The goal of family therapy is the treatment of the “unit” surrounding the individual, not just the individual by themselves. This form of therapy is behavioral in its approach, meaning human behavior and any conflict arising are influenced largely by the environments from which people come. The goal of the therapy is to solve problems such as dysfunction in relationships and to create new subsets of common goals to work toward.
Family therapy is a community-based therapy, i.e. family therapy doesn’t have the individual as a specific focus. In a sense, you can think of the multiple and dynamic relationships that influence the traditional sense of family. Every person that interacts with an individual influences them, be it their siblings, parents, romantic partners, or even a close friend.
Family therapy is founded on the premise that the world around the individual influences their motives, actions, and behavioral archetypes. A typical family counseling session may encompass pastoral leaders, extended family, co-workers, teachers, spouses, and romantic partners, long-term neighbors, and coaches.
It isn’t to be assumed that family therapy will always work out as hoped for or anticipated. An individual may refuse to come to therapy, or it might be that the people in conflict are unwilling to focus on or address the issues that hound them. The qualified family therapist will always be able to discern what issues afflict the relationship between the person and those around them.
What Issues Do Family Therapists Primarily Treat?
Some issues affect relationships between couples while others are issues to do with child delinquency and parenting. Psychosexual issues, depression and mood disorders, and relationship adjustment are another cluster of usual issues in such therapy. Other issues include anxiety disorders, OCD and psychological disorders, and drug abuse.
Family therapists diagnose a wide variety of issues, but they do so as they explore the community around the patient that they are treating. These number of issues that therapists may want to improve on include:
- Relationships, conflict, and other issues that may affect couples and families;
- Drug abuse, alcohol, and substance abuse disorders;
- Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders;
- Adjustment to family trauma and grief events;
- Domestic family issues such as anger management, intimacy, child abuse, and psychosexual issues;
- Problems with infants such as sleeping, feeding, and emotional attachment;
- Eating disorders such as obesity, anorexia, and bulimia;
- Not being able to express anger adequately.
In addition to these, family therapists will explore important issues such as divorce and infidelity, anger management. Taking the relationships that encompass the typical family and the myriad of issues that any individual has to deal with, it’s clear that the basic family unit is a complex structure. This includes all the other interwoven relationships that are formed as a result of the social order surrounding a person.
What Are Some Common Methods, Approaches, And Techniques That Family Therapists Use?
There are different methods and approaches that a therapist might explore during family therapy. The basic family therapy treatment assumes that there is an underlying inherited social trait that causes individuals to act the way they do. Some of the techniques used include the ones mentioned below.
The Behavioral Method
The behavioral method always aims at restoring the balance of relationships between any number of individuals from a positive perspective. In this case, positive human outcomes would be the function of rebuilding or recalibrating certain relationships.
A behavioral approach to psychotherapy would be to work towards defined therapeutic goals that focus on the now and the future, rather than the past. A typical session would include the family, whether it be made up of close friends or extended families, with each person giving his perspective.
The main aim of the therapist is to help the person overcome negative or destructive behaviors through the help and support of those around him. The objective is for the individual to remain focused on the present.
Structural Therapy Technique
In structural therapy techniques, the person is identified from a family context, with the interrelationship of the whole being examined. Each individual wields a certain amount of power.
The family functions as a dynamic power structure. The typical structural therapy session will aim to learn how each person relates to each other and how the power dynamic shifts dependent on the personalities involved.
The structural therapy technique showcases how power flows in the structure of a single-family unit, and how that power is maintained due to ideologies, behaviors, or habits. The dynamics of the power structure is an influence on the function of the psyche and the behaviors that an individual may exhibit.
Structural family therapy has worked among blended families, extended families, single-parent homes, homes with substance abuse disorder, etc.
Milan Therapy Technique
There are unhealthy and destructive patterns that a family may exhibit which emanate from its beliefs. These beliefs shape an individual’s perspective, mental and emotional responses, and this also affects how they relate to others.
By redefining the way the family approaches relationships and destroying the foundations and subsets of unhealthy beliefs, the family unit can be made to function as normal again.
Generational Therapy Approach
The generational therapy approach proposes that each family has a unique identity and culture that influences their behavior. A typical family unit is always under the influence of such forces that push individual behavior in certain directions. Through viewing the relationship between a parent-child, or a grandparent and a parent, it is possible to gain a wide-lens understanding of the relationships.
Family therapists will therefore explore the relationships interwoven within the basic family unit during sessions, and how these shape the way individuals relate to each other and behave. This technique is also used alongside the Milan therapy technique to fully diagnose a family.
The behavioral approach is breaking down any negative, destructive, unhealthy, or outdated beliefs that cause problems to the family. This method has worked where multiple generations of the same family have been willing to try out therapy together.
The Solution-Based Approach
When trying to solve issues, it is always easy to get bogged down in the details instead of coming up with actual practicable solutions. In psycho-analyzing the relationship between a person and those around themselves, many issues can be discovered that contribute to the problem.
