The family environment we were raised in shaped our habits and framed our worldviews. However, not all of us were fortunate enough to have been raised in a healthy family. Lacking this dynamic can have detrimental effects on our lives. Family Therapy (FT) is designed to address issues affecting families and all its members. FT may offer valuable support when a family is going through a difficult time, a major transition, or when one of its members is experiencing a mental and/or behavioural crisis. A family therapist views individual problems in the context of the family unit, acknowledging that these problems cannot be successfully addressed without understanding the family dynamic. In this context, family members certainly don't have to be blood-related, fictive-kin can be a part of this dynamic as well. FT is designed to bring individual family members together to address underlying issues. FT supports a multitude of issues with whoever you consider family. The end goal is to bring families together as a cohesive unit by teaching skills that promote solidarity, trust, and communication.
How does FT work?
A family therapist uses a wide range of techniques and relies on different exercises drawn from cognitive, behavioural, interpersonal, and other types of therapy. The choice between which technique to use depends on the specific issues families seek help for.
Four Primary Approaches Within the Family Therapy Framework:
Bowenian therapy is centred around the dichotomy between individuality and companionship, and how we reconcile our needs for both. It builds on two core concepts - triangulation (the natural tendency to talk to a third party to vent a problem) and differentiation (learning to become less emotionally reactive with family members). This approach is especially useful when individuals cannot, or do not want to involve other family members in treatment. Structural therapy focuses on adjusting the family system so that parents regain control over their children's behaviour. It also helps parents and children set appropriate boundaries by strengthening their relationship. Using this approach, a family therapist gains a sense of the family dynamics by observing interactions between family members. The therapist relies on family members' interactions to suggest skills and tools to foster healthy interactions among them. Systemic approach addresses unconscious communication patterns and attempts to shed light on the meaning behind family members' behaviours. The therapist tries to be as objective and neutral as possible, allowing clients to discover new ways of understanding their issues, and interpreting each other's reactions in a new way. Strategic therapy is more direct than most other FT approaches and uses "homework" assignments to alter how family members interact. The therapist assumes a position of power which opens the door for each family member to express themselves.
What issues can be resolved with FT?
One of the common reasons to visit a family therapist is when children are experiencing behavioural and/or emotional problems. Other problems that families may seek help for include, but are not limited to: substance abuse, marital conflicts, divorce or separation, domestic violence, grieving, infertility, depression, and anxiety. FT can be extremely helpful in addressing ‘family pains' or ‘family wounds' - something that has been impacting family dynamics for a long time, and which the family needs to handle and resolve as a unit. A family therapist understands that issues exist in the context of the family and will need to be addressed from within this context to be resolved successfully. The therapist may need to take on a variety of roles due to the different types of family dynamics. This requires thorough training, clinical experience, and knowledge of a variety of techniques, making FT a highly challenging, yet very rewarding type of work.
What can you expect from FT?
In a typical family session, the therapist observes how family members interact and communicate. After careful observations, they will evaluate what issues may be present, identify and treat family conflict, guide family members through a crisis, or facilitate the healing of dysfunctional relationship patterns. In short, FT offers families sustainable and healthy ways of managing problems and maintaining balance, even under the most challenging of circumstances. This is achieved while making sure all family members, especially children, are being supported in the best possible manner and are given the opportunity to be heard.