Intimate Worlds With Integration and Application


Clinical theory and practice are very much a construction of family normality, health or dysfunction. The cultural and professional diversity is remembered while practicing the systems therapy (Walsh, 2003). Research into the study and promotion of health has not covered the aspect of mental health over the previous years (Walsh, 2003). Family normality implies the absence of symptoms which is not the picture in a clinical environment (Walsh, 2003). Healthy families were considered utopian. Clinical practice and research mostly focused on the understanding and the treatment of psychopathology. The family used to be observed as the damaging influence when etiology was considered but family patterns were never paid any attention (Walsh, 2003). Mothers were considered as the family as they had plenty of influence through mothering or attachment (Walsh, 2003). Models of family therapy are now being discovered and the family systems perspective has taken over in today’s clinical practice (Goldenberg and Goldenberg, 2008). In the early days of entry of the family systems therapy, even the family theory and practice were considered pathology-oriented. Recently however greater focus has been placed on the family strengths (Goldenberg and Goldenberg, 2008). The family normality, health and dysfunction have more applications in clinical practice. Of the various family systems, the Beavers systems model is being studied in this paper. Scarff’s views of family systems are discussed and the scales for measuring family competence are elaborated (Goldenberg and Goldenberg, 2008).

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Main body

The Beavers systems model of family functioning has two dimensions of family competence and family style (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 129). The competence dimension classes the families into optimal, adequate, mid-range, borderline and dysfunctional. The assessment of families uses observational instruments, self report scales or both (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 129). The aspects of competence and style are used to identify the level of health or dysfunction. The Beavers model suggests two models of family style: centripetal and centrifugal (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 130). Centripetal families believe that most relationship satisfactions come from within the family. Centrifugal families see the most satisfaction coming from the outside world. (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 130). When the two dimensions are combined, nine types of families are recognized of which only three are considered functional while all the other six need clinical intervention (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 130). The more competent families do not exhibit an excess of either style.

A family system is described as a negentropic continuum based on the adaptive flexibility, structure and information available on family competence (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 130). The more negentropic, the more equipped the family is to deal with stressful situations. Rigidity produces a closed and inefficient system (Bertalanffy, 1968 cited in Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p.129). The concept of negentropy spans the range from chaos to flexibility. More competent healthier families had a tendency to benefit from therapy faster than lesser competent ones (Hampson and Beavers, 1996).

Beavers Nine types of Families

This section deals with the different types of families and their characteristics

Nine family groups have been identified where six need therapy by the competency scale. Optimal families are the role models of families which function effectively.

(Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p.130). A systems orientation is exhibited by the members and intimacy is strong among them. The viewpoints of different family members are given equal importance and mutual respect (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 130). Choice and the perceptions of each are duly respected leading to negotiation and problem-solving within the group. The highly evolved individuation allows for quick resolution of conflicts keeping clear boundaries (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 130).

Adequate families are just slightly different from optimal families in that they are more control-oriented (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p.130). Some intimidation and force are involved within the resolution efforts. The power of the one in authority is more overt and the parental team is not so rewarding emotionally but is effective (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p.130). Lesser limits of joy and spontaneity are seen with lesser intimacy and trust. Powerful unemotive males and depressed, less powerful but emotive females are the stereotypes (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p.130).

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Mid-range families of Groups 3, 4 and 5

These dysfunctional families have functional but vulnerable children (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 131). Differences of opinion on control and power are evident. Believing in the concept that most people are anti-social, they are of the opinion that power is necessary for survival (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 131). There is a bias in that favorite children are recognized and they differ for the mother and father or both select one as favorite leaving the other to be the scapegoat (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 131). Feelings are mixed but only half is expressed. These families can be centrifugal or centripetal or mixed. The success of the centripetal families of mid-range depends on the overt authoritarian control. Minimal parental interference is a feature. Hostility is not openly expressed (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 131). Care and affection towards another is approved (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 132). Only modified spontaneity is seen. Rules and authority are respected and maximum sex stereotyping is evident: the males are ever powerful and women are childlike. Intimidation is attempted in centrifugal mid-range families but an outcome is not expected (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 132). Anxiety accompanies the caring sentiments demonstrated. Parents are not responsible enough for their children and do not stay at home. The children find freedom to move out into the neighborhood as there is no one to control them at home (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 132). Mid-range mixed families have a little of the qualities of both centripetal and centrifugal families.

