Out of the Darkness: Three Waves of Family Research and the Emergence of Family Therapy for Lesbian and Gay People

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Abstract

Like family relationships themselves, the history and treatment of lesbian and gay people and their families is complicated. For this paper, three waves of research on the families of gay and lesbian individuals are described. During the first wave, gay and lesbian sexual orientation was seen as a disease and family dynamics were blamed for its genesis. Subsequently in the second wave it was believed that, fearing rejection many gay and lesbian people either distanced or were rejected from their own families and established friendship networks that have been described as families of choice. More recently, in the third wave, the family has been identified as a resource for lesbian and gay youth whereby open relationships with parents can help protect them from mental illness, substance abuse, and HIV risk. Furthermore, an increasing number of same-sex couples are choosing to become parents, overcoming biological and social obstacles. In this article these shifting views of the role of family in the lives of lesbian and gay people will be described along with case material that illustrates the historic influences, current developments and future directions of family treatment for this population. To be maximally effective with gay and lesbian people and their families, clinical social workers and other mental health professionals must understand how family therapy has been influenced by a progression of ideas that continue to evolve. In this paper, research examining the role of the family in the lives of lesbian and gay people will be described in three waves; as a source of blame, to an impediment to gay and lesbian happiness and ultimately a resource that can enhance lesbian and gay well-being. The influences of research on family therapy with this population will be described and case examples will demonstrate how to harness the strengths of family relationships identified in the most recent wave.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-276
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Social Work Journal
Volume41
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Keywords

  • Children of same-sex couples
  • Coming out
  • Family research
  • Family therapy
  • Gay and lesbian families
  • Gay and lesbian parents
  • Gay and lesbian youth
  • HIV prevention

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