Often a fact that we miss in our North American emphasis on the individual is how deeply we are connected, how each of our actions and reactions impact one another. The deeper our connections are, such as family relationships, the deeper the impact.
This is the rationale behind family therapy—a type of therapy that seeks to take the whole perspective on a particular situation an individual might be experiencing. It recognizes that at times, lasting effective change requires both a change inside the individual, but also a change in the relationships that affect and support them.
Often family therapy will start with parents coming in and stating that overall the family is functioning well, and the problem that needs to be addressed lies in one particular child’s behaviour. So naturally, if the therapist suggests sessions with multiple members of the family, or sessions with the parents, it can seem confusing at best, and blaming at worst. That’s why it is important to clarify that family therapy is not about blaming the family or parents for a particular problem. What it does recognize, however, is the power of relationships in fostering change and providing support.
Furthermore, it recognizes that the problem does not reside in one particular person, but rather, the problem is usually a pattern that breaks down communication and creates feelings of isolation and disconnection for all members. In the end, families begin to recognize that they all are experiencing negative impacts from the problematic pattern, and that they all need to support one another to change the pattern. It is from this place that the family can come together around a common enemy, from a united place, and positive change is created and specific problem solving can happen.
So if you have brought your child to therapy for challenges in self-esteem, for example, do not be threatened by the therapist’s recommendation for family sessions. The therapist is not stating that it is your fault that your child is experiencing what they are, and they understand just how difficult it can be to be a parent! Family therapy can also be an opportunity for your child to better understand your perspective, at appropriate levels. In actuality, family therapists are looking to better understand the situation, and to strengthen and reinforce what can be one of the greatest resources we have: our family relationships.
Written By: Erika DeSchiffart, M.A., Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)