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Ramsden, S. (1996). John Byng-Hall Re-writing Family Scripts (Improvisation and Systems Change), USA: Guildford Press, 1995. 288 pp., £13.99. J. Child Psychother., 22(3):467-470.

(1996). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 22(3):467-470

John Byng-Hall Re-writing Family Scripts (Improvisation and Systems Change), USA: Guildford Press, 1995. 288 pp., £13.99

Reviewed by
Sandra Ramsden

John Byng-Hall has long figured on that brief private list of therapists to whom I would refer close friends or family members. Entry onto the list has been governed by factors such as respect and approbation and a certain set of expectations. This timely volume gives an opportunity to re-evaluate from the perspective of the written rather than the observed or discussed.

The book seems to be a statement of where Byng-Hall stands now as an elder among the family therapists, in terms of both his practice and his theoretical position. What is most striking in this statement is Byng-Hall's capacity for synthesis and integration. The influence of psychoanalysis is acknowledged and evidenced in his references to his own training and his own clinical practice. Most prominent in this volume is the influence of attachment theory and the elaboration within Byng-Hall's text of its past, present and future place within systemic family therapy. Byng-Hall's preface to this volume, outlining the context within which it has been written, expresses some disillusionment ‘with the abstract nature of some of the theorising within the field. People can simply disappear. We need to re-populate the theories.’ He finds healthy signs of interest within family therapy in the interface between the family system and the intrapsychic system. The individual stands as the main sub-system of the family system and attachment theory as a ‘modernist project exploring the underlying mechanism for the survival of homo-sapiens’. Attachment behaviour stands as a fundamental unit of family life. Attachment theory has a strong research basis. Nonetheless Byng-Hall is aware that attachments represent only one aspect of relationships and there is a danger of both over-estimating or under-estimating the importance of data derived from attachment research. Valuing attachment theory, he warns of a danger of damaging it through discrediting it by inappropriate over-extension.

John Byng-Hall trained in child psychiatry at the Tavistock Clinic. He was influenced by the object relations school, both in its application to marital work and in psychoanalytical family therapy. He was influenced, too, by John Bowlby, to whose post he succeeded in 1973 on Bowlby's ‘retirement’.

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