MMN 047: – Transforming Family Disharmony into Family Unity – with Neil Brown

On this episode of the Make a Mental Note podcast, Neil Brown, a licensed clinical social worker, discusses the characteristics of family conflict and what families can do to improve their relationships. Give it a listen and find out why this episode is worthy of a mental note!

Mental Notes:

* Families that seek therapy have developed dysfunctional patterns of interaction that are both invisible and enduring. They don’t see the pattern, but are experiencing the impact of it.

* Each member in the family needs to own responsibility for their participation in the dysfunctional pattern and for changing the pattern. Otherwise, one family member will blame another family member for the problem and the problem will persist. A teenager may say, “The problem is my parents. They’re too oppressive and controlling. I have to do what I’m doing as a way to fight their control.” Then parents will say, “Well, we have to be controlling because my kid won’t use self-control.” The key is to help the parent and the teen (and other family members) develop an alliance against the pattern.

* The negative interactional pattern is personified as “the beast” in Neil’s book and he invites families to “starve the beast.” He encourages families to look at parental and child behaviors (and sometimes interactions between the parents) that are nutrients that sustain the beast.

* Helping families look at “beast feeding” behaviors/patterns of interaction and “beast starving” behaviors/patterns of interactions is what family therapy is all about. In some cases, it’s like a game in which the family comes up with ways and puts into motion solutions to “starve the beast.” The idea is to create a common enemy that the family can fight against.

* Helping families discontinue blaming and finding fault with one another is key.

* Prescription – therapists “prescribe” things for families to do to help them move forward/make positive changes in how they interact with one another.

* One challenge of family therapy is being able to do several things at the same time/maintaining contact with all of the individuals in the family while at the same time keeping a model in mind as to what is healthy for the family. Likewise, it’s important to keep in mind what’s going on for each person as well as the interactional patterns among the participants and then how that will be transformed into a model for health.

* Having parents read the book “Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle” can help them learn conceptual language to assist them in changing dysfunctional interactional patterns.

* It’s easy for parents to get to a place where they feel hamstrung in terms of managing their kids. It’s important that parents take blame out of the equation and for them to communicate to their kids that everyone in the family is doing their best in terms of solving problems among family members. Parents are encouraged to adopt a positive attitude, believe in themselves and their kids and instill hope that they will figure out a way of solving their problems.

Mental Notes Takeaway:

* Families can improve their relationships by not viewing one another as the enemy, but instead make the negative interactional pattern the common “enemy” that they are aligned to defeat.

Check It Out:

* Neil Brown’s website:

* Neil’s book: Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle (

* Book Neil referred to: Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution (



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