Borderline families Groups 6 and 7

Open struggle for power is an overt feature of borderline cases. The efforts to establish authority fails. Emotional needs are unsatisfied due to the reduced skill of the members (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 132). The families are not completely dysfunctional nor are they like the mid-range families where control-oriented stability is effective. Verbal chaos is a feature of centripetal borderline families. Control fights are severe but covert (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 132). Occasionally members may suffer from anorexia or obsessions. Anger is freely expressed in the centrifugal borderline families and parents are not united in their efforts for the family. Witnessing frequent stormy scenes or quarrels cause a likelihood for the children to develop borderline personality disorder (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 132).

Severely dysfunctional families Groups 8 and 9

Communication being the biggest deficit, a remedy can help through communication coherence. Adaptive capacity is absent in this group causing a lack in ability of the family members to set and pursue goals (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 133). Focus of attention is a deficiency and the members are not emotionally close to have satisfying relationships. No one asserts authority and functioning is full of confusion (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 133). The centripetal families in this group behave abnormally to neighbors. Emotional development of the children is disturbed. Centrifugal families indulge in open hostility. Members are always leaving at short notice and coming back (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 133). There is great contempt for emotional tenderness and warmth. The disturbed adaptability is similar to the severely dysfunctional centripetal families and the children from both families would have limitations in socio-emotional development (Beavers and Hampson, 2000, p. 133).

Scarf’s views on family systems

Scarf focuses on family health and competence in her book “Intimate worlds”

(Scarf, 1995, p. xxxviii). She highlights the many factors which are involved in the formation of the family and its functioning. How they operate and how life can be improved is indicated by her. Family competence and well-being were more significant than family composition. The tragic loss of her parents and her resilience has influenced her writing of this book (Brophy, 1995). She elaborates the family systems but focuses on the Beavers systems model. The factors which contribute to happiness have been described by her. Misery and its causes have also been explained in a hopeful perspective of health: pathology has been sidelined. The Beaver systems model has been analyzed in four volunteer families to decide what constitutes a healthy functioning family (Brophy, 1995). Five levels of family health and functioning were described by Scarf. The genogram helps to determine the family psychosocial information through interview questions. The five levels are detailed in the themes of sharing of power, control and intimacy (Scarf, 1995). The family dealings with power, intimacy and individuality were elaborated. Psychology and family mental health touching on the subject of parent-child relationship among other relationships was the theme behind “Intimate Worlds”. The book has been described as an “operating manual for families” (Brophy, 1995).

Family systems, interviewing techniques, charting and graphing of the genogram have been described (Scarf, 1995). The interview approach was a meta-cognitive emotional one and simple to follow. The systematic evaluation of family health and function is an eye opener for anyone searching for a description of family

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Systems (Scarf, 1995). The interviewing skills in the room of interview are so detailed and simple. People who need to understand the family structure better and who need to better their family structure is advised to read “Intimate Worlds”.

The levels have been numbered from 1 to 5.

