Unlocking the Door to Healthy Relationships
Leading family therapist and columnist for The Mercury, Mr Rod Smith, presented talks to staff and Psychiatry registrars on healthy relationships, at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine campus.
Durban-born Smith, who is a family therapist specialising in Bowen Family Systems, is currently based in Indiana in the United States.
His column has been published in The Mercury on a weekly basis since March 2001, garnering him thousands of followers and making him a household name on the eastern seaboard of South Africa. ‘I have had the privilege of consulting with high-profile, conflicted families who have flown me half the way around the world to assist in finding some manner of resolution to seemingly insurmountable domestic or family-business dilemmas. I have also had the privilege of consulting with the poorest of the poor – inner-city families, and those in developing countries,’ said Smith.
Smith noted that in order to have healthy relationships in the workplace, it is important to recognise that one has three families that are interconnected. These are one’s family of origin (biological unit), one’s current family (new relationships including one’s spouse/partner and friends) and family at work. The characteristics of individuals in the workplace can be traced back to the family of origin. ‘People are fighting because they are bringing yesterday’s balance into today’s world with the wrong people,’ said Smith.
To avoid conflict in the workplace, Smith proposed always seeking clarity, communicating regularly (noting that body language and silence are great communicators) and ensuring that all relations are equal, mutual and respectful. Dr Saloschini Pillay, Manager of Student Support Services in the College of Health Sciences and a huge fan of Smith’s commented, ‘Thank you for your presentation. I am indeed honoured to be in your presence as I regularly read your column. For me it is always important to look at where a person comes from, including their family, their upbringing, culture and traditions in order to have a better understanding of that person rather than adopting a cause and effect relationship that can lead to conflict.’
Smith also gave a presentation on family counselling to registrars from the Department of Psychiatry. Dr Suvira Ramlall, academic leader of the Registrar programme who invited Smith to UKZN, said that this component of family therapy is not part of the registrars’ coursework. Smith encouraged the registrars to construct their own genogram which is a graphic representation of a family tree that displays detailed data on relationships among individuals. It goes beyond a traditional family tree by allowing the user to analyse hereditary patterns and psychological factors that punctuate relationships.
The healthcare practitioners were advised to ensure that the “pathology” doesn’t reside inside but among families so the whole family is the patient and not just the individual as we are all interconnected. ‘Families are very resilient. When a family lets you in, its holy ground,’ said Smith.
He recounted a session with six brothers who, without realising it, sat in their birth order and left one chair vacant. He questioned them and was told that the vacant chair was for their deceased brother. Unbeknownst to the group, they indicated “invisible loyalty” and a connection to their family of origin. ‘The key to anxiety resides in generations of the family and the origin or new family. It is our responsibility to help families to safely unpack their secrets,’ said Smith.
Smith has a Master’s degree in Family Therapy, a Higher Diploma in Education, and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Literature. He is also a trained pastor with several qualifications in biblical counselling. Smith lives with his adopted sons, Nate and Thulani.
Words: MaryAnn Francis