Culture and Meaning: Expanding the Metaphorical Repertoire of Family Therapy


  • DAVID A. PARÉ M.A., M.Ed.

    1. Doctoral candidate in Counseling Psychology, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Canada; Psychology Intern, The Lousage Institute, Edmonton, Alberta. Send correspondence and reprint requests to home address: 8803–101A Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5H 0B7 (e-mail:
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  • I wish to express my special thanks to Drs. Don Sawatzky, Ronna Jevne, and Alan Parry.


This essay proposes that a family therapy founded on a contemporary, postmodern perspective demands an expanded range of metaphors for the family and the work of therapy. It describes a perspective that emphasizes a view of the family as a culture, as opposed to a system. A cultural perspective naturally addresses issues of meaning and language, narrative, politics, and practices of power — critical contemporary concerns not adequately encompassed by traditional systemic formulations. The essay explores the relationship between theory and metaphor, and contrasts the views of persons and of the family offered by the metaphors of culture and system. Case illustrations demonstrate how a cultural view effectively fashions an expanded therapeutic discourse, shifting the focus of family therapy from normative prescriptions for family “functionality” to issues of intercultural harmony. This shift in emphasis also extends to individual work, where the therapeutic task is construed as a peace-making between conflicting stories that intersect in the client's life.