Written by: Dr. Martin Rovers, Psychologist with Capital Choice Counselling Group in Ottawa, ON.
As Joe and Mary leave for work, each is cold and distant from each other. The arguments last evening over their youngest son’s behaviour and how it impacts their family is still echoing in their minds. These fights and their son’s behaviour seem to be intensifying, leaving them to question “What is really wrong with our family?” “Why can’t we fix this?” and “Will it ever get better?”
It is not uncommon for a family to go through a stressful period. It can be related to disenchantment within the parents marriage, parenting challenges, children’s behaviour, or external stressors such financial difficulties and workplace stress.
When the stressors become chronic and the family has attempted to solve the issues without much success, family therapy might be the best option. The process of family counselling promotes change in the family system so that the family can better meet the needs of the family members, which can result in improved wellbeing.
How Does Family Therapy Help?
At Capital Choice Counselling, two primary models that our Ottawa family counsellors use are attachment theory and emotionally focused therapy. These research based models state that change comes from identifying negative patterns, and learning to empathically respond to our family member’s primary needs.
Family distress often look like negative self-reinforcing cycles, where family members tend to react to insecurity in the family through predictable emotional responses such as withdrawing, pursuing, blaming, or placating. At times family members in their desperation to be heard say things louder or more often, but lo, often it all falls on deaf and closed ears and hearts. Hurts have set in, and emotions are raw.
The primary focus of family therapy is to have an understanding of the family members’ primary emotions and needs in order to understand their behaviour within the negative patterns that are causing dysfunction. Family therapy believes that unmet attachment needs within the family results in family communication problems, dysfunction in parenting, and intensifying symptoms within one parent or one child, the identified problem. However, the real truth is the child is not the problem: the family communication and insecure attachment is the problem.
An example of the negative cycle of emotional reactivity that are believed to reinforce patterns of insecurity in parent–child and sibling relationships is a child that brings feelings of anger or sadness to the parents in such a way that the parent reacts with hostility and frustration. This reaction results in the child becoming increasing anger or sad, perpetuating the parent’s reaction. The fight is on. Yet, what the child is really reacting to is a perceived threat of the parent’s unavailability and unresponsiveness, or other insecurity in the child’s life, and something akin to that might be happening for the parents too.
Family counselling works to increase accessibility and responsiveness within the family, improve communication, and recreate new family attachments to demonstrate that the parents or family members are emotionally available. When parents are loving with each other and when they are on the same page of parenting, children will feel secure and families can be the safe and loving homes they are meant to be.
You can reach Capital Choice Counselling Group’s family therapists by using the tool to the right or calling 613-425-4257.