Our family is often our sole support, our place to turn in times of joy and in sadness. But sometimes the family unit isn’t functioning correctly. All sorts of factors can affect how family members feel about one another, react to one another, care for one another. And when things go wrong, that’s when being together can become a huge challenge.
There are many ways to react to family discord. Some just let it fester and it never really gets better. Others try on their own to fix things and it doesn’t always work. Still, other families turn to an outside individual to assist with problem solving and healing and, often, when family members are truly invested in making amends and fixing the discomfort, seeking the help of a professional becomes the key to restoring family harmony.
What does family therapy offer?
In simple terms, family therapy provides a way for families to develop and maintain a healthy, well-functioning relationship. It helps individual family members recognize that whether they were born into a dysfunctional family or to a family that went from healthy to unhealthy, they do not need to accept the status quo. It IS possible to gain or regain a sense of happiness and togetherness once again.
That might sound sappy to some, but the reality is that families are important and being part of a well-functioning one can mean the different between a life that runs smoothly – free of depression and anxiety – and one that weighs heavily on each individual and affects not only their mental health but their physical well-being also.
Why visit a family therapist?
There are a number of indications that family counseling may be the way to go and many issues that can be addressed with therapy, including:
- Child/teen behavioral problems
- Domestic violence
- Marital conflicts (especially those impacting the entire family)
- Substance abuse
- Unexpected illness or sudden death
- LGBTQ+ issues
- Divorce or separation
- Parenting issues
- Step family difficulties
- Financial issues
The therapist is usually consulted in order to address a specific problem or set of similar problems but often finds that many issues that impact a family are intertwined. For example, a family dealing with a teen with substance abuse issues may also be suffering from marital conflicts, stress, financial problems, and anxiety. At that point, the therapist will need to decide how to address each individual challenge and in what order.
As such, different kinds of therapy may be employed.
Types of family therapy
Most often, one or more of the four most common types of family therapy are used to address problems involving both adults and children.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is used in an attempt to change the way people think or behave in order to ease or eliminate the problem(s) they are facing. Often, the therapist gives each family member tasks to complete.
- Supportive family therapy promotes open discussion between family members. Each is encouraged to express their feelings about the problem(s) affecting the entire family. Because there is a therapist present to act as a mediator, supportive therapy provides a safe and open place for sharing one’s views and feelings. The therapist will likely interject with some helpful, practical advice.
- Systemic family therapy places emphasis on the feelings of the entire family. The therapist will look to identify the problems within a family dynamic and will gauge the ideas and attitudes of the entire family in order to discover what’s going on with the family as a whole. Once he/she has a handle on what’s happening, the therapist will do his/her best to shift attitudes and relationships to a more beneficial position.
- Psychodynamic therapy looks into each individual’s own subconscious and attempts to reduce problems that are on-the-surface by uncovering underlying problems. Often, the real reasons for family struggles can be identified through this type of therapy.
What should we expect?
If you’re considering family therapy, it’s important to make sure that everyone is on board with the decision or that most of your family members are amenable to outside intervention.
It’s also important to note that solutions fostered by family therapy could take a while to manifest though many find that such therapy is frequently short term. Your chosen therapist can better project the length of therapy needed.
Family therapy may also be used in conjunction with individual or couples therapy, depending on the situations to be addressed. The best way to determine in which direction to proceed would be to schedule an individual or group consultation with an experienced family therapist. That person can make suggestions as to what types of therapy may be most successful and how often you should meet or approximately how many sessions would be appropriate.
Remember to look for an individual who has worked with adults, adolescents, and children and don’t hesitate to ask for referrals or other background information regarding their experience.