Contemporary Family Therapy

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 201–210 | Cite as

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

  • Ellen SyrstadEmail author
  • Ottar Ness
Original Paper


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.


Family therapy Qualitative research Professional identities Positioning theory Child protection 



The study was funded by VID Specialized University College in Oslo, Norway.


  1. Anderson, H., & Goolishian, H. A. (1988). Human systems as linguistic systems: Preliminary and evolving ideas about the implications for clinical theory. Family Process, 27(4), 371–393. Scholar
  2. Barne-ungdoms-og familiedirektoratet. (2017). Er du fratatt omsorgen for barnet ditt? Retrieved October 5, 2018 from,
  3. Beresford, P. (2003). User involvement in research: Exploring the challenges. NT Research, 8(1), 36–46. Scholar
  4. Biesta, G. (2016). Reconciling ourselves to reality: Arendt, education and the challenge of being at home in the world. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 48(2), 183–192. Scholar
  5. Bird, J. (2004). Talk that sings. Auckland: Edge Press.Google Scholar
  6. Boddy, J., Statham, J., Danielsen, I., Geurts, E., Join-Lambert, H., & Euillet, S. (2014). Beyond contact? Policy approaches to work with families of looked after children in four European countries. Children & Society, 28(2), 152–161. Scholar
  7. Bøe, T. (2015). Sosioøkonomisk status og barn og unges psykologiske utvikling: Familiestressmodellen og familieinvesteringsperspektivet. Rapport. Helsedirektoratet. Retrieved December, 2015 from,
  8. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. Scholar
  9. Broadhurst, K., & Mason, C. (2017). Birth parents and the collateral consequences of court-ordered child removal: Towards a comprehensive framework. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 31(1), 41–59. Scholar
  10. Carr, A. (2016). How and why do family and systemic therapies work? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 37(1), 37–55. Scholar
  11. Ekeland, T. J. (2014). Konflikt og konfliktforståelse for helse og sosialarbeidere. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.Google Scholar
  12. Fauske, H., Kojan, B. H., & Storhaug, A. S. (2018). Social class and child welfare: Intertwining issues of redistribution and recognition. Social Sciences, 7(9), 143. Scholar
  13. Forrester, D., Westlake, D., McCann, M., Thurnham, A., Shefer, G., Glynn, G., & Killian, M. (2013). Reclaiming social work? An evaluation of systemic units as an approach to delivering children’s services. Retrieved June, 2013 from,
  14. Foucault, M. (1999). Diskursens orden. Oslo: Spartacus Forlag.Google Scholar
  15. Frank, A. (2012). Practicing dialogical narrative analysis. In J. A. Holstein & J. F. Gubrium (Eds.), Varieties of narrative analysis (pp. 33–52). London: Sage.Google Scholar
  16. Gergen, K. J., & Ness, O. (2016). Therapeutic practice as social construction. In M. O’Reilly & J. Lester (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of adult mental health: Discourse and conversation studies (pp. 502–519). London: Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  17. Hall, C., & Slembrouck, S. (2011). Interviewing parents of children in care: Perspectives, discourses and accountability. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(3), 457–465. Scholar
  18. Harré, R., & Langenhove, L. V. (1991). Varieties of positioning. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 21(4), 393–407.Google Scholar
  19. Harré, R., & Langenhove, L. V. (1999). The dynamics of social episodes. In R. Harré & L. V. Langenhove (Eds.), Positioning theory: Moral contexts of intentional action (pp. 1–13). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  20. Healy, K. (1998). Participation and child protection: The importance of context. British Journal of Social Work, 28(6), 897–914.Google Scholar
  21. Heatherington, L., Friedlander, M. L., Diamond, G. M., Escudero, V., & Pinsof, W. M. (2015). 25 years of systemic therapies research: Progress and promise. Psychotherapy Research, 25(3), 348–364. Scholar
  22. Hummelvoll, J. K. (2008). The multistage focus group interview: A relevant and fruitful method in action research based on a cooperative inquiry perspective. Norsk tidsskrift for sykepleieforskning, 10(1), 3–14.Google Scholar
  23. Järvinen, M., & Mik-Meyer, N. (2003). At skabe en klient: Institusjonelle identiteter i socialt arbejde. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels forlag.Google Scholar
  24. Järvinen, M., & Mik-Meyer, N. (2012). At skabe en professionel: Ansvar og autonomi i velferdsstaten. Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels forlag.Google Scholar
  25. Jørgensen, M. W., & Phillips, L. (2006). Diskursanalyse som teori og metode. Roskilde: Universitetsforlag.Google Scholar
