|What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy arose in response to the changing psychological needs of families and children beginning in the 1950's Over the next two decades, as scientists began to notice the interconnectedness of all living things (systems theory), family systems therapy emerged as a way to treat mental illness, behavioral problems, and the common problems of daily living. In a systemic family therapy model, each family member is considered an integral part of the family system. The family therapist views undesirable behaviors or "problems" as symptoms generated from underlying structural issues in the family. In family systems therapy, there are no good guys are bad guys. There is or no one who needs fixing. Rather, the therapist sees that painful symptoms are making family life difficult for everyone and believes that all family members can play a role in helping reduce them. While there are many different approaches to family therapy, all share the the common goal of helping families experience more joy, peace, and stability within the family unit..
Common Problems Addressed in Family Therapy
- Communication Problems
- Alcoholism/Drug Addiction
- Children's Behavioral Problems
- Bedwetting, Stuttering, and Night Terrors
- Major Life Events (death in family, new job, victim of crime, etc.)
- Family Life Cycle Changes (birth/death of children, children leave for college, death of parents)
- Fertility Issues
- Issues Regarding A Family Business
- Mental Illness (diagnosed in one or more family members)
- Occupational/Educational Issues
- Involvement with the Legal System
- Coparenting Issues (for divorced or separated parents)
- Child Custody Issues
- Eating Disorders
- Chronic Pain
- Medical Problems
- Internet Addiction
- Preparation for Marriage
- Blended Family Issues
- Alternative Lifestyle Issues
- Religious Issues
- Relational Cutoffs (family members haven't spoken in years)
- Transition Into Peaceful Separation/Divorce with Children
Frequently Asked Questions About Family Therapy
- What does the family therapist do exactly? The family therapist's first task is to help the family determine mutually agreeable goals for therapy. The family therapist will then spend time gaining an understanding of each family member and of the family system as a whole. Next, the family therapist will assist family to identify personal and interpersonal patterns of thinking and behavior that are contributing to the issue at hand. The therapist and family members will collaborate on ways to change these patterns. The family therapist will work with the family members to consolidate and practice gains made in therapy for lasting success.
- If I bring my partner in, will you believe his/her side or my side? Family therapists do not take "sides" in family therapy. Rather, they look for the underlying meaning of the problem within the family system and attempt to gain a clear understanding of perceptual differences, cognitive distortions, and interpersonal transaction patterns that are impacting the issue. Once these have been identified, then clinician can help family members bring them to awareness and make changes that help them achieve their goals. The clinician is on the side of the family and serves to support the family's self-determined goals.
- How is family therapy therapy different from couples therapy? Couples therapy is one form of family therapy. Often, it becomes clear during the course of couples therapy that the couple's children are an integral part of the challenges facing the couple. Consequently, the children often need to be involved in the therapeutic process. In some cases, this means bringing the children to one or two adjunctive sessions. Sometimes, more sessions with the children advisable.
- Can children participate? Yes. It is important for children to participate in therapy. Children are highly sensitive to family dynamics and sometimes act out symptoms of blocked or misdirected energy in the family system. It is important for the family therapist to meet the children in the family and to observe family dynamics with the children present. This gives the therapist more information with which to help the family.
- How old do children have to be to participate? No age is too young for participation in family therapy. Even infants can participate in therapy. Observing parent-infant interaction provides vital information to assist the therapeutic process.
- How can you do therapy with little kids? Young children are not candidates for traditional talk therapy for obvious reasons. They do, however, benefit greatly from expressive arts therapy. We utilize art therapy, music therapy, sandtray therapy, and other forms of expression to help children express emotional distress. Simply observing parent/child and sibling interactions is invaluable for the family therapist when determining how to best help the family.
- What Can We Expect As a Result of Family Therapy? Family therapy works best when all parties are deeply committed to a common outcome. Many family members report increased affection for family members and for themselves as well as enhanced communication. Resentment and anger diminish, along with the level of anxiety in the home. May people find that, as a result of participating in family therapy, other relationships in their lives improve. Families with children often report happier, more cooperative children. Improvement in grades, occupational performance, and general self-confidence are often reported. Individuals struggling with addictions report a decrease or cessation of addictive behaviors. An common gain for many adults in family therapy is a more satisfying sex life. Most families who are committed to the process state that they actually look forward to coming home at the end of the day because they are finally able to relax in their own home.
- When Is Family Therapy Not a Good Idea? Family therapy is not advisable when family members have different goals (i.e. one partner wants to save the marriage, but the other doesn't). If you are unable to determine whether or not your goals align, the family therapist can help uncover this during the initial consultation. If the family therapist feels that your family is not ready for family therapy, he/she may recommend individual therapy for one or more family members. Another indication that family therapy is not advisable is if there is severe, ongoing domestic violence and/or one or more individuals in the family is at risk of physical harm by another member of the family.
- Is Family Therapy Confidential? In accordance with Oregon state mandates, the family therapist is bound to keep information that you share and your status as a client 100% confidential. Exceptions to confidentiality include child abuse, threats of suicide, or specific threats to physically harm or kill another person. Additionally, if the family therapist is subpoenaed to appear in court (an exceptionally rare occurrence), he/she must adhere to this mandate.
- Does Family Therapy Work? In a review of the psychological literature through the mid-1990's (Pinsof, et al,1996: Pinsof & Wynne, 1995), determined that significant data show that family therapy is quite effective, with 75% of families receiving therapy stating that they were better off after receiving therapy.
What's the Next Step?
If you think family therapy might be right for you, the next step is to call and speak to me, Elizabeth Fisher, about your situation. I am the owner of Healthy Bonds. I am also a licensed marriage and family therapist and hold a PhD clinical psychology. If, we determine that I might be able to help your family, we will schedule a free, initial 10-minute, in-person consultation in order to better determine if Healthy Bonds can meet your needs. If we jointly determine that Healthy Bonds is not the best match for you, I will make recommendations for other services or family therapy providers who can help.
When you are ready to call, I look forward to talking with you! You may reach me by phone at: (971) 245-6403
or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org