In 1973

In 1973, three family therapists originating from the Nathan W. Ackerman Family Institute in New York conducted a unique six-month experimental community project aimed at “well families”. The program was aimed at providing a service to families before their everyday problems escalated into crisis proportions.
The emphasis was on self-study rather than treatment or cure. This orientation forced the therapists to experiment with new concepts and techniques, and re-evaluate their own ideas of how families change. Their stated goal was to “understand how the family operates, to evaluate and revitalize family relationships.”
Families self-selected and were grouped according to the ages of their children. The therapists focus was on behavioural change rather than intellectual insight. During the process, family sculpting emerged as the best means by which to achieve their stated goal.
Family Sculping
• A therapeutic art form invented by experiential family therapists David Kantor, Fred Duhl, and Bunny Duhl.
• Family therapists tend to view change through the lens of the systems of interactions between family members and that relationships are important factors in psychological well-being.
• Virginia Satir, a proponent of family sculpting, believed that it was easier for families to accurately ‘see’ their situations rather than just talk about them.
Method
• Each person creates a ‘portrait’ by placing the members together in terms of posture and spatial relations which represent action and feeling.
• The essence of one’s experience in the family is condensed and projected into a visual picture.
• The picture reveals aspects of the family’s inner life that have remained hidden.
• Vague impressions and confused feelings on the periphery of awareness are given form through physical spatial expression.
Pros
• The ability to cut through intellectualization, defensiveness, and projection of blame
• Families are deprived of their familiar verbal cues and are compelled to communicate with one another on a more meaningful level
• As triangles, alliances, and conflicts are choreographed, they are made concrete and placed in the realm of the visual, sensory, and symbolic areas where there are vastly more possibilities for communication of feelings in all their nuances.
• Has an adhesive effect on the families. It compels them to think of themselves as a unit, with each person a necessary part of that unit affecting every other part.
• It is impossible to isolate any one intense relationship without seeing the reverberations of it throughout the family.
• While uniting the family, the sculpting at the same time individuates, as it requires each member to abstract his own personal experience, observe and interpret it.
Cons
• Entrenched reactions can be difficult to budge.
• Sculpting can be stereotyped and reveal little, or the person may be unresponsive to what was revealed.
• Some children presented an idealized picture of the family, either out of fear or a desire to protect their parents.
• Denial and scapegoating are major roadblocks to progress
Main outcome of the study
• Structuring tends to enhance rather than hamper the spontaneous release of feeling providing the possibility for more things happening, not less.