Epistemic style and therapist theoretical orientation and background: a National survey of family therapy professionals



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Texas Tech University


Debate and criticism regarding ideas and issues of epistemology have been a part of the family therapy literature for more than ten years. This study is an attempt to elucidate some of the roots of this debate by examining epistemological differences identified with the Psvcho Epistemoloqical Profile (PEP) as they relate to professional affiliations, theoretical orientation and therapist background.

The sample for this study was selected from the membership lists of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), AAMFT approved supervisors, and the American Family Therapy Association (AFTA). One thousand family therapy professionals received questionnaires in this study. A total of 425 responses (42%) were received. Information regarding the sample's professional affiliations, theoretical orientation, level and type of training received, time spent in various professional activities (research, training, clinical practice), work setting, and demographics was collected along with the PEP.

The sample as a whole was found to be overwhelmingly metaphorical in epistemic style with 77% having a metaphorical first commitment, and 49% having a Metaphorism-Rationalism-Empiricism (MRE) profile on the PEP. Of the MANOVA's run in the study's main analysis, two statistically significant results were found. Subjects who spent a significant (>3 3%) amount of time doing family therapy-related teaching were found to score higher on the metaphorical sub-scale. Subjects who spent a significant amount of time doing family therapy-related research scored significantly higher on the empirical subscale. No relationship was found between PEP profile and theoretical orientation, practice emphasis, professional identity, or professional affiliation.

Based on these findings it is concluded that adherents to the many differing positions espoused in the field, are not different on the basic order of epistemology. In a field that at times appears obsessed with the demarcation and emphasis of differences among competing theoretical positions, it is concluded that epistemological similarity, rather than difference, is most significant.