  26. Kemp, S. P., Marcenko, M. O., Lyons, S. J., & Kruzich, J. M. (2014). Strength-based practice and parental engagement in child welfare services: An empirical examination. Children and Youth Services Review, 47(1), 27–35. Scholar
  27. Kielty, S. (2008). Non-resident motherhood: Managing a threatened identity. Child and Family Social Work, 13(1), 32–40. Scholar
  28. Lorås, L., Bertrando, P., & Ness, O. (2017). Researching systemic therapy history: In search of a definition. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 28(2), 134–149. Scholar
  29. McNamee, S. (2010). Research as social construction: Transformative inquiry. Health & Social Change, 1(1), 9–19.Google Scholar
  30. McNamee, S. (2015). Practitioners as people: Dialogic encounters for transformation. Metalogos, 28, 1–25. Scholar
  31. Memarnia, N., Nolte, L., Norris, C., & Harborne, A. (2015). ‘It felt like it was night all the time’: Listening to the experiences of birth mothers whose children have been taken into care or adopted. Adoption & Fostering, 39(4), 303–317. Scholar
  32. Minuchin, S. (1998). Where is the family in narrative family therapy? Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 24(4), 397–403. Scholar
  33. Moldestad, B., & Skilbred, D. (2010). Når barn bor i fosterhjem—Utfordringer i samarbeidet mellom foreldre og barneverntjenesten. Tidsskriftet Norges Barnevern, 87(1), 32–45.Google Scholar
  34. Nyeng, F. (2006). Følelser i filosofi, vitenskap og dagligliv. Oslo: Abstrakt forlag AS.Google Scholar
  35. Piercy, F. P., & Hertlein, K. M. (2011). Focus groups in family therapy research. In D. H. Sprenkle & F. P. Piercy (Eds.), Research methods in family therapy (pp. 85–99). New York: Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  36. Schofield, G., Moldestad, B., Hojer, I., Ward, E., Skilbred, D., Young, J., & Havik, T. (2010). Managing loss and a threatened identity: Experiences of the parents of children growing up in foster care and implications for social work practice. British Journal of Social Work, 40(5), 1–19. Scholar
  37. Shamoon, Z. A., Lappan, S., & Blow, A. J. (2017). Managing anxiety: A therapist common factor. Contemporary Family Therapy, 39(1), 43–53. Scholar
  38. Slettebø, T. (2008). Foreldres medbestemmelse i barnevernet. En studie av foreldres erfaringer med individuell og kollektiv medvirkning. Trondheim: Norges teknisk- naturvitenskapelige universitet.Google Scholar
  39. Smithson, J. (2008). Focus groups. In P. Alasuutari, L. Bickman & J. Brannen (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of social research methods (pp. 103–119). London: SAGE.Google Scholar
  40. Søndergaard, D. M. (2018). Analytiske læsestrategier. Analoge og digitale tilblivelsesprocesser som eksempel. In L. Bøttcher, D. Kousholt & D. Winther-Lindqvist (Eds.), Kvalitative analyseprocesser—med eksempler fra det pædagogisk psykologiske felt (pp. 139–162). Copenhagen: Samfundsliteratur.Google Scholar
  41. Stewart, D. W., & Shamdasani, P. N. (2015). Focus groups: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: SAGE.Google Scholar
  42. Strong, T. (2005). Understanding in counselling: A preliminary social constructionist and conversation analytic examination. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 33(4), 513–533. Scholar
  43. Strong, T., Sutherland, O., Couture, S., Godard, G., & Hope, T. (2008). Karl Tomm’s collaborative approaches to counselling. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 42(3), 174–191.Google Scholar
  44. Sykes, J. (2011). Negotiating stigma: Understanding mothers’ responses to accusations of child neglect. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(3), 448–456.Google Scholar
  45. Syrstad, E. (2011). Når ikke eksperten blir eksperten. Fokus på familien, 39(1), 45–54.Google Scholar
  46. Syrstad, E., & Slettebø, T. (in review). To understand the incomprehensible: A qualitative study of parents’ challenges after child removal and their experiences with support services.Google Scholar
  47. Toros, K., DiNitto, D. M., & Tiko, A. (2018). Family engagement in the child welfare system: A scoping review. Children and Youth Services Review, 88(C), 598–607. Scholar
  48. Weingarten, K. (2000). Witnessing, wonder, and hope. Family Process, 39(4), 389–402. Scholar
  49. Weingarten, K. (2003). Common shock: Witnessing violence every day: How we are harmed, how we can heal. New York: Dutton/Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  50. Weingarten, K. (2016). The art of reflection: Turning the strange into the familiar. Family Process, 55(2), 195–210. Scholar
  51. Weitz, Y. S. (2016). Föräldraskap på avstånd: Om socialtjänstens stöd till familjehemsplacede barns föräldrar. Forskningsrapport 2016:3. Stockholm: FoU Nordväst.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.VID Specialized University OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department for Education and Lifelong LearningNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

Personalised recommendations