To Navigate the Normative and the Not-Normative Family Therapists Negotiating Their Professional Identities with Parents Whose Children are Placed in Public Care

Ellen Syrstad & Ottar Ness - Contemporary Family Therapy


This article examines the professional identities of family therapists employed by Family Counselling Services (FCS) in Norway and their experiences providing therapeutic services to parents whose children are placed in public care. Through focus groups and individual interviews, a qualitative study of seven family therapists in FCS found that they struggle with contradictory positions when guiding parents due to the dichotomy between their personal feelings and theoretical background as systemic therapists. The struggle emerges when different systems indicate different versions of reality and when the therapists react to how the welfare system, in general, treats parents with such experiences. This study argues that a systemic approach to family therapy is useful both for dealing with parents’ often fragmented stories and for reconnecting parents to society by allowing them to tell their own stories. In these situations, the help offered by therapists is often inadequate for the complexity and enormity of the parents’ needs. Collaboration with other welfare institutions is particularly important in such cases, but this creates its own complications due to the fact that different actors interpret situations in different ways.