Different Family Systems as Seen on TV

As social work students and practitioners deepen their knowledge of family services and therapy, theories and models, applying theoretical concepts to specific family systems can be an informative activity. Textbooks often provide case studies of different social work issues for this purpose, guiding readers to see theoretical concepts revealed in reality-based situations. Certainly, learners stand to benefit from the opportunity to practice applying social worker information from what they’ve read.

TV Can Have Great Social Worker Information

A great way for students and practitioners to gain further experience in the application of family therapy skills outside of the therapy room is through practice assessments of fictional families helpfully provided by TV shows. Many family dramas provide rich material for observing family dynamics, assessing strengths and needs, and identifying theoretical concepts at play in family processes.

The following are five exemplary family TV shows that showcase a broad range of relevant social work issues, problems, and stressors impacting modern families, as well as offer a wealth of material for analyzing the complex relationships that exist between family members.

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Top 5 TV Shows with Family Issues

1. Transparent

This show focuses on a family constellation of a matriarch, patriarch, and their three adult children. The show covers a range of family experiences and events, most notably the transition of the patriarch from male to female, and the ways this transition is received by each family member. Through various characters, the show also explores issues of substance abuse, divorce, the fluidity of sexuality and gender, coming out processes, childhood sexual abuse, aging, and unfaithfulness, among others.

2. Black-ish

This show portrays a middle-class African American family primarily consisting of two parents (an inter-racial couple, the wife being of mixed race), and their four children – two teenagers, and 6-year old twins. Although it is a comedy, the show touches on some heavy issues impacting black families in America grappling with some of the family impacts of institutionalized racism and discrimination. It also highlights a host of issues related to adolescent developmental stages, such as identity formation, puberty and sexual curiosity, peer group dynamics, and a sense of entitlement.

3. Jane the Virgin

This light-hearted show focuses on a family that is unique in many ways. The Villanuevas are an all-female, Latina, bilingual family, blended immigrant family spanning four generations. The show is a comedy that centers around a life stressor – an unplanned and very unexpected pregnancy. Through the many ups and downs of daily life, viewers see how family members both support and distress one another, how historical family patterns play out in present-day situations and the resiliencies and strengths that this family builds out of difficulty.

4. Parenthood

Parenthood is a family drama at heart, centering on a very large family system that spans three generations – grandparents, parents, and children. The show includes characters at each life stage and provides insight into how families respond to a wide variety of stressors including teenage pregnancy, interracial relationships, and serious illness. It is a fascinating portrayal of family dynamics at every level of interaction, showing the multiple fused relationships that can exist within family systems.

5. The Fosters

 Another look at a complex family system, The Fosters is about a lesbian couple and their blended, multi-ethnic family of one partner’s biological son, adopted twins, and two foster children. The uniqueness of this family system alone makes the show worth watching from a family systems perspective, as it reveals key aspects of adoption and foster processes, issues of child abuse, discrimination against gay/lesbian couples, and the delicate role negotiations often involved in blended family systems.

Learning Social Worker Information on TV Today

As you learn about family systems, check out one of these TV shows for a fun exercise in applying what you’ve learned to one of these believable fictional families. There is a range of unique identities, relationships, developmental stages, and psychosocial stressors to be analyzed and explored!

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5 TV Shows that Reflect on Family Systems
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5 TV Shows that Reflect on Family Systems
Did you know you can learn a lot of social worker information from mainstream TV? Check out this list of shows perfect for a social worker.
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