The family is the heart of cultures around the globe. Relationships within families are among the strongest connections we have, and can also, at times, be the most troubling. People are complicated and when disharmony arises in families it affects all the members. Family issues are common on all levels of society and it’s sometimes important, even critical, to reach out for guidance to resolve problems before they grow larger. Creating healthy family relationships can be one of the greatest challenges, and deepest satisfactions, of our time.
The rapidly changing society, especially the 24/7 intrusion of technology and social media bombarding our personal lives, is causing new complications for families. Humans tend to balance great achievements with unintended new problems, and finding the value and limitations of technology is one of the evolving challenges for 21st families.
Just because there are huge new issues arising from the impact of technology on personal relationships doesn’t mean the many other challenges go away. Communication, parenting issues, social expectations, illness, financial troubles, the dissolution of generational homes in one town, divorce and evolving gender relationships can impact the family as whole, the individual members and even the extended family.
Who Can Benefit from Family Therapy?
By its very nature, family therapy is intended to benefit each person and the family unit. While it may appear that issues arise from one member of the family, the deep emotional connection among family members means everyone is affected, so resolving issues with one person benefits everyone.
Parents: Any dysfunction between parents will impact the whole family. As much as parents may try to hide disagreements or deeper issues, children are intuitive and feel the distress. Adults who have problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction or depression honor their children by seeking guidance from a therapist who can help the parents confront their own issues, as well guide them in techniques for better communication. Improvement in the parents’ mental health will create a more honest and nurturing environment for their children.
Teenagers: At times, therapy becomes imminently necessary, for instance, if a teenager is having trouble that impacts school work or health. The issues could include eating disorders, bullying, drugs, anxiety, self-harm, depression or even thoughts of suicide. In those situations when it’s extremely difficult for parents to resolve the issues on their own, intervention by a mental health professional can provide strategies for better communication and may even be lifesaving. Sometimes intervention is recommended by a school guidance counselor, or in cases that involve law enforcement, therapy may be required by the court as an alternative to juvenile detention. The adolescent and teenage years are becoming more complex with each generation and research is shedding light on the possible cause of the problems, as well as guiding the development of new strategies to encourage good choices and healthy relationships.
Children: Even children in elementary school can experience anxiety or depression and can benefit from counseling that includes the whole family. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, impact relationships at home and school. Parents are often exasperated by children with ADHD. In family therapy, the family can learn ways to help and support each other and establish healthy coping skills that may help minimize stress and power struggles.
Some Options for Family Therapy
All family therapy approaches are designed to help families improve communication, problem-solving and coping skills, and enhance the sense of connection to one another.
Family Systems Therapy: This therapy views the family as an emotional unit with each person connected to the others through overlapping relationships. Each member of the family is encouraged to understand and express the roles they play, respect one another, and see the cause and effect of certain behaviors. Once every member of the family recognizes their patterns, they can learn and begin to use more positive behaviors that help each person and the family as a unit.
Cognitive-Behavioral Family Therapy: This is an approach that focuses on principles of behavioral modification, which means replacing negative behaviors with more positive ones through reinforcement. The strategy encourages agreements among family members designed to change the patterns of relationship. The new patterns are meant to restructure distorted beliefs and perceptions that develop as a result of negative or misunderstood interactions. There is also a heavy emphasis on core beliefs, including the way a person sees himself, others and the world, in an attempt to evaluate how these affect the emotions and behaviors of other family members.
Duration and Goals of Family Therapy
Family therapy is generally results-oriented and commonly structured for an average of 12 sessions. Sometimes therapy continues for 20 sessions or more, depending on the individuals and the issues. Experienced therapists often use a combination of techniques specifically designed to allow each person in the family reach the goal of healthy choices and well-functioning relationships.
It’s important for parents to realize that the way Grandma and Grandpa raised their children, and the way their Mom and Dad led the family may not be suited to the changes that have evolved in the 21st Century. There are essential values of trust, safety and guidance that must be a foundation for any family. But today almost every child and teenager is connected nearly 24/7 to powerful outside influences that can override even the best intentions of parents.
Sometimes parents help their children best by reaching out for guidance from an experienced mental health professional who can see a bigger picture based on new research and the common experiences, and challenges, of families in the U.S. and other countries. Many challenges facing families have become all-too-common on a global level and strategies for family therapy continue to develop in England, Australia and many other locations. In a world that seems to grow more complicated each day, family therapy can help parents and children make their relationships healthier one day at a time.
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, “What is Marriage and Family Therapy?” Alexandria, Va., 2017
Goodtherapy.org, “Family Therapy,” Jan. 14, 2014 https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/modes/family-therapy
Dattilio, Frank M., “Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy,” Nature, 2012 https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-1-4419-1428-6_771
Goodtherapy.org, “ADHD / Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity,” April 18, 2016
Goodtherapy.org, “Systems Theory in Therapy,” Oct. 24, 2016 https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/systems-theory-therapy
Sween, Erik, “The One-Minute Question: What Is Narrative Therapy?” Dulwich Centre Publications, Adelaide, Australia, 1988 http://www.narrativetherapylibrary.com/media/downloadable/files/links/g/9/g982sween.pdf