Through family therapy, families or individuals within a family begin to understand and learn better ways to interact with each other and resolve conflicts. Family therapy typically brings entire families together for therapy sessions. However, family members may also see a therapist individually.
While working with your therapist, you will examine your family’s ability to solve problems and express thoughts and emotions. It is common to explore family roles, rules and behavior patterns in order to identify issues that contribute to conflict and discover new ways to work through these issues. Family therapy may help you identify your family’s strengths and weaknesses.
Family therapists tend to focus on what goes on between people and how patterns of interaction within the family may foster or maintain the problem. A family therapist may point out interaction patterns and behaviors that the family might have not noticed or the therapist may suggest different ways of responding to other family members. These changes will affect each individual within the family and there will be shifts in the whole system that hopefully lead to a positive resolution.
Family therapy can help with the following issues:
- Changes in family life, relationships
- Parenting issues
- Couple relationships
- Work stress
- Chronic health problems, such as asthma or cancer
- Supporting family members through separation, mediation and divorce
- Child and adolescent behavior
- Emotional disorders including anxiety, depression, loss and grief
- Anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders
- Supporting family members in step-family life
- Emotional abuse or violence
- Financial problems
- Drug, alcohol, and other substance misuse
Therapists often use more than one type of family therapy approach. Family therapy can take many different forms with the therapist using a variety of different approaches including supportive counseling, cognitive-behavioral techniques, psychodynamic techniques, or what is known as a systemic approach. Many practitioners are “eclectic”, using techniques from several areas, depending upon the needs of the client.
Supportive Family Therapy is often used as a way of allowing family members to say how they feel about a problem in a safe, caring setting. Sometimes, the problem can be really difficult to deal with at home and this provides an opportunity for families to get together, and openly talk about it, and receive further sources of help.
Family therapy using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques attempts to change the ways people think or behave in order to reduce or get rid of the problem. It is common to receive out of session assignments or a specific behavioral program.
Family therapy using Psychodynamic ideas tends to look more into the individual’s own unconscious (sometimes called subconscious) minds. It attempts to reduce the problem(s) by uncovering what is really going on. When individuals in the family understand the real reasons behind what is going on, they will be able to deal with their difficulties more successfully.
Systemic Family Therapy attempts to identify the problems and relationships, ideas and attitudes of all the family members to get an idea about what is going on for the whole family. Once these areas are clear the therapist will sometimes attempt to shift the problem(s), attitudes, relationships, to a position that is more beneficial, less damaging, or simply more realistic. They may do this in a number of ways, which may include psychoeducation, out of session assignments, experimentation (e.g. suggesting that the family try behaving or relating in a different way), or attempting to provide some insight to the family members about what is really going on. The emphasis is on the whole family and not blaming one or more individuals for the problem.