Family Therapy

The family environment we grew up in as children has shaped our habits and framed our worldviews. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have been raised by a healthy functioning family. Lacking this dynamic can have detrimental effects on our lives. Family Therapy (FT) is designed to address issues affecting the functioning of family units 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 family dynamics. In this context, it is irrelevant if the family members are blood-related or not, fictive-kin can be a part of this dynamic as well.

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Family therapy is designed to bring individual family members together as a unit to address greater underlying issues. Family therapy assists a magnitude of issues with whoever you may consider to be family. The end goal is to bring the family 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 individual therapy. The choice between which technique to use depends on the specific issues clients seek help for.

Four Primary Approaches Within the Family Therapy Framework:

Bowenian therapy is centred around the dichotomy of individuality and companionship and how we reconcile our needs for both. It builds on two core concepts - triangulation (the natural tendency of a client to talk to a third party to vent a problem) and differentiation (learning to become less emotionally reactive in family relationships). This family therapeutic approach is especially useful when individuals cannot or do not, want to involve other family members in the treatment.

Structural therapy focuses on adjusting the family system so that the parents regain control over their children’s behaviour and conduct. It also strives to allow parents and children to set appropriate boundaries through strengthening interpersonal relationships. When using this approach, a family therapist acts more like an observer; they learn about the family dynamics by observing interactions between family members and relies on their comments and insights to promote healthy interactions among family members.

Systemic approach works with unconscious communication patterns and attempts to shed light on the meaning behind family members’ behaviors. The therapist tries to be as objective and neutral as possible, allowing clients to dive deeper into their issues and discover new ways of understanding these issues, as well as interpreting each other’s reactions in a new light.

Strategic therapy is more direct than most other family therapeutic approaches and uses “homework” assignments to try and change the way family members interact. The therapist assumes a position of power which opens the door for family members who may not hold much power within the family 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 emotional problems. Some other examples of problems that families may seek help for include, but are not limited to: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, marital conflicts, divorce or separation, domestic violence, grieving, and infertility. A family therapist understands that these problems may exist in the context of the family and will need to be addressed within this context to be dealt with appropriately and resolved successfully. The therapist may need to take on a variety of roles due to the different types of family dynamics, which requires thorough training, clinical experience, and a variety of techniques to draw from, making family therapy a highly challenging, yet very rewarding type of work.

What can you expect from FT?

In a typical family session, the therapist observes how individual family members interact and communicate. After careful observations, they will evaluate what relationship problems may be present, identify and treat family problems, guide family members through a crisis, and/or facilitate the healing of dysfunctional relationship patterns. Given the multi-faceted nature of family sessions, a therapist’s holistic understanding of the mind-body connection is essential. In short, family therapy 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 the family members, especially children, are being supported in the best possible manner and are given the opportunity to be heard. Family therapy 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.

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