In “Educated: A Memoir,” Tara Westover details her experiences growing up in a survivalist Mormon household. All of Faye’s and Gene’s children struggle with Gene’s lack of boundaries, to varying degrees of success. Tara, Tyler, and Richard manage to obtain the education and live the life they chose. Tony and Audrey are less successful in their attempts to gain independence from their father, and while Luke conforms to Gene’s expectations.
Shawn conforms to Gene’s view of women as inferior and shows domineering attitudes towards women in his life, to the point of physical and emotional abuse. Shawn and Gene have a coalition, as Gene takes Shawn’s word that he was not abusive over Tara’s. Put on the spot, Audrey feels pressured into denying Shawn’s abuse as well.
Structural family therapists view the family as a living organism with multiple subsystems within the family unit (Gehart & Tuttle, 2003). The spousal subsystem, or the marriage between Faye and Gene, is characterized by diffuse boundaries to the point of enmeshment. While Faye occasionally takes Tara’s side in secret, she is ultimately most loyal to her husband and the Mormon faith tenants. Faye and Gene show complementarity, but with the strong power imbalance, this complementarity turns into a dominant/submissive relationship. The sibling subsystem between Tara, Tyler, and Richard has clear boundaries and the three siblings love and respect one another. Tara, Tyler, and Richard are all highly intelligent and eventually obtain a Ph.D. education; the three stay on good terms, even when Tara is estranged from the rest of her family.
The developmental stage of this family is inappropriate, as evidenced by the roles and tasks that Gene gives his children. The junkyard work is extremely dangerous, and Gene’s children, such as Shawn and Tara, essentially perform dangerous child labor. The women in the family are always seen and treated as subordinate, regardless of age.
The novel’s writer, Tara, is the identified patient in the family. While Tyler is able to stay on amicable terms despite his divergent life path, Tara finds that her relationship with her family cannot be salvaged. Faye’s email about Tara, saying she was a danger to the household, illustrates how Tara was scapegoated after achieving independence. When Tyler took Tara’s side, he was threatened with disownment if he were to bring it up again (although he stuck up for her in the end). When Tara tried to see Faye, Faye made it clear Gene must be present.
Cutting ties is the method of conflict resolution in the Westover family. In addition to Tara cutting ties with most of her family, Audrey severed her relationship with Tara, as did Shawn. Faye’s refusal to see Tara unless Gene was present showed that the only opinion of weight in the household was Gene’s. If someone was not on Gene’s side, they were automatically wrong.
INFORMATION FOR AN INITIAL TREATMENT PLAN
Reason for Referral: Client is a 26-year-old female who is currently struggling to complete a Ph.D. program. Client is estranged from most of her family, which was a recent change. Client recently had a panic attack and has been feeling depressed.
Diagnosis: Major depressive disorder
Client strengths: Intelligent, open-minded, kind, curious, empathetic.
Client barriers to progress: Feelings of guilt and shame over cutting family out of life, difficulty concentrating.
Support: Her brother, Tyler, and his wife, Stefanie.
Current symptoms: Inability to concentrate, watching TV all day, waking up on the street, dreaming (nightmares?) about home, feelings of depression, no longer functioning at school.
Modality: Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Frequency: 1x per week for the duration of the school semester/school year.
Client’s functioning in school will improve within 90 days.
As evidenced by: Beginning to attend classes again, beginning to study again.
Intervention: CBT worksheet to complete when she tries to sit down to study. What happens? What are her thought processes? CBT worksheet to complete about her decision to attend classes and whether she attended classes that day, along with thoughts and emotions, felt at the time.
Lessen her depressive symptoms.
As evidenced by: Lower score on the Beck Depression Inventory, having fewer issues with sleeping, mood, functionality, and concentration.
Intervention: Talk therapy to address her feelings and thoughts when she is experiencing a depressive episode. CBT homework, to show and discuss with therapist each session.
Exploration of Community/Peer Supports: Tyler and his wife, possible group counseling, an ex-Mormon group (if there is one in her community).
- Gehart, D. R., & Tuttle, A. R. (2003). Theory-based treatment planning for marriage and family therapists: Integrating theory and practice. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
- Westover, T. (2018). Educated: The international bestselling memoir. Random House.