Five families' descriptions of experiences with a social service agency: A mini-ethnography of father-daughter incest



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Texas Tech University


Over the last thirty years, the field of family therapy has stressed the importance of understanding individuals and their problems within the context of their familial system. This systemic view of psychopathology and dysfunction has recently been modified to explain family problems within their context the larger system of which the family is a part. This study applies this larger system view to the area of incest. Much of the incest literature to date has focused primarily on the characteristics of the perpetrators and victims. In contrast, this document explores the nature of the family-agency system which is created when incestuous behavior comes to the attention of authorities.

The purpose of this study was to learn first-hand from the self-reports of five families who had been identified as incestuous and had engaged in family-agency systems for treatment. The discussion of their experiences had been organized according to the activities which seemed most representative of the family-agency interactions. Three major content areas have been selected: the initial investigation process, the group therapy experiences, and other agency interventions for the family.

An ethnographic methodology was employed for gathering the data. All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed, and then five different stories were constructed, each of which describes the family's perceptions of the larger social ecology which was organized after the disclosure of incest. While some families found their involvement in specific programs to be more harmful than helpful, others felt they had benefited from effective and timely interventions.

Based on the similarities and differences across these five families, implications are addressed for social service agencies and other professionals working with families identified as incestuous. It is evident that each family has unique needs; thus it is recommended that treatment be organized according to assessments of family situations rather than to program availability.



Incest victims -- Case studies, Family counseling