- Is your family driving you crazy?
- Is there constant tension between family members?
- Is it spilling over and affecting even those who aren’t directly involved?
- Do you dread going home?
- Are you stuck in a pattern of icy avoidance or volatile reactivity with one of your family members?
- Do you half-jokingly refer to your family is dysfunctional?
Stress makes it hard to be our best
Life’s stresses can erode our ability to cope. Getting along or problem solving when everyone’s nerves are frayed is challenging. Many families struggle to live harmoniously together. Conflict is a natural aspect of life. It is a big problem though when conflict threatens the stability of the family.
What is family therapy?
Family therapy is a treatment approach that brings all or part of the family into the therapy room together. Family therapy takes the stance that the problem is between people rather than in any one individual. In family therapy, the family itself is the “patient.” Family therapists take a systemic or big picture view of the problem as well as possible solutions. A family therapist works to facilitate conversations and shift patterns of negative interactions between family members. Having a highly trained and neutral third party facilitating the conversations allows them to become productive instead of engaging in vicious circles. Family counseling is an effective way to reduce tensions, open up communication and heal family relationships.
Advantages of family therapy
Family therapy can be very effective and often produce results faster than individual counseling. The reason is simple: the affected relationships are all present in the room and can be addressed directly. The impact of change is often multiplied when working in family therapy. If each family member makes a small change or shift, the overall change in the family is often quite significant.
Not as scary as it sounds
It can be scary to sit down together with a family therapist. Typically when I meet with families for the first time, there is a fair bit of nervousness. Perhaps family members are worried that they will be airing their dirty laundry in front of a stranger. Yes, I’m a stranger, but I am also non-judgmental and committed to confidentiality. Sometimes people are worried they are just going to have the same old fights in session. That doesn’t happen. Conversations are typically respectful and I find that family members are able to listen to each other more than usual. Having a trained family therapist as a moderator and a neutral setting makes a big difference in the tenor and productivity of the conversations.
Is it expensive?
Another common worry is the expense. Family therapy is often faster than individual counseling and overall less expensive. The reason is simple: the affected relationships are all present in the room and can be addressed directly. The impact of change is often multiplied when working in family therapy. If each family member makes a small change or shift, the overall change in the family is often quite significant. I charge you per session not “per person” for family therapy.
When single parents fall in love and join families, it isn’t always smooth sailing. Not everyone will be enamored with the idea of one big, happy family. Differences in parenting styles are just one reason step-parenting can be challenging. Family therapy can help blended families adjust to differences.
Of course, not every blended family needs to be in family therapy; many families do quite well joining households and living harmoniously. However, if that is not the case with your family, I can help. In helping blended families I often meet with the whole family and decide together who will attend future sessions. Sometimes it is just the parents who attend or they might attend with one or two children or we may opt to have everyone continue to meet as a group.
Teens and families
During adolescence, families often consider family therapy. Adolescence is tough. Making that adjustment from childhood to adulthood is big. It is hard on teens and hard on parents. Teens and parents typically have very different ideas about how quickly freedoms should be granted and how much autonomy teens can manage. Additionally, teens can anger quickly and often parents can quickly anger as well. This is often shocking to everyone. Parents who thought of themselves as calm find themselves having intense reactions to their teen’s acting out and talking back. Teens need help learning how to deal with hormone-enhanced anger and, ideally, parents can pave the way. If anger has a hold of the whole family, family therapy can help.
Families of all ages
It is never too late to try family therapy. Family therapy can benefit families with adult children who no longer live at home and may have families of their own. Patterns of estrangement, volatility or resentment often recur across generations. It is much harder to change patterns that are decades old and have their roots in the previous generation. However, family therapy in these situations is an investment in the present and in the future. I find that people attend family therapy in these situations either in hopes of healthy relationships for the children and grandchildren, or to free themselves of the weight of years of dysfunction.
Family Counseling is effective
I’m a strong believer in family therapy. I’ve seen it make a big difference in peoples’ lives. It is most effective when everyone is willing to make a change. This isn’t a necessary criterion to begin however. Everyone doesn’t need to walk into the first session itching to change. In fact, most people are pretty sure they aren’t the one who needs to change. However, a typical family therapy session will raise everyone’s awareness a bit. Even that can make a big difference. Ultimately any change in the family will be more noticeable and better sustained once everyone is willing to look at what they can do to improve things.
Not all Marriage and Family Therapists are alike
It is critical that you work with a licensed therapist who has experience working with families. Despite the title of “Marriage and Family Therapist” not all MFTs are family therapists. Typically an MFT has some training in working with families, but some have none. Ironically, many MFTs don’t see families.
good family therapist will make everyone feel comfortable and willing to talk and listen to each other. A good family therapist facilitates the conversations that don’t happen and makes sure everyone gets a chance to talk and listen.
I have over 25 years of experience working with families. I worked exclusively with teens and families in crisis for 12 years.
When to choose family counseling
Family counseling makes the most sense when the effects of the problem are widely felt. I gave you just a couple of examples above, such as adolescence and blended families. However, they are many other situations in which family therapy would be a good treatment option. Even issues that may seem limited to one person such as depression, illness or alcoholism, can have a wide spread impact. If you are wondering if family counseling is right for your situation, call me for a free 15 minute consultation at 707-765-2635. Or send me an email and let me know good times for me to contact you.