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Enhancing Family Resilience Through Family Narrative Co-construction

Abstract

We draw upon family resilience and narrative theory to describe an evidence-based method for intervening with military families who are impacted by multiple wartime deployments and psychological, stress-related, or physical parental injuries. Conceptual models of familial resilience provide a guide for understanding the mechanics of how families respond and recover from exposure to extreme events, and underscore the role of specific family processes and interaction patterns in promoting resilient capabilities. Leading family theorists propose that the family’s ability to make meaning of stressful and traumatic events and nurture protective beliefs are critical aspects of resilient adaptation. We first review general theoretical and empirical research contributions to understanding family resilience, giving special attention to the circumstances, challenges, needs, and strengths of American military families. Therapeutic narrative studies illustrate the processes through which family members acquire meaning-making capacities, and point to the essential role of parents’ in facilitating discussions of stressful experiences and co-constructing coherent and meaningful narratives. This helps children to make sense of these experiences and develop capacities for emotion regulation and coping. Family-based narrative approaches provide a structured opportunity to elicit parents’ and children’s individual narratives, assemble divergent storylines into a shared family narrative, and thereby enhance members’ capacity to make meaning of stressful experiences and adopt beliefs that support adaptation and growth. We discuss how family narratives can help to bridge intra-familial estrangements and re-engage communication and support processes that have been undermined by stress, trauma, or loss. We conclude by describing a family-based narrative intervention currently in use with thousands of military children and families across the USA.

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Notes

  1. Prolonged or narrative forms of exposure treatment for trauma generally involve repeated sharing of a trauma narrative with the intention of confronting the patient with the memories of the traumatic event in order to reduce emotional responses and post-traumatic symptoms.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge Juliet Vogel, PhD, and Betty Pfefferbaum, MD, for their highlighting the value of Joan Patterson’s writings on family resilience. We also would like to acknowledge Thomas Babayan, Melinda Morgan, Jessica Moore-Tyson, and Amy Greenslit for their skilled identification and articulation of narrative case examples.

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Correspondence to William R. Saltzman.

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Saltzman, W.R., Pynoos, R.S., Lester, P. et al. Enhancing Family Resilience Through Family Narrative Co-construction. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 16, 294–310 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-013-0142-2

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Keywords

  • Military family
  • Resilience
  • Family therapy
  • Narrative therapy
  • Traumatic stress
  • Loss