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Mental Health — A BioPsychoSocial Perspective
A Praxis Course at Bryn Mawr College Spring 2002
Made available on Serendip

It's All In the Family

Erica Carlos

The importance of family became increasingly clear to me when my father passed away two years ago. Although my family and I have always been a tight knit unit, my dad's absence has brought us even closer. These past two years have forced me to realize how my family works to overcome the obstacles in life. It has forced me to re-examine the relationships, roles, and customs within my family that enable us to function well. The dynamics within my family not only represent the glue that holds us together but also the element that helps us develop mentally and physically as individuals and as a family. My field placement site, St. Edmonds home for kids diagnosed with cerebral palsy, has also demonstrated the importance of family in times of struggle. Although the death of a family member is different than a child who is physically and mentally challenged, a family's influence can help the individual develop and cope with their hardships. Since the kids at the placement site live there on an ongoing basis, it is a necessity to provide them with a sense of family structure. Family structure includes the various roles and relationships each member plays in order for the family and the individual to maintain stability. Mark Dadd's describes an approach to handling hardships in life in his article Families, Children, and the Development of Dysfunction. Dadd's says, "...structure can be thought of as representing the way relationships within the family are organized..." (Dadds, 15). Family structure, which includes the dynamics within a family, is vital in developing an individual while maintaining a family as a whole.

What does family mean to me? There are definite roles, relationships, rules, and, traditions characteristic of each family. Dadd's explains that, " families operate according to their own rules, myths, and logical systems... " (Dadd, 18). In my family, my older sister takes on the role of the independent leader of the pack, serving as the rock that holds us strongly in place. My mom is the rule setter while providing a sense of constant motherly comfort and sensitivity. My younger brother has transitioned from the innocent information absorber to taking on a more father-like figure. My father was always the carefree life lover, serving as the neutral ground between my mom and all the kids. I always had the role of the affectionate trendsetter, paving the path for my sister and brother but also serving as the patient peacemaker. The distinct interactions within my family help with mental development and also enable us to collectively overcome problems. In addition, each family member knows how important holidays are, as it is a time where we can drop whatever we're doing and focus on the family. We all know that Sunday mass is an important part of our culture and religion, but more so, it is a time put aside to spend with each other and reflect on our father's death. The distinct interactions along with the specific customs within our family help in shaping each individual member and creating a supportive and healthy family system.

Within my field placement, I have witnessed a family-type atmosphere that has helped the kids and the staff in a positive way. I remember being amazed at how St. Edmonds looked like a home and not an institution. The kid's rooms appeared not much different from any child's room. Natasha had a poster of Enrique Iglesias while Annie's bedspread was her favorite color, purple. St. Edmonds is not only physically but also set up as a home to provide the children with a sense of family. Although the children are unable to verbally communicate their needs, the nurses know each child's requirements and desires. I recall a specific example of the importance of the roles and rules within a family at the site. Nurse Betty frequently plays the role of the rule setter in the girl's hall. One day, Maya was in a bad mood, throwing tantrums when I arrived. Nurse Betty had warned her that if she didn't stop then she couldn't go outside for our daily walks. Since Maya continued to throw tantrums, Nurse Betty forbade her to go out that day. Although Maya couldn't verbally announce that she was upset, the expression on her face explained her sadness. Maya learned that inappropriate behavior does not go unpunished. Another example demonstrates the unity of family. Last week I had asked Natasha if she was going to miss Annie, who was transferring to another facility. Natasha moved her hand towards Annie's hand, in an attempt to hold it and looked at her with affectionate eyes. This showed me that there was an element of family closeness that provided the kids with a sense of support. In addition, the staff members celebrate holidays and birthdays with the kids. One nurse told me that the staff took the kids to Rome last summer to see the pope. There is a sense of family at my placement site because elements also seen in my family are evident at St. Edmonds.

Imagine if the family element was taken away from this institute and even from your own experiences. Although people may be able to function alone, it is hard to picture how an individual could function without a network of relationships. As I have discovered within my own family and in my field placement site, the roles and relationships demonstrate order and structure while maintaining support. As we have discussed in class, a sense of family is an integral part of an individual's life that may help them cope with challenges. The idea of a unit working together as a whole and allowing for an individual to independently grow equates a family that functions well.


Dadds, Mark R. Families, Children, and the Development of Dysfunction. Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks, CA. 1995. Pp 8-22.

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