Most people understand the concept of traditional one-on-one therapy even if they have never sought the help of a mental health professional. When an entire family attends therapy sessions, the dynamics change. How does family counseling work with multiple viewpoints, concerns, and feelings to express? It’s true that family therapy is no longer a simple dialogue between two people. However, many of the goals of family therapy are the same as with individual therapy.
The main goal is to bring the family unit together as a cohesive group of individuals. Identifying each member’s unique gifts is part of that process. Every family has different challenges and strengths, so the best approach to family therapy includes an individualized therapy program. Customized treatment helps ensure your family receives the support it deserves.
Who Needs Family Therapy?
For better or worse, family influences what we believe and who we become. The first relationships we have are with family members, and they teach us how to interact with others. We also learn how to receive and express love from our families of origin.
All families struggle now and then, and even parents who are emotionally healthy don’t always have the answer to every challenge life brings. People who are fortunate enough to be born into a family where healthy relationships are a priority have a better chance of connecting with others, even if their family dynamics aren’t always perfect.
Those with dysfunctional families may have a more difficult time. An inability to connect and communicate can negatively affect every aspect of life, from education and career to personal relationships.
Almost every family can benefit from the skills they learn in therapy, but some of the most common reasons people seek out a family therapist include:
- Domestic violence
- Conflict between parents (disagreements on child-rearing)
- Trouble adjusting to a major change, such as moving
- Substance use disorder of a parent, child, or another family member
- Changes in family life, such as a new baby, a marriage, or a grandparent moving into the household
Like couples therapy, the main goal of family therapy is to help the family function as a unit. The goal is not to single out a specific family member and “fix” them. It is to help members of the family work together as a unit and recognize each individual’s contribution to the whole.
What to Expect During Family Counseling
During the first session, your therapist will spend time getting to know each member of the family and trying to understand the problem from their perspective. Part of the therapist’s job is to determine how pain from past events has interfered with the family’s ability to communicate and led them to practice unhealthy behaviors.
By the end of the first session, the family therapist should be able to identify key problems and make suggestions about how to address those problems. With the family’s agreement, the therapist will lay out a course of action for moving forward.
Preparing for Family Therapy
There are a few steps you can take to prepare for your first meeting.
Explain to the family why you are seeking therapy together. Even younger children can be involved in the conversation so that they will be better prepared for the event. Stay positive and avoid singling out any family member as the “reason” for family therapy. Instead, focus on how therapy will help the family communicate better.
Write down your questions and the most urgent topics of discussion. It’s easy to become emotional or forgetful once you are actually in the therapist’s office. Writing down a few points for preparation will help the process run more smoothly and ensure the most important issues are included from the beginning.
If there is something difficult you want to address right away, write it down before the therapy appointment, especially if you believe your words won’t be well-received by one or more other family members.
Writing it gives you the opportunity to edit your statement, making sure you are speaking in a gentle and empathetic but still truthful way. If the person you are addressing becomes angry or feels defensive, the therapist will help you work through the moment.
Prepare for honesty. There’s little to gain from family therapy if you’re not willing to be open and honest about what you are feeling and experiencing inside the family dynamic. It is natural to feel hesitant early in the process. It takes time to build trust with a therapist and the therapeutic process.
Does Family Counseling Work?
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five adults in the U.S. and one in five adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder. That means approximately 20% of all American families are dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and substance use disorders — often without support.
Family therapy doesn’t automatically solve all of your family’s problems, but it does help provide you with the tools to communicate effectively and offer meaningful support to family members who may be in pain.
It helps the family cope with challenging situations and improves the sense of family togetherness. When each member knows they are loved and valued despite imperfections, they feel more confident and are more willing to interact with others in a positive way.
Types of Family Therapy
There are several different techniques and approaches to family therapy.
Bowenian family therapy teaches participants how to be less emotionally reactive and is well-suited for situations where not all family members can or want to be involved with the process.
Structural therapy focuses on strengthening the family unit and setting appropriate boundaries.
The systemic therapy model focuses on the meanings behind behaviors and encourages deep dives into unconscious communications.
Strategic therapy is meant to be direct and brief. Families get homework assignments that are intended to improve the way they communicate and make group decisions.
The most effective therapy programs combine different techniques to create a customized treatment plan that specifically addresses each family’s weaknesses while also promoting their strengths.
If you think family therapy might help your family, Blackhawk Family Development Center can help. Our team of clinicians uses an integrative and strength-based approach to diagnosis and treatment. Contact us today to learn more.