The ‘Blame Game’: Discourse Analysis of Family Members’ and Therapist Negotiation of Problem Definition in Systemic Family Therapy

Pinelopi Patrika, Eleftheria Tseliou


The present article aims at shedding light to the complex ways in which blame and responsibility are negotiated, when family members and the therapist engage in problem definition talk in systemic family therapy. The article draws from a qualitative research study which was designed to explore problem talk in systemic family therapy by means of discourse analysis methodology. Nine videotaped initial systemic family therapy sessions in which four different therapists and six different families with a variety of reported difficulties were sampled. They were transcribed verbatim and subjected to micro-analysis by means of the Discursive Action Model. In the present article, we present the detailed analysis of one of the identified patterns of blame allocation, in which family members are shown to construct the identified patient’s deviation from normality as the cause of their difficulties while the therapist is shown to attempt to exonerate blame from the identified patient by means of positive connotation. We discuss the implications of our analysis for theory development and clinical practice in the field, in the context of a growing body of related research. We also hint to the potential of discourse analysis methodology for family therapy research.


accountability; blame; discourse analysis; problem talk; qualitative research; responsibility; Systemic Family Therapy