Family therapy seeks to reduce distress and conflict by improving the ways family members communicate and interact with each other. It enables your family members, couples and others who care about each other to express and explore difficult thoughts and emotions safely, to understand each other’s experiences and views, appreciate each other’s needs, build on strengths and make helpful changes in your relationships and your lives.
What distinguishes family therapy from individual therapy is that it views the family as the focus of treatment rather than focusing on an individual family member who is presenting symptoms. This type of therapy views problems as repeating patterns of communication or interactions that prevent you and your partner or you and your family from having the closeness and happiness that you want and deserve, rather than something being “wrong” with a specific person in your family. Family therapy is focused on achieving the goals that you set and uses the strengths of each member of your family to reach those goals. And “family” is defined by the modern family therapist as anyone who plays a long-term supportive role in one’s life, which may or may not mean blood relations or family members in the same household.
The family can be both a great source of support for people but also a source of distress, misunderstanding and pain. Family therapy and a systemic approach is the treatment of choice whenever the aim is to enhance the ability of your family members to communicate with and support each other. Enabling family members to use your resources more efficiently in a supportive way can also be vital in helping you and your family manage transitions or stressful life events.
Research shows family therapy is useful for children, young people and adults experiencing a very wide range of difficulties and challenges. It can be an ideal method for helping your family adjust to someone struggling with an addiction, medical issue or mental health diagnosis. Other common reasons for seeking family therapy include:
when a child is having a problem such as with behavior problems, school, substance abuse, or disordered eating
a major trauma or change that impacts the entire family (i.e. relocation to a new house, natural disaster, incarceration of a family member, etc)
expected, unexpected or traumatic loss of a family member
adjustment to a new family member in the home (i.e. birth of a sibling, adoption, foster children, a grandparent entering the home, etc)
separation and divorce
All families have a structure, and each family member has a role in this structure. The family structure is determined by the rules by which the family functions. All families have formal rules that may include things like bedtime, mealtimes, or how to get permission to do things. All families also have informal or unspoken rules. These may include things like what family members are permitted to talk about, how much family members can get away with breaking the formal rules, or who the favorite child is. The unspoken rules can be used to cover up family secrets like substance abuse, family violence, mental health problems, or other difficulties, but they can also exist as ways that parents or children get their own way when their basic needs are not being met. Working with a family therapist, you can identify these family dynamics and unspoken rules, as well as whatever problems that cause them to be the way they are. Once your family learns to understand the things that interfere with your relationships with one another, you’ll be able to find ways to better cope.
In short, this is the role and purpose of family therapy, to help preserve families by helping to rebuild relationships and make them stronger. By teaching self-understanding, and promoting communication, empathy and understanding between family members, each member of your family stands a better chance of going on to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
The family is one of the most basic and important units in society. Isn’t preserving this worth the time and effort?