In this life, we are either born into or select our own families, with each member influencing each and every aspect of our lives. We may seek validation and approval from them. We may lean on them for support. We learn to love and live by what we witness and experience with our families.
And so, when a family member feels broken, or the unit as a whole seems to be crumbling, family therapy – a group effort to address and make changes to current, possibly damaging situations – becomes a necessity.
What is family therapy?
Family therapy, or family counseling, affords the entire family unit the opportunity to address issues affecting everyone in a safe space. Family therapy can be useful in times of great trauma or difficulty, like behavioral problems in certain family members, or a major life change like death or divorce. While other forms of therapy are designed to examine one single individual, family therapy focuses on the entire group and its dynamic, how all members function together.
Family therapy is not limited to those who are related to one another by blood or marriage; family members can also be considered those who play a significant and long-term role in the support of another.
What kinds of therapy are available?
Family therapy employs a variety of techniques not dissimilar to those of individual therapy. There are four main types of family therapy, including Bowenian, structural, strategic and systemic. These therapies are designed to help the members become less emotionally reactive, or to set boundaries, or to adjust the way each member interacts with one another.
Why should the family attend therapy together?
If the family seems to be falling to pieces, and there is a desire from every member to make it right and put it back together, family therapy can be invaluable. Family-focused mental health professionals will help families improve the way they communicate, solve problems and simply create a more positive, effective living environment.
For families who are experiencing stress as a unit, such as the death of a loved one, alcoholism or bankruptcy, family therapy will likely be a viable option to heal the family’s wounds and move toward a more positive, happier future.
For those families who are witnessing a loved one suffering from severe addiction or another form of serious mental illness, it is probably best to ensure that the individual seek psychotherapy; family therapy can then be used to supplement other forms of primary care.
Who should seek family therapy?
Dawn and Jim Acres have four children, one of whom is a cancer survivor. Another is severely autistic. The couple chose to attend family therapy as a united group of six when it became evident that caring for two high-needs children was placing great, inescapable strain on the entire household.
“I think people believe that attending family therapy means you’re at the breaking point, and it’s a last ditch effort to save the family,” observes Dawn. “And that may be true for some.
“But for us, we never wanted to separate. We needed help trying to figure out how to support each other and also feel supported. To have an understanding of boundaries and deeper empathy for one another was huge.”
“It’s a long term crisis, dealing with sick children,” adds Jim. “Seeking out a counselor to see us through this really reduced the tension in the household. We stopped blaming each other. We stopped feeling alone, because we were reminded we’re in this together.”