John Elderkin Bell

Perhaps one of the first family therapists was John Elderkin Bell, who began treating families in the early 1950's. Bell's ingenious approach to family therapy involved developing a step-by-step, easy-to-follow plan of attack to treat family problems in stages. Bell's treatment approach was an outgrowth of group therapy and was aptly named family group therapy. In 1951 Bell discovered that John Bowlby, a well-respected clinician, was applying group psychotherapy techniques to treat individual families. Bell decided to follow Bowlby's approach, and did not discover until many years later that Bowlby had only used this treatment approach with one family.

Bell believed that the treatment of families should follow a series of three stages designed to encourage communication among family members and to solve family problems. In the first stage, the child-centered phase, Bell encouraged children's involvement by facilitating the expression of their thoughts and feelings. In the parent-centered stage, parents responded to their children's concerns and often related difficulties they experienced with their children's behavior. The family-centered stage was the final phase of treatment, and Bell continued to stimulate communication among family members and to help solve family problems.

Unfortunately, Bell's pioneering efforts in the field of family therapy are less well-known as compared to other family therapists. Bell did not publish his ideas until the 1960's, and he did not establish family therapy clinics or training centers.

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