Building marital and family relationships based on mutual respect


Modern society is seeing an increase in the number of families facing such diverse problems as cruelty, intimate partner violence, truancy, and depression. When seeking to resolve family problems of this nature, approaches focused on the psychological issues and distress of the individual alone have proven unsuccessful in providing them with appropriate help to reach a solution. Professor Takeyoshi Nozue’s specialism of family psychology involves seeking ways to help individuals by understanding them in the context of their family and marital relationships and their social environment. Based on his abundant experience of education, research, and clinical practice, Professor Nozue does his utmost to provide people with psychological support in confronting increasingly diverse family problems and building relationships in which each and every individual is respected.

Takeyoshi Nozue Dean, Faculty of Psychology Professor, Department of Psychology Graduated from the Department of Psychology at Rikkyo University’s College of Arts. Earned his Master of Education from International Christian University Graduate School’s Division of Education. His fields of specialism include family psychology, couples therapy, family therapy, integrated family and personal therapy, and assertiveness training. Professor Nozue has gained clinical experience in such settings as the counseling office at Bunkyo University’s Koshigaya Health Center, Rikkyo University’s Ikebukuro Student Counseling Center, Soshikai Medical Association Kubota Clinic, and the Department of Child and Adolescent Mental Health at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry. In 2004, he took up the post of full-time lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Meiji Gakuin University’s Faculty of Psychology and was appointed professor in 2014. Professor Nozue is a past president of the Japan Association of Family Psychology and currently chairs its Training Committee. He is also a board member of the Japanese Society for Psychotherapy Integration and a member of the Permanent Editorial Board of the Japan Society of Certified Public Psychologists. Professor Nozue is a Certified Clinical Psychologist, Certified Public Psychologist, and Certified Family Psychologist. For more than 20 years, he has been involved in providing education and training in support techniques based on family psychology to psychology professionals working at such facilities as children’s welfare centers, educational counseling centers, and family courts.

Psychological support that encompasses the whole family

Family psychology is an academic discipline that involves researching ways of understanding and resolving the various problems that arise in parent-child and marital relationships. In the course of my work, which is centered on clinical practice in the areas of family therapy and couples therapy, I provide psychological support to families and couples facing real-life problems, and also conduct education and training for psychology professionals working in a range of clinical settings, including the fields of education, medical care, welfare, and justice. Most psychotherapy (counseling) in Japan is currently based on theories and methods that focus on the individual. For example, if a child is playing truant, the mainstream approach is for separate counselors to undertake parallel counseling of the child and one of their parents (often the mother), while in the case of marital issues, most counselors see only one of the spouses involved.

In contrast, family therapy and couples therapy seek to solve the individual’s psychological issues by understanding their relationships with people and groups around them in their family, school, and/or workplace. In the case of counseling for a child playing truant, we examine what kind of support would be appropriate after first understanding not only the child’s mental issues, but also their interpersonal relationships with those around them, including their parents, their classmates at school, and their teachers. Family therapy and couples therapy are based on group sessions, in which the counselor meets with the child and both their parents or with both spouses.

Exploring support measures after listening to a lot of people

Counseling based on group sessions that involve both spouses or all the family can provide insights from completely different angles into what might appear to be a mental problem for the individual.

I used to provide counseling at a university’s student counseling center. Most of the students who approached me wanted help in becoming independent from their parents. When one actually digs down further into the issue, it is not unusual to find that it is not merely a case of the student being unable to break free from their parents, but also of the parent or parents being unable to let go of their child. It becomes difficult for a child to become independent from their parents when one of the parents depends on their child or triangulation in their relationship occurs, with the child being caught up in marital discord. In such cases, it is hard to solve the problem simply by helping the student through counseling, but it may be possible to get closer to a solution by alleviating the parent’s anxiety or improving the marital relationship.

Couples or family counseling sessions may also involve the siblings of a child playing truant, for example, or other family members who might not appear to have a direct relationship to the issue, in order to listen to what they have to say. This is because such individuals often have a clearer picture and understanding of the family relationships than those immediately involved. While couples and family counseling sessions that involve listening to a number of people are complex and difficult, I believe they have an advantage over sessions in which the counselor talks to only one person, in that they can provide a multifaceted perspective on the issue and lead to diverse support methods.

Another feature of family therapy and couples therapy is that it can focus not only on an individual’s problems and pathologies, but also on more positive aspects, such as small efforts and potential strengths that are not always obvious to the individual or their family members. For example, couples therapy might reveal that beneath the marital quarrels on the surface are one individual’s expectations of the other or desire to build ties with them. We sometimes find that the seeds of possibility or an individual’s efforts and love lie hidden beneath something that appears negative at first glance. Being able to adopt this perspective is part of the appeal and fascination of family therapy and couples therapy for me.

Assertiveness values both oneself and the other person

There are diverse approaches to family and marital relationships. While I believe it is up to each person to determine what constitutes an ideal relationship for them, for me, the ideal is a relationship in which each and every person involved is properly respected. That means a family or spousal relationship in which each person respects the other(s) and can appropriately communicate their feelings and thoughts, without being compelled to suppress them or sacrifice their needs. To achieve this, I provide assertiveness training.

In simple terms, assertiveness means expressing oneself in a way that values both oneself and the other person. In communication, it is vital to value oneself and to express one’s feelings, thoughts, and wishes. However, that alone is not sufficient to build interpersonal relationships. We have to not only express ourselves, but also understand the other person and listen properly to what they are saying. This kind of communication, which in some senses can be a bit tiresome, is assertiveness. One could describe it as self-expression aimed at reaching a mutually satisfactory result, without bottling up one’s own stress or causing too much stress to the other person.

