Sound Opinions

How Entrainment Explains Family Therapy

Prepare to dive deep into the blog of big words and geek out on the science of entrainment. Entrainment is fundamental to the influence of family therapy. However, the concept of entrainment has never been formally introduced in the field of family therapy or family systems theory, but it is an fact – a perfect fit.

So what is Entrainment?

Since my interest is in music, let’s take the biomusicological approach to entrainment, which explains the rhythmic synchronicity of sound. That is a crazy cool concept.

Entrainment is why we instinctively tap our foot when we hear music, unconsciously match someones tone when talking, and how we can identify a collective rhythm of a crowd clapping.

Check out what happens when multiple unsynchronized metronomes are placed on a suspended platform (1:24). Wait for it…

The discovery of this phenomenon traces back to two pendulum clocks that synchronized despite originating from offset motions. This occurs as the clock with the slightly higher resonance is followed by the lowest.

In other words, entrainment is the process where individual parts of a system follow the one with the highest frequency.

Despite the complex understanding of entrainment, we can simplify it by stating, “If you are loud, I can match you, or get louder”.

In a healthy family system this may be helpful. Imagine the parent who suffers from a chronic illness and may be resting in hospice. The needs of this person are so great, the entire family adjusts his or her role to support and accommodate the comfort of the sufferer. The entire system shifts to the ill patient. Likewise, the needs of the person in the supportive role grows heavy and often benefits from more support so he or she can experience healthy grief.

In an unhealthy system, the teen that acts out often does so in reaction to his or her parents. When parents fight or parent poorly for any reason, the kids often display negative behaviors. This is a classic example for family therapists. A parent brings in the noncompliant teen, but is asked to participate in treatment. Why? Entrainment tells us that we need to assess the tune of the parents to understand the behaviors of the kids.

As a parent of a 3-year-old, entrainment is no stranger to my household. On too many occasions, when my son throws his classic toddler-tantrum I often find my tone increases, my demands grow louder, and before I know it – I too am throwing a tantrum. Soon the baby (we also have a 7-month-old) will start to cry – in walks my wife thinking, “WTF happened in here!?” In short, we were just as synced as the video of the metronomes.

Family therapy is designed to help you identify the tone of your family system. We are like the sound engineer in a recording studio equalizing the uniqueness of each musician’s craft to make one beautiful sound.

Next time my son throws a tantrum; I will continue to practice healthy and alternative ways to increase my power as a parent. I will make an effort to stay grounded, respond and not react, and make better parenting choices designed to match his intensity. In other words, my goal is to make the often-unconscious process of entrainment, conscious.

If that fails, I’ll employ a family therapist.

You can start here…

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