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Blended Family Counseling: Using the Developmental Model for Addressing Blended Family Issues

In order to assist blended families, counselors can use the Developmental Model by Patricia Papernow (1993) as a means to understand the specific issues that a blended family encounters. This model allows for movement back and forth through the stages of blended family counseling, since crises may precipitate movement to the earlier stages.

Papernow’s (1993) model for addressing blended family issues consists of three main stages, with substages existing within each of the major stages. The first is the Early Stage, with Fantasy, Immersion, and Awareness as the substages of this level. The second is the Middle Stage with Mobilization and Action as the substages. The third stage is called the Later Stage with Contact and Resolution as the substages.

The pace of families moving through these stages depends upon the support for the family. Faster families can move through the model in four years, but this would be the minority of families. The average blended family will take seven years to move through the stages, and they usually spend two to three years in the earlier stages. For slower families, they may spend up to four years in the earlier stages, and it may take them up to 12 years to complete the cycle. Without blended family counseling, some families may stay stuck in the earlier stages, and this can end in divorce.

The model examines the losses that all members encounter in the Early Stages and the wishes (especially of children) to return to their prior family structure. The biological relationships are stronger at this point, and stepparents are considered as outsiders. During Mobilization, all parts of the family system begin to find their voice. This leads to Action when the family decides to form a step family structure. In the final stages, the members of the blended family form meaningful relationships with one another.

Counselors can access this model to plot where the blended family may be stuck, where the loss issues are, and also what needs to happen to help this blended family function as a system.

Resource

Papernow, P. (1993). Becoming a stepfamily: Patterns of development in remarried families. Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press.

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