News Story

Latter-day Saints Celebrate International Day of Families

What a single, well-travelled woman can teach us about families

“A family is a group of individuals who are bound by strong emotional ties, a sense of belonging and a passion for being involved in one another’s lives.” — Dr. Lorraine M. Wright

What does it take to become an expert on families? Dr. Lorraine M. Wright, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, international lecturer and professor emeritus of nursing, University of Calgary, has spent her entire career involved with families experiencing serious illness. She has travelled to more than 80 countries, lecturing and consulting with health care professionals about how to assist families who are suffering. Below are excerpts from a recent interview with Wright, reflecting on the International Day of Families.

The International Day of Families, observed by the United Nations on May 15, is a day to recognize and celebrate families. This day “provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase the knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families” (

The United Nations recognizes that families and family-oriented policies and programs are vital for achieving many of the U.N. development goals (see “At the international level, the family is appreciated but not prioritized in development efforts. … There seems to be a consensus on the fact that, so far, the stability and cohesiveness of communities and societies largely rest on the strength of the family” (Report of the UN Secretary General, 2010).

Latter-day Saints believe the family is the most basic and important unit in society and ordained of God. The family is recognized as a potential source of strength and support. In The Family Proclamation, Latter-day Saint leaders “call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Dr. Lorraine M. Wright

Families Have a Profound Impact

Dr. Lorraine M. Wright grew up in a three-generational family. “My maternal grandmother lived with us all my childhood, and my mother worked outside of our home. This made us an unusual family in the 1950s. The fact that my grandmother suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis and our family rotated around her chronic pain had a profound impact on me. When my grandmother was pain free, we were happy, and when she was not, we all suffered. I think my choice to initially become a nurse had a lot to do with the fact that my grandmother suffered with chronic illness. I think because of my own experience, I gravitated towards working with families with illness.”


“As a young nurse, I loved mental health nursing. After finishing my RN in Calgary, I went to Vancouver, where I worked on a psychiatric unit and loved it. That was the trigger for me that led me back to university and to complete a master’s in mental health, psychiatric nursing,” said Wright.

 “As I looked around where I could study,” continued Wright, “there were two programs that interested me, one in Denver and one in Hawaii. I thought, Why can’t I get a degree and a tan at the same time? So off I went to the University of Hawaii! I’m so grateful for my nursing professors who introduced me to family therapy and interactional thinking. It was the perfect fit. That was the beginning of my tremendous interest in family work.”

During her time in Hawaii, Wright joined the Latter-day Saint community. “I loved our church’s emphasis on the family and family life. After completing my master’s degree, I thought, I want more knowledge about working with families. I learned that Brigham Young University (BYU) had a PhD program in marriage and family therapy. I also heard that if you go to BYU, you can obtain not only a degree but also a husband. I thought that was a good deal. ‘I’ll go and acquire a PhD and a husband.’ So, I went and obtained my PhD degree, but alas, finding a husband didn’t materialize!”

Wright received her PhD in marriage and family therapy and started a rewarding academic career working with families. “It was amazing,” she said.

Dream Job

Wright worked for 28 years as a professor in the University of Calgary’s Faculties of Nursing and Medicine and as the director of the Family Nursing Unit, an outpatient clinic with the sole purpose of softening suffering of families experiencing emotional, physical or spiritual suffering. “It was a dream job to work with families experiencing serious illness,” she said.

Wright eventually retired from the university but not from her career. She decided to continue sharing her knowledge and experience with others by lecturing and conducting workshops. To that end, she has travelled nationally and internationally, offering lectures and workshops about families and illness beliefs, illness suffering and spirituality, and family clinical practices that invite healing.

Wright has given over 300 presentations at national and international nursing, family health and family therapy conferences and has written 10 books. She has travelled to more than 81 countries, including throughout Europe, the British Isles, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Qatar and the United States. “My goal is to visit 100 countries to learn more about illness suffering, illness beliefs of families in various cultures and offer that knowledge to my health care professional colleagues.” She also continues to do private clinical practice with families and individuals, plus conducts demonstration interviews with families during her workshops.

Families Around the World

As Wright has travelled and interviewed families, she has learned that “suffering in families is no respecter of culture, country, gender, age or ethnicity. The same is true for strengths. All families in all countries possess strengths, often unacknowledged or unappreciated.”

“All families I’ve had the privilege to meet in 81 countries want to give meaningful life and love to their families. Life is much more challenging in poor countries, but the desire in all countries is the same — to find meaning and purpose and intimate connection in their lives.”

Lessons Learned

Wright is always eager to learn from other cultures about their beliefs about families, illness, health and spiritual rituals and practices. “There is no question I have learned a lot, both personally and professionally, from working with families. One of the biggest learnings I have had is that all families have strengths. It sounds so simple.”

 “As a teacher, I put a moratorium on describing families as dysfunctional, resistant or noncompliant. These descriptors are disrespectful. It doesn’t give us any direction on how to help a family. If you believe that all families have strengths, you will look for them.”

While working with families, Wright discovered that our beliefs about illness matter. “What people believe either invites or softens their illness suffering. If families believe they have strengths to manage a problem, they deal and manage very differently than if they believe they have been a bad family or that God is punishing them.” Wright knows through her research that our beliefs are at the heart of illness, suffering and healing.

“Another one of the most significant learnings about families is that curiosity cancels judgmentalism. I’ve learned that when I’m curious about families and their culture, beliefs, faith, etc., then there is no judgmentalism or “othering.” Curious compassion is really loving families without judgment.” For Wright, it has been her life’s work with families internationally that has removed any judgementalism she had about what is a “good family” or what is the best way for families to function. “Health professionals often possess fixed ideas and beliefs about how families should be, rather than letting them be who they are and offering ideas of how to soften their suffering.”

Helping Families — Education and Poverty

The International Day of Families is a time of celebration, but it is also a time for serious conversations about some of the challenges that families face around the world. When asked about the challenges faced by families, Dr. Wright replied, “If we really want to help families, we must deal with poverty, as it affects every aspect of family life and particularly hopes and dreams.

“To lift children out of poverty, you need to educate their mothers. If mothers are educated, they are empowered and uplifted and, in turn, empower their children to reach their potential. Women around the world tend to determine the optimum functioning of families. Lifting people out of poverty is the greatest game changer that you can do for families and their future.”

Don’t Forget Single People

“It has been amazing to sit in family homes from Qatar to Japan to Bangladesh. I feel grateful that as a single person, I’ve spent my life helping families.”

Dr. Wright emphasized remembering single people when thinking about family. “Single people are the fastest growing in terms of census households. Single people do have families — again, not the traditional kind, but a mix of blood relations and non-blood. Some of my single friends will say, ‘Well, I don’t have a family.” And I’ll respond, ‘Yes, you do. Who do you think of as family?’ Yes, single people do have a family.”

Celebrating International Day of Family

When asked how we might celebrate the International Day of Families, Wright suggests, “Learn about one family in your midst who is not of your faith or culture or ethnicity. And if possible, invite them for an ice cream cone.Getting to know a family who is dissimilar from us is certainly a great way to celebrate the day.

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