individual, family and whole group level and examined in therapy and in family life. The first three main themes were expected from the aims of this project, which were to understand the constructions of harmony or disharmony and how it was experienced by family members in systemic psychotherapy; and to map out the effect of such experiences in family life. The three main themes were. The two extra main themes were a pleasant surprise. The four participants detailed how harmony and disharmony were linked with systems at the individual or family and sociocultural levels.
The results suggested that family harmony was important to these four participants. Other findings suggested that, in these two families, systemic psychotherapists and the therapeutic environment influenced the family members' experience of harmony and disharmony with other family members in therapy sessions. In addition, it was observed that both families made significant contributions to harmony in therapy and in family life after therapy to promote the family harmony that they desired. Lastly, the four participants detailed how harmony and disharmony were linked with systems at the individual, family and sociocultural levels.
As harmony was of crucial importance to these two Chinese Singaporean families who sought therapy, a general implication for systemic psychotherapists working in Asia is that we may need to pay attention to how harmony can be promoted in family life via therapy. We may need to develop approaches to encourage harmony, learn how to engage disharmony when it appears in therapy and help families learn how to handle disharmony when it appears at home. Furthermore, therapists may be able to leverage on systems at the individual, family and sociocultural level that can contribute to family harmony.
Overall, the results from these two families suggest that harmony or disharmony is a vital area for systemic psychotherapists to understand, especially if they are working with families of Asian origin where harmonious family relationships are highly valued. Therefore, the authors would like to strongly encourage more qualitative and quantitative research into harmony and disharmony. Our heartfelt gratitude goes to the Singapore Children's Society for supporting this study with a Research Grant Award. Volume 33 , Issue 3.
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Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Abstract Family harmony is highly valued by Asian families. Introduction Harmony as an Asian value Harmony and the absence of conflict are valued by Asian families as important attributes of happy families Shek, Changing values Values may also change as Asian cultures absorb influences from other cultures. Research on psychotherapy and harmony There has been little investigation into this area but some extrapolations can be made from research about the therapeutic relationship.