What we do in family therapy or couples therapy is to listen carefully to what each and every individual has to say, as the gateway to being able to engage in assertive self-expression. This means that while I, as the counselor, am listening to what one person in the family is saying, the other family members present are also listening to them. When I comment on what the person who was talking said, I choose my words based on consideration of how the other family members will take them. It is the group setting of couples and family therapy sessions that enables us to do this. By providing such support, we hope to enable family members to come to understand each other or to say to each other during the sessions things they had previously been unable to say, thereby changing their relationships.

Teaching and communicating family psychology to students and professionals

When I was taking clinical psychology seminar classes as an undergraduate, I was interested in individual psychotherapy, particularly psychoanalysis. This is a psychotherapy technique that involves delving deeply into the unconscious level of an individual’s mental world. Within the field of psychoanalysis, I was interested in the concept of object loss (when an individual loses a person or thing or environment that was important to them). However, I felt that psychoanalysis lacked something as a means of understanding actual family problems and changes in relationships in real life. Just as I had started to consider going on to graduate school, I encountered a paper by a family therapist called Murray Bowen, entitled “Family Reaction to Death.” As a result, I gained a very good understanding of the interrelationship between an individual’s mental world as revealed by psychoanalysis, and family problems and relationships. Consequently, I developed an intense fascination with the world of family therapy.

Within the realm of psychology, the field of family psychology has only a short history at present and there are not so many universities where one can study it as a specialism. In my “Social, Group and Family Psychology II” class here at Meiji Gakuin, I teach the basic concepts and theory of family psychology, family therapy, and couples therapy. In particular, in the area of family life cycle theory, students learn about the fact that efforts to build a family in the future begin before an individual is married, when they are still single. I also teach students about problems relating to intimacy between newlyweds and marital discord over bringing up children.

I want to give students the opportunity through my classes and discussion with other students to take a fresh look at their relationships with their own families. Not only that, but I hope that they will also gain an understanding of the family in academic terms and cultivate the ability to think about it in the context of family and personal problems occurring in the world around us. However, what I talk about in my classes concerns the ways in which relationships between couples who must have got married because they loved each other deteriorate, based on my clinical experience and data, so students with unrealistic dreams about couples and marriage have their illusions shattered.

At graduate school level, we focus primarily on role-playing couples and family therapy group sessions. While psychotherapy role-play generally involves imagining one-on-one sessions between the counselor and the client, I train graduate students in my classes to envisage situations in which they are dealing with several family members. Opportunities for this kind of training are rare, not only at graduate school, but even after becoming a Certified Clinical Psychologist or Certified Public Psychologist.

In the arena of education and training, I regard supporting Certified Clinical Psychologists and Certified Public Psychologists working in clinical settings as another important role for me. There are still few professionals who studied family psychology at university or graduate school, so quite a few lack adequate knowledge of how to understand and help families. Accordingly, I am also devoting my energies to cultivating experts capable of understanding family problems and providing them with effective support. To this end, I provide supervision for Certified Clinical Psychologists and Certified Public Psychologists, and examine cases and give lectures at such facilities as children’s welfare centers, educational counseling centers, and family courts.

The impact of COVID-19 on family relationships

The COVID-19 pandemic is said to have affected family and marital relationships in various ways since it began last year. Temporary mass school closures and increases in home-working aimed at preventing the spread of the virus have meant that many families have been cooped up together in the cramped environment of their homes. It is not hard to imagine that this has resulted in growing stress, as conflicts and problems that could normally have been avoided by not spending time together have come to the surface. Preliminary figures from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare show that the number of cases of child abuse dealt with by children’s welfare centers across the country reached a record high of 205,029 in 2020 (as of the end of August 2021). Cases of child abuse were rising even before the pandemic and the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has affected these figures has not been verified, but its relationship to abuse and domestic violence is likely to be considerable.

And even where there is no abuse or domestic violence, I am sure there are many people who felt having everyone in the family at home was somehow stifling. When marital or family communication has gone badly, I recommend that people should attach importance to giving each other a little space. I think most people, when they hear the phrase “improving communication,” try to reduce the distance with the other person by talking to them more or increasing the time they spend together. However, in many cases, it is actually better to give each other space for calm consideration of oneself and the other person. Rather than getting too close, waiting it out and giving each other time and space is also an important element in maintaining a good relationship.

The ability to use time and space well is, however, likely to be highly dependent on such factors as one’s occupation and economic situation. Caution will likely be required when dealing with situations involving social issues that cannot be resolved by individual efforts.

Be patient with yourself and your family alike

The number of people seeking couples therapy prior to marriage has been slowly but surely growing of late, due to couples being uncertain about whether to get married or being anxious despite wanting to get married. A number of Western countries have psychological education programs targeted at premarital couples, with data showing that couples who participate in one of these programs before marriage have a lower divorce rate than those who do not. I, too, want to implement a program like this for couples who are not yet married, in order to support them in developing marital relationships that enable them to communicate properly before major problems arise.

In addition, I think it is really hard to bring up children in today’s society. There is huge pressure on people not to make mistakes in parenting and to bring up well-behaved children, and I am sure parents must feel as though they are constantly being stressed. There is also a tendency for parents to have excessively high expectations regarding their children’s future—about what kind of life they want them to lead, which school they should go to, what kind of person they should marry...that kind of thing. Of course, this is part of parental affection. However, I think there has been an increase in recent years in the number of children suffering due to their parents’ excessive hopes for them, and in the number of families experiencing a breakdown in marital or parent-child relationships. I believe that, to ensure good, close marital or parent-child relationships, it is better not to ask too much of the other person. Such relationships might become more comfortable if people accept both their own imperfections and weaknesses and those of their family members.