Are trustworthiness and fairness enough? Contextual family therapy and the good family

J Marital Fam Ther. 1997 Apr;23(2):153-69; discussion 171-3. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.1997.tb00240.x.


The moral dimension of family therapy theory and practice has received increasing attention in recent years. Boszormenyi-Nagy was among the first to see that family therapy and moral questions are inseparable. His focus on relational ethics has helped us to reappropriate individual responsibility and accountability within a systemic context. Although contextual therapy has clearly enriched the field, we argue that its emphasis on trustworthiness and fairness provides a limited view of the good in family life and leads to three related problems. First, Boszormenyi-Nagy offers a compelling ethical vision of the family and then denies that he has done so, which undermines some of his key moral claims. Second, because fairness is defined subjectively, contextual therapy may not have the resources to deal with legitimate differences in family ideals. Third, the reliance on self-interest as the primary motive for trustworthy relating appears to be self-defeating. We offer a hermeneutic perspective that takes a broader approach to the good. It places greater emphasis on the social and historical context, deals squarely with different understandings of the good in family life, and recommends an approach to resolving these differences.

MeSH terms

  • Ethics
  • Family / psychology*
  • Family Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morals