  • Level 5 family has the peer or father figure or an authoritative figure absent (Scarf, 1995). This leads to confusion. Resolution of conflicts is not possible in the chaotic environment. Facing the real problem is impossible and this distances the members from each other. Scarf has depicted the Anderson family at level (Scarf, 1995). Dave, their teenage son, was suffering from depression and oppositional defiance. The disturbed emotions in the family are centered on Dave. The family did not have intercommunications and were mostly moody and silent. This was after they came to know that the father had another son through a different woman (Scarf, 1995). Social communications and a sharing of love and affection were missing in the family. Their expressions to each other were always of anger, disapproval and disappointment. Anger was the emotion which kept the family glued together (Scarf, 1995). The normal developmental needs of the younger members were neglected. There was no sympathy for them and they had to act like adults. The range of interaction was also diminished (Scarf, 1995).
  • Level 4 described a polarized family where the person in authority was a tyrant who did not tolerate differences of opinion or thought (Scarf, 1995). Everyone was expected to have the same thoughts and no one was to voice different opinions. Behavior was governed by rigid rules.
  • Level 3 is a rule-bound family with strict rules to be tightly bound to. “Should” and “ought” were the theme words. This family is governed through manipulation, guilt, and threats. Intimacy is kept chained down so that rule breakers feel guilty or bad or dangerous (Scarf, 1995).
  • Level 2 is an adequate family where the parents form a coordinated team sharing the control of the family. Rules are questionable, discussed and flexible. Intimacy and close relationships are a feature and individuals freely express their emotions (Scarf, 1995).
  • The optimal family functions in Level 1. The joint, coordinated exercise of authority is more appropriate. Both the differences and similarities among the members hold them together. Family members are confident of each other and freely express their emotions and ideas (Scarf,1995). Family competence is defined as the ability of the family to “perform the necessary tasks of organizing and managing itself” (Hampson and Beavers, 1993). The ability or inability to communicate well, coordinate, negotiate, establish clear roles and goals, solve problems, adapt to novel situations, resolve conflicts, be autonomous and have confidence in itself in deciding family competence. (Hampson and Beavers, 1993).

Severely dysfunctional families cannot negotiate conflicts and are unable to adapt to developmental demands and situational crises (Hampson and Beavers, 1993). Ambivalence cannot be solved and goals cannot be defined. The authority is not powerful and the communication is not clear, ineffective and unsatisfying. Interpersonal relationship has problems with cynical undertones and negotiation skills are almost absent. (Hampson and Beavers, 1993). Families are found to be generally the same in all the domains of healthy families. A combination of Instances of health in some domains and unhealth in others is not seen.In other words, families cannot be competent in some domains and incompetent in others (Hampson and Beavers, 1993). Self-report instruments and clinical rating scales


There are two Beavers interactional scales: the Beavers Interactional Competence scale and the Beavers Interactional Style Scale. (Beavers and Hampson, 2000) Trained raters use the scales for classifying the family systems into one of the nine categories in their researches. (Lee and Stacks, 2001). Solo family therapists also use the scales for clinical assessment. The observational scales indicate the overt power, parental coalitions, closeness, mythology, goal directed negotiation, clarity of expression, responsibility, permeability. (Walsh, 2003). The style subscales dependency needs, overt and covert conflicts, spacing, lack of concerns of physical appearance. A Likert type format is used in both scales. The competence scale decides the extent of performance in the structure, communicative, affective and problem-solving tasks. Family style is also a single dimension. How a family behaves reflects the “family’s tendency to bind or expel its members” (Lee and Stacks, 2001). The assessments are then plotted on a graph, the pants model, to reach a decision on the character of the family. (Lee and Stacks, 2001). The scales are however now being refuted by other researchers. The conclusion is that nobody has come up with a whole family theory yet.


Beavers, R. and Hampson, R.B. (2000). The beavers systems model of family functioning, Journal of Family Therapy, Vol. 22, No. 2, p. 128-143

Brophy, B. (1995). Probing family harmony. US News & World Report, Vol. 119, No. 20. p. 88

Hampson, R.B. & Beavers, W.R. (1993). Measuring family competence: The Beavers systems model. In Froma Walsh (Ed.), Normal Family Processes (p. 73-103) New York/London: The Guilford Press

Hampson, R.B. & Beavers, W.R. (1996). Measuring family therapy outcome in a clinical setting: Families that do better or worse in therapy. Family Process, Vol. 35, p. 347-361

Lee, R.E. & Stacks, A.M. (2001). The Factor Structure of the Beavers Interactional scales revisited. Contemporary Family Therapy, Vol. 23 , No, 2, Human Sciences Press

Sacrf, M. (1995). “Intimate Worlds: Life inside the family”. New York: Random House

Walsh, F. (2003). Normal family processes: growing diversity and complexity. 3rd Ed. Guilford Press.

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