Even with all the love in the world, family is complicated. Often members of families have different temperaments, sensitivities, and communication styles. Navigating those differences can be challenging. It’s difficult to honor our own and one another’s needs at the same time— especially when we as parents never had our own parents model how to do so.
When you’re so close to something it’s hard to see things clearly. Family therapy can help parents, children, and siblings learn to communicate and understand one another. A family therapist can help family members see how they influence one another’s behavior. Often we can’t see how our behavior and communication is actually creating the very behaviors of our family members that hurt us.
It can be easy to scapegoat one family member as the cause of all the family’s problems. But in family therapy, we focus on the system as a whole— the complex dynamics between all family members that create a broken system. Rather than focusing on one member’s problems, we examine how the entire system needs to heal. As we heal the system, each family member’s needs can be met and we can restore the family’s sense of closeness and peace.
FAMILY THERAPY PRINCIPLESFamily therapy is based on the following principles:
- The family is a unique social system with its own structure and patterns of communication. Many factors determine these patterns including the parents’ beliefs and values, the personalities of the family members, and the influence of the extended family (grandparents, aunts, and uncles). As a result of these variables, each family develops its own unique personality which is powerful and affects all of its members.
- Problems in one family member may be a symptom of a larger family problem. To treat only the member who is identified as having a problem is like treating the symptom of a disease but not the disease itself. New problems will emerge if the entire family system is not treated.
- Any change in one member of the family affects both the family structure and each member individually. Health/Mental care professionals who use the family systems model in caring for people always consider the whole family. They view any problem in one member as a symptom of change or conflict in the group.
THE PURPOSE OF FAMILY THERAPYFamily therapy can:
- Teach family members about how families (in general and their own) function.
- Help you improve troubled relationships with your spouse, children, or other family members.
- Help the family focus less on the scapegoated member and more on the family as a whole.
- Strengthen all family members so they can work on their problems together.
- Help to identify underlying conflicts and anxieties as well as provide strategies to resolve them.
- Provide family members with tools to handle conflicts and changes within the family differently.
- Teach family members communication skills to deepen family connections, understand one another better, and bring you closer together, even after you’re done going to therapy sessions.
FAMILY THERAPY TREATMENTFamily therapy has been used successfully to treat many different types of families in many different situations, including specific issues in which:
- The parents have conflict within their relationship (marital or financial problems).
- There is a conflict between parents and children.
- A child has behavioral or school problems.
- Children or teens have problems getting along with each other.
- One family member has a long-term (chronic) mental illness or substance abuse problem, such as severe depression or an alcohol use problem which impacts the whole family.
- When families anticipate a major change in their lives (for example in divorce and blended families).
FAMILY THERAPY FOCUSIn family therapy we will focus on:
- Your family’s ability to solve problems and express thoughts and feelings.
- Family roles, rules, taboos, and behavior patterns to identify issues that contribute to conflict — and ways to work through these issues.
- Your family’s strengths, such as caring for one another, and weaknesses, such as difficulty confiding in one another.
- Family’s strengths are used to help handle problems and all members take responsibility for problems.
- Family members are often given assignments to remain active in therapy (for example, parents may be asked to delegate more responsibilities to their children).
- The family and the therapist set goals they hope to accomplish together.
- The family can pursue other types of adjunctive therapy treatment, especially if one member has a mental illness or addiction that also requires individual therapy or rehabilitation treatment.