Newsletter No. 101

2 No. 101 19th January 1997 C UHK Newsletter Research and Practice Mutually Reinforce Helping Unhappy Families to Rediscover Their Strength A service available on campus and accessible to all 'Parents, do not be afraid to bring your children to analysis: it will teach them that in any case it is you whom they love. Children, you really shouldn't complain that you are not orphans, that you always rediscover in your innermost selves your Object-Mother or the sovereign sign of your Father... .'If this was Foucaulf's tongue-in-cheek observation of the psychoanalytic (over-)emphasis on the family's influence, or in psychoanalytic terms, Incestuous desires', on an individual's psycho-social development, what would he say to family therapy? A kind of scientified confessional drama, perhaps. Ifan y t h i ng ,the latter reinforces the importance of thef a m i l y ,something Foucault calls an 'organization... used to support the great "manoeu v r e s " employed for the...medicalization of sex and the psychiatrization of its nongenital f o rms . ' Prof. Joyce L C. Ma F or those of us mundane individuals who are entrapped in the banalities of marrying and procreating, the 'family' is something far more palpable than an institution. Relationship with kin is one of the primary determinants of emotional well- being, and even the Brady bunch have their moments of stress. For many people, seeing a counsellor offers hopes of alleviation. In family therapy, the traditional patient- therapist model is taken a step further by the engagement of the whole family. Rather than talk about family problems to a therapist, the idea is to talk to the family in the presence of a therapist-mediator 一 a 'here and now' approach. The concept began in the West in the 50s, an era when one-on-one psychoanalysis was believed to have reached a plateau. It gained popularity in the 60s and 70s, and has been widely practised to this day. In Hong Kong, family therapy has only been in practice for the past five to seven years. Prof. Joyce L. C. Ma, coordinator of the Family Social Work Practice and Research Team at the University, explains the late blooming of family therapy in Hong Kong: 'Before the 1980s no one knew much about family therapy in Hong Kong. And even though its theories became known in the 80s, actually practising it takes a lot of courage and competence.' Development of family therapy in the territory was, however, given a big push by the visits paid by big names in the field — Salvador Minuchin, the father of family therapy, and Virginia Satir. Set up in October 1995 by members of the Department of Social Work at Prof. Ma's initiative, the Family Social Work Practice and Research Team aims at developing knowledge in family social work through research and practice, and providing family social work service to families facing different kinds of psychosocial difficulties, such as parent-child relationship problems, marital difficulties, and in-law relationship problems. The team tries to reempower families using an 'intervention approach', that is, giving families on-the-spot advice on how to use their strengths to overcome difficulties. Clients are usually referred by social workers and psychiatrists, most of whom know of the service by word-of- mouth or through the pamphlets handed out at talks and seminars by members of the team. Family therapy services are also provided by non-government organizations such as Caritas, the Hong Kong Christian Service, Yang Memorial Social Service, and the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council. Prof. Ma observes that many clients prefer seeking consultation at an academic institution because there is less risk of stigmatization. What distinguishes the services rendered at this university from the rest is their research dimension. Before therapy, clients have to sign an agreement which states that material generated from the sessions, including cassette tapes, videotapes, and written notes, may be used by the team for purposes of research, training, professional discussion, and publication. Clients are also requested to fill out questionnaires at the beginning of their therapy, as well as at the end and six months after. A ll potential clients are given a chance to meet and speak to the counsellors, whereupon both parties can decide whether they want to further the relationship. The services are open to members of the University, but Prof. Ma points out that they would not take on students from their department in order to avoid the conflict of roles. Fees are charged according to the family's total income (see table 1) and all revenue generated will be used to subsidize operating expenses. For families on public assistance, payment is waived. The services are meant to be accessible to families of different social backgrounds, not only to the middle-class. The six-person team currently has 20 cases on hand, with problems ranging from eating disorders to dysfunctional marriages. Seventy per cent of the cases are children- related, but the problems of children are often only manifestations of underlying problems in the family. A case in point is a four-year-old boy suspected of being autistic by his parents. What Prof. Ma judged to be at issue was really the parents' relationship which was far from amicable. The father, the family's only breadwinner, was away at work for most of the day. When he was home, the wife would complain that he never helped her with the housework and their son. The husband would try to explain and they would end up in a fight. Prof. Ma suggested to the husband that instead of explaining what his wife probably understood in the first place, he should show her some affection. She then turned off the videotape-recorder and told them she would leave them alone in the room for 15 minutes to do whatever they wanted. When she returned, things were already looking better. The husband had his arms around his wife, and so on. Depending on the urgency of the cases, clients may attend up to a maximum of 10 to 15 sessions, and these are scheduled on weeknights, Saturdays and Sundays. Sessions take place in, as it were, a room with a view. While a therapist interacts with members of a client family in the room, two or three other therapists watch the goings- on behind a one-way mirror. There is however nothing surreptitious about the process. Clients are told beforehand about the presence of spectators and the purpose of having them. Prof. Ma points out that their participation is essential because 'it is easy to become distracted or even overwhelmed when you're dealing with a family. Family affairs are complicated and everyone has their own agenda. Things happen very quickly once you're in there. Very often an observer has a clearer picture of the whole situation.' During the session the observing therapists assist their colleague by writing their ideas down on pieces of paper which they slip into the room. Sometimes when the therapist in the room feels he/she has reached an impasse, he/she will halt the session for a behind-the-scenes discussion. The team also meets weekly over lunch to watch the videos and elicit comments from colleagues who are not directly involved in the cases. The results of the team's efforts have been very encouraging, so much so that they held a one-day workshop entitled 'Family Social Work — Empowerment of Families' last July to share their experiences. A total of 202 participants, including social workers sponsored by voluntary agencies, psychiatric nurses, school teachers, counsellors, clinical and educational psychologists, and chaplains, attended. Prof. Ma says that feedback was very good with many participants indicating on the evaluation forms that the workshop was insightful in making them realize the importance of the family to an individual's development. Prof. Ma says there may be another workshop this year. In the meantime, she is writing a book on the team's experience in rendering their service to local families. Piera Chen Participants of the 'Family Social Work — Empowerment of Families' workshop in a tea-break Table 1 Scale of Charges Family Monthly Income (HK$) Fee/Session (HK$) 5,000 — 9,999 50 10,000 — 19,999 100 20,000 — 29,999 200 30,000 - 49,999 300 > 49,999 400 or above No fees will be charged for families on public assistance. 97 CUHK Sp r i ngWalkathon The CUHK Convocation will stage a charity walk jointly with The Community Chest of Hong Kong on Sunday, 23rd February 1997 on campus, with the Lingnan Stadium at Chung Chi College as the starting and finishing point. On the same day, a car show will be held and Chung Chi College will organize a Pondside Carnival. Known as the '97 CUHK Spring Walkathon', the event aims at raising funds for the Bums Unit of the Prince of Wales Hospital, The Community Chest of Hong Kong, and the construction of an Alumni Trail on campus. The event will be open to all staff, students and alumni of the University, as well as members of the public. Walkathon posters and sponsorship forms have already been distributed to various departments and units. For further information and more sponsorship forms, please call the Alumni Affairs Office at Ext. 7870. StaffNewBook Upton & Herzberg's Understanding Company Law in Hong Kong by Prof. Krishnan Arjunan and Prof. Low Chee Keong Published by LBC Information Services in Sydney ISBN 0-455-21422-0, HK$299 Available at the University Bookshop, John Fulton Centre