Charles Merrill, Ed.D

Professor, Psychology
Psychology Department

Sonoma State University


Office: 3092A Stevenson Hall
Department of Psychology
1801 East Cotati Ave.
Rohnert Park, California 94928
Office phone: (707) 664-2683
Office FAX: (707) 664-3113


Psychology 418, Spring 2006:

Course Description
Psychology 418/Spring 2006
Psychology of the Family
Charles Merrill, Ed.D.

TIME/PLACE : Tues. 8-11:40 Stevenson 2001
Office Hours: Mon. 11-12 and Tues. 1-2 707-664-2683

COURSE OBJECTIVES/CONTENT: Meaningful interpersonal relationships are essential to a fully lived life, and this course will explore in-depth the psychological nature of various significant relationships in families of origin and issues that emerge between partners in committed relationships.

The course should be academically of interest to students interested in careers in the helping professions such as psychological counseling, social work, and teaching. The course has an emphasis on personal development as well as theoretical learning. An important consideration in choosing this course is the student's openness to examining his/her significant family relationships along with more theoretical aspects about couple relationships and family systems dynamics.

MATERIALS USED: Intimate Worlds, by Maggie Scarf (Book available in SSU bookstore)

METHODS OF EVALUATION: Letter grade evaluations will include regular attendance, which is especially important since this class meets only once each week and will have a high level class participation, family systems project and exams over the readings, handouts, and class discussion and activities.

Attendance & reaction papers = 15 per cent

Quiz one (one third into semester) = 25 per cent

Quiz two (two thirds into semester) = 25 per cent

Final Project Presentation = 15 per cent

Final Project Paper = 25 per cent

Total = 100 per cent

Class Structure: The course has both academic and personal growth components. Sometimes it is difficult to integrate both of these aspects but we attempt to do so in this course. You will be expected to read the weekly assignments and be prepared to discuss the readings in class on the day assigned. We will introduce the subject for the day but may not expound at length on the readings. We will give some presentations but much of the time you will be expected to participate in the large and small discussion of the assigned readings.

Attendance: Since we will be working together in some experiential way each week, it is imperative that you be here for every class except for an emergency or illness. So please be on time. Note that attendance and any reaction papers account for a significant percent of the course.

If you miss more than two unexcused class absences during the semester you will be subject to your final grade being lowered . In other words, I want you to make a commitment to your fellow students and most of all to yourself to be present each week. The learning and experiential work will not be satisfactory unless all are present.

Miscellaneous: Please do not schedule medical appointments, advising appointments, or other meetings during class time. These are our only meetings each week and I want all of you present and hopefully engaged. I want you will have a rewarding learning experience in psychology of the family this semester.

If you leave class at the break and do not return, you will be considered absent for that session. If there is a personal emergency or you are ill then speak to us about it before you leave.

A word about office hours: I will have regular office hours posted by my door with an appointment sheet. Drop in is ok but sign-ups are preferred. Check the schedule after the first week because they might change.


Project Guidelines
Guidelines for Project Paper
Psych 418 Psychology of the Family
Charles Merrill, Ed.D.

When researching and writing your papers, please keep the following points in mind. I am interested in your writing about your family from a psychological perspective more than from a descriptive genealogical one.

Please use this project as an opportunity to learn more about your family of origin and use it as a foundation on which to build your future relationships, both with family and with significant others.

Psychological Perspective: When I think about a psychological perspective, I am referring to how your family of origin functions and how you have been influenced by their dynamics. Maybe you are from a family were people have been open with their communication. How has that modeling influenced you? On the other hand, your family may have not valued clear and open communication and you may have had to read the non-verbal or angry signals or perhaps indirect signals.

Systems Thinking: When researching, think about the overall system of your family. How did your parents and grandparents deal with stress and with each other? Think about dynamics across generations. Who relates to whom? Is there a "black sheep" in the family? How has your family of origin evolved? Were you the first to go college? Were you the first child to find yourself in an unconventional relationship? i.e. maybe a gay relationship or an inter-racial one. Watch for patterns that repeat themselves across generations or within a nuclear family. Does alcohol or domestic violence play into the development of your family. Were you physically and/or emotionally abused?

Family Legacies: Each family of origin may have a family myth that is communicated to the children, sometimes across generations. This myth may be as simple as bringing everyone together for special holidays and events. It may be as complicated as communicating that secrets are to be kept inside the family boundaries. Some families get the message over to children that everyone works very hard with very little to show for it. Perhaps work is valued only if there is something to show such as material success or recognition.

Your Role: Think about your position in the family and what you might be able to do as an offspring to change one or more of the dynamics in your family. You may find yourself in a strategic position to influence your siblings, parents, and perhaps other family members. You can be an agent of change even though you are part of the family system.

This power of your role may become more apparent when you are no longer living at home or when you have more financial and emotional independence. On-the-other-hand, do not rule out your positive or negative impact even if you are still living under your parent's roof.

For example, I never realized how much power I had in my family as an only child until I moved away to college and into my own employment. As my parents grew older, I became more of a parent to them or at least an advisor and somewhat of a caretaker.

Technical Points: The length is open, but a guideline might be to think in terms of 6-8 pages with a 12 pt. Font double spaced with one inch margins.

I think it is more important to write what makes sense to you and to go for the most important aspects. You could go on and on about your family dynamics, but I am interested in your focusing on the most important aspects that are important to you.

I may ask you to select a portion of your project to share orally with a small group of class members. I may also ask you to share one or two most important learning experiences with the class as a whole.

Your genogram should be a pictorial view of your family relationships. I would like for you bring it to the class on the appropriate days when we are talking about what we learned from the family research and writing. I will let you know.