A solutions-based approach to therapy instead takes a focus on the solution in a practical fashion that looks more to the outcomes rather than the mistakes of the past. The primary focus is to help folks move from the negative repercussions to more positive outcomes in the future.
Should I Seek Family Therapy, Or Not?
Anybody can seek family therapy if they feel like their relationships with those close to them are getting strained. If you, your family, or close friends suffer from any of the variety of issues below, you should seek family systems therapy:
- Parenting issues and child-teen-early adulthood delinquency;
- Divorce and issues to do with infidelity;
- Substance abuse and addiction;
- Issues to do with family finances including debt;
- Inability to see eye-to-eye on all things;
- A variety of issues that may be affecting communication in relationships including various personality disorders.
In addition to this, family therapists will be able to diagnose a variety of other issues that affect the basic family unit, and how individuals react to certain events. A major problem is that while one individual may be willing to try a family systems approach, one or more other individuals may be unwilling to participate in the therapy. In this case, the therapist may be open to including someone else in the therapy who understands the family dynamics, for example, a close family friend.
An ideal situation would be where the therapist can get every stakeholder to the table and have everyone as part of the therapy. This would make understanding the situation easier and would save time and effort.
What Should I Do If I Suspect That My Family Could Benefit From Family Therapy?
There is any number of situations that could make you suspect that your family could benefit from family therapy. There are a variety of issues that qualified therapists and family counselors are trained to handle. These include:
- Breakdown of the marital relationship with regards to finances, communication breakdown, infertility, infidelity, divorce, etc.;
- Behavioral problems in children, adolescents, and teens;
- Grieving and loss;
- Mental health problems such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression;
- Eating disorders;
- Substance abuse disorders.
If you feel that you or your family suffer from any of the issues above then you and your family would be prime candidates to visit a family therapist. The role of the therapist will be to help you improve how you relate to each other, how your family deals with conflicts, and how to improve your relationships.
What Happens During My First Family Therapy Session?
Since the basic family unit can be composed of multiple extended entities, therapists always have to try and get to the bottom of issues from multiple perspectives. Once individuals have agreed to sign up and the first session has been arranged, the therapist then prepares an “intake” process in which the goal is to record pertinent information about each individual in the family unit.
The therapist will always try to outline the goals of each therapy session before the actual session begins. This technique allows the therapist and the family unit under observation to share terms of communication. The therapist may ask questions like:
- What do you expect to get out of our session today?
- How will you know that any session we have has had an impact on your behavioral perspective?
- What can we do to make each session more comfortable, not just for you, but for the different members of your family unit?
The questions that mark subsequent sessions may have to do with how the therapy is progressing, and if anything is being gained from the experience. Before any of the therapy begins, an “intake” of the family will be done, mostly by an intake specialist. This data includes such things as the medical and mental health backgrounds of the family members, sexual orientation, age, education background, occupation, marital status, residence, etc.
Note: This intake may also be done by the counselor or the psychologist. At the point of the intake, the therapist might tell your family more about billing and what other payment options you have. At this point, you should confirm whether your insurance is valid for non-clinical therapy. If insurance doesn’t cover this kind of therapy, you’ll need to pay for the expense out-of-pocket.
Once the intake process is done and the therapist has developed a profile of each member of the family unit, the actual therapy can then begin. The first session most always involves the therapist trying to get to know each member of the family a bit more. There is always an ice breaker involved as the therapist tries to get everyone in their most comfortable state, and for them to share openly.
Also Note: No one can access or share information that pertains to any family member unless with their express permission. Therapists are mandated by law to retain client records for at least 7 years before destroying them. Each family member should be able to sign a consent form authorizing the use of their information.
The therapist usually has specific therapy goals for each member of the family, and the process yields something different for each party. Family systems therapy acknowledges that each individual as a unit of the family has something to contribute. The complex relationships generated to influence the family unit as a whole.
Once the therapist has identified the role that each person plays from multiple sessions, a treatment plan will then be set in motion that includes a contribution from each member. The therapist will continuously be monitoring how each family member relates to the others. Depending on the approach taken for treatment, the therapist will then try to change the various spheres of influence in the basic family unit.
What Should I Do After The First Therapy Session?
Usually, the first therapy session alone isn’t enough to understand the complex relationships between families. However, after a couple of sessions, you’ll be able to know if the therapy is accomplishing its goals or not.
If you and your family like working with the therapist and you feel that new light is being shed on your relationship, then one session may not be enough. The therapist may also request sessions with individual members of the family alone so that the perspective of each member can be understood.
If you feel that any number of relationships can improve with the help of a family therapist, you should go for it. A qualified relationship, couples, or family therapist will help you get to the bottom of issues that plague the family unit and how best to mend them. You can access an array of free resources on family systems therapy from our PrimeTherapist vaults.