Family counseling or therapy can benefit those that are struggling emotionally, combatting stress, anxiety, and a general sense of dysfunction. It is helpful for families struggling through changes including divorce. This type of therapy helps families move past their struggles and learn individual and group skills for coping with inner and outer stressors.
Seeking therapy does not mean that something is “wrong” with you or your family, in fact, it is one of the most important steps in the healing process! If you are wondering whether or not your family should attend therapy, this guide can help you understand the process and make the right decision for all of you!
There are a number of circumstances that can make your family great candidates for therapy. Here are some of the primary reasons people reach out for help:
Your family has experienced trauma...
Trauma may be the most obvious reason to seek marriage or family therapy. Experiencing something like death, divorce, drug abuse, infidelity, or a tragic accident, can put you in a position to benefit from family counseling. If the traumatic event happened to or directly impacted only one family member, attending therapy as a family unit can provide everyone with the tools and skills needed to support the traumatized individual.
When there are marital issues, individuals may seek counseling as well as joint couples therapy. Another approach is to include everyone in the family, if that is appropriate. Family counseling sessions will give everyone a safe place to discuss anything that has been disrupting the family dynamic. This includes creating a safe space for children to communicate their feelings with fear of upsetting their parents or siblings.
The individuals involved in the marriage can continue counseling via couples therapy, (either with the same counselor or a different marriage counselor) while continuing to engage in family counseling with the rest of the family unit.
Though they are unable to give legal advice, marriage and family therapists can provide information to families about where to turn when seeking help with divorce or separation.
Communication issues can negatively impact all family relationships, regardless of who is lacking communication skills.
Children, especially, are vulnerable as they are only just learning to communicate themselves. If you have noticed a change in your child’s behavior, it could be a sign that something is amiss. A family therapist can meet individually with children so that they feel comfortable speaking freely without a parent, caregiver, or sibling watching.
Communication issues can also arise from verbal abuse directed at a child or the other parent, secrecy or deceitfulness within family systems, poor listening ability, assumptive behavior, and an array of other factors. A family counselor can equip children, and parents, with tools to improve their communication skills and overall family dynamic.
Drug or alcohol abuse...
Families may seek counseling as a direct response to a family member that is abusing drugs or alcohol.
Families of people who suffer from substance use disorder should attend therapy while their loved one is in treatment. This step can address enabling behaviors, heal emotional and psychological wounds, repair trust issues, establish boundaries, and give the family an idea of what to expect/how to help when their loved one returns home. Drug or alcohol abuse in a family is extremely difficult for a child, especially in cases where substance abuse has resulted in abuse or neglect.
A family therapist can provide a family with effective tools to use that will allow them to separate the illness of addiction from the person who is suffering, helping to repair fractured relationships and improve outