There are many reactions people may have to the thought of family therapy which often depends on the presenting need for treatment. There are numerous factors that bring a family to treatment and while many people may hold feelings of hope and willingness, others may have fears and misconceptions which cause them to run for the hills with the very thought of family therapy. Many people fear that they will be blamed, feel vulnerable or isolated in the process. Others may have their own view of what family therapy will be like based on the portrayal in the media, stories they have heard from others, or their own past experiences in individual therapy. So, let’s review some facts and insights that may help reduce potential fears and help you learn what you can expect from family therapy.
Family therapy is a specialized strength-based approach to both supporting and challenging a family unit to develop improved communication, healthy boundaries, increased empathy, conflict resolution skills and build greater insight into their family’s relational patterns. Although one member of the family may be struggling with symptoms which prompts treatment, family therapy does not focus on the issue residing in a single person but supports the need for adjustments within the family system. Family therapy has been sought out to help with issues including but not limited to:
- Family conflict among two or more members of the family
- Child or adolescent challenges including substance use, school refusal, eating disorders, mental illness or oppositional-defiant behaviors.
- Parental substance abuse or mental illness
- Experiences of grief, loss and bereavement
- Medical illnesses and disability
- Experiencing or witnessing trauma
- Adjustment to life events and/or familial transitions
My approach to family therapy is based on Structural Family Therapy, founded by Salvador Minuchin, who states that, “Symptoms occur within a context of relational interactions.” Structural family therapy requires that the therapist actively “joins” the family in support of organizing roles, healthy boundaries, distribution of authority, closeness and communication. Structural family therapy is a psychotherapeutic approach that fosters an environment at home which allows for continued growth even after session is over.
Modern families are varied in their composition and it is recommended to include as many family members within your home as possible in treatment sessions. This will maintain a strong commitment to working within the structure of the family unit. Although one person within the family may be the client who is motivating the need for family therapy, all members will be important participants in treatment for the family system. Family sessions are an hour in length and held once per week. Treatment is short-term and the total length of time in treatment varies based on the treatment goals of each family. Family sessions are held in a supportive environment for all members of the family to express their emotions freely and inspires respect, tolerance and growth.
By: Janine Lalancette, MSW, LCSW
The Craft of Family Therapy: Challenging Certainties by Salvador Minuchin, Michael D. Reiter and Charmaine Borda.