Family Therapy

We all begin our lives with a family, whether that family comprises of blood relations, adopted parents, relatives, or a foster family.

The family that we acquire influences each and every aspect of our lives, from our first moments to our last.

Our family significantly affects who we are and who we become, for better or for worse; the language we speak, the food we eat, our personality, customs and rituals, and how we view and observe the world around us.

We also learn how to love and interact with others from these initial relationships.

If we are born into a wholesome family with healthy relationships, we are likely to learn how to maintain healthy relationships as well following healthy lifestyle.

Whereas if we are born into a dysfunctional family with unhealthy relationships that struggle to connect, we may also struggle to communicate with others.

While it is certainly unfortunate to be born into the later kind of family, it is not an unchangeable situation. Almost every family deals with some sort of issue or dysfunction at one time or another, yet most regain a sense of happiness and wholeness.

Family therapy offers families a way to do this, maintain and develop a healthy, functional family.

What is Family therapy?

Family

A type of psychotherapy designed for families going through a tough time, whether due to anger, stress, or grief. It is also intended to identify toxic family patterns that contribute to behavioral disorders or mental illness and help family members rectify those habits.

It should be noted that in family therapy or counseling, the term ‘family’ does not necessarily have to mean blood relatives. In this context, ‘family’ is anyone who “plays a significant long-term role in one’s life, which may not imply blood relations or family members of the same household.”

  • It can help couples, children, or members of an extended family learn to communicate better and work through conflicts.
  • Unexpected illness, death, or unemployment;
  • Interpersonal conflicts within couples or families;
  • Maintaining or developing a healthy romantic relationship at any stage;
  • Divorce or separation;
  • Behavioral problems in/with children;
  • Mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
  • Substance abuse or addiction;

How does family therapy work?

A type of psychotherapy designed for families going through a tough time, whether due to anger, stress, or grief. It is also intended to identify toxic family patterns that contribute to behavioral disorders or mental illness and help family members rectify those habits.

In family therapy/ counseling, the term ‘family’ does not necessarily have to mean blood relatives. In this context, ‘family’ is anyone who “plays a significant long-term role in one’s life, which may not imply blood relations or family members of the same household.”

Family therapy can employ various approaches and techniques from interpersonal therapy, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, or other types of individual therapy. Just as with other types of therapy treatments, the techniques used will depend on the specific problems the client(s) are dealing with.

In order to treat family issues, the therapist will:

  • Observe how people interact within units;
  • Evaluate and resolve relationship problems;
  • Highlight problematic relational or behavioral patterns;
  • Help replace dysfunctional behaviors with healthy alternatives;
  • Guide clients through transitional crises such as children (born or growing up), divorce, or death;
  • Diagnose and treat any psychological disorders within the family context;
  • Take a holistic (mind and body) approach to wellness

Common types of family therapy:

Family Tree

Bowenian

This form of family therapy is favorable for situations wherein the client cannot or does not want to involve other family members in the therapy. The basis of Bowenian therapy is built on two fundamental concepts:

  1. Triangulation (to vent or distress by talking to a third party) and
  2. Differentiation (learning to become less emotionally vulnerable and reactive in family relationships)

Structural

Structural therapy focuses on regulating and strengthening the family system for proper management, communication, and setting healthy boundaries. In this type of therapy, the therapist joins the family to observe, learn, improve, and strengthen the family’s relationships.

Systemic

The Systemic therapy model refers to the type of therapy that focuses on the unconscious communications and underlying meanings behind the behaviors of family members. The therapist in this form of treatment remains neutral and distant, allowing the family members themselves to dive deeper into their problems as a family;

Strategic

This type of therapy is typically more brief and direct than the rest, wherein the therapist assigns tasks and homework to perform in between the sessions to the family. This homework is intended to modify the way family members interact by assessing and adjusting the way they communicate with one another and make decisions. The therapist takes the position of authority, allowing other family members who may not usually hold as much power to communicate their thoughts and views more effectively.

The goal of Family Therapy:

Stick Together

The main goal of family therapy is to work together to overcome and heal any mental, emotional, or psychological problems tearing the family apart.

Family therapists aim to improve communication, solve family problems, understand and handle family situations, and create a complacent and better functioning home environment to guide a family towards a healthy life.

The goals and approach of family therapy depend on the presenting issues of the clients. For instance:

  1. A family member is suffering from autism, schizophrenia, or severe psychosis: The aim is to help other family members understand and adjust to the disorder and the psychological changes that the sufferer may be undergoing.
  2. Families deviating from social norms (gay couples, unmarried parents, raising children, etc.): The goals here are not usually to address any specific internal problems as much; however, the family members may need help to cope up with external factors like judgment and discrimination.
  3. Families coming from different racial, cultural, or religious backgrounds: here, the goal is to help family members enhance their understanding of one another and cultivate healthy relationships.
  4. Problems arising due to cross-generational boundaries, for instance, when parents live with grandparents or children are being raised by the grandparents: The goal here is to help the family members improve communication and set healthy boundaries.
  5. A blended family (step-family): Blended families can suffer from several problems unique to their situations. In blended families, family therapy aims to increase understanding and acceptance and facilitate healthy interactions between all family members.
  6. The patient’s problems seem inextricably bound to problems with other family members: In cases where the problem(s) are deeply rooted in problems with those of other family members, family therapy aims to address every contributing issue and solve or try to mitigate the effects such issues.
  7. One member of the family is continually being scapegoated or having their in individual therapy treatment undermined: When one family member doesn’t receive sufficient support from other family members or struggles with feeling like the outcast, the goal is to increase understanding and empathy for the individual from other family members and support them to continue their treatment.

References

The fundamentals of Family Therapy are well explained by Barker, Philip, and Jeff Chang in Basic family therapy. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

The various techniques used in family therapy have been further illustrated in Family therapy techniques. Harvard University Press, (1981) by Minuchin, Salvador, and H. Charles Fishman.

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