The film When Harry Met Sally’ is a love story portrayed as taking place over a decade. Initially, both characters find one another generally unlikable and largely incompatible with one another. At the same time, Harry admits to Sally that he finds her physically attractive. But then he shares a personal belief with her that more or less doubles as a theme the film goes on to explore in great detail. His belief is succinctly captured in this quote from the movie: “You realize of course that we could never be friends… men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” This question about the possibility of male-female friendship in the face of male heterosexuality becomes a motif the film explores from the opening scenes through to the finale.
The theme is first introduced in the couple’s dialogue on a road trip they take together as strangers to New York City after graduating from the University of Chicago. This tension between platonic possibilities between men and women and erotic masculine compulsion is repeatedly introduced throughout the film as the duo’s bond evolves from friendship to confused lovers to committed spouses.
On the surface, the film is a love story. In my view, this popular assessment is fair but superficial. Instead, I posit that the film is better understood as a movie about how a man and a woman, each governed by heteronormativity, cope with both (a) ambivalent feelings about .intimacy and (b) existential fears of loneliness. To help both Harry and Sally deal with these issues, I would employ Salvador Minuchin’s Structural Family Therapy (Minuchin et al. 2013). This approach to treatment focuses on identifying patterns of interaction that cause and embed problems within family and couple relationships (Minuchin et al. 2013, pg. 11).
The goal of treatment is to alter these patterns of interaction not necessarily to change the people engaged in the therapeutic process (Minuchin et al. 2013, pg. 4). In Minuchin’s approach, a key means to effecting change in relationship patterns is the identification “ and ultimately the challenging “ of latent or implicit rules that relationship members follow without necessarily being able to consciously articulate that their behavior is rule conforming.
Importantly, the therapist is encouraged to become a participant observer of familial interactions and relationships, working to become an active member of the treatment process with clients (Minuchin et al. 2013, pg. 5). This immersion by the therapist in the family interactional patterns helps him or her to better understand the system as an insider does. Equally important, it also helps the therapist to nudge the family towards change while also enabling the therapist to strengthen a revised structure and rules at the same time (Minuchin et al. 2013, pg. 11).
Being an utter novice, the treatment approach I’d take would follow steps advocated for by Minuchin himself. As indicated above, a key facet of my approach would be to challenge the couple’s conception of their interpersonal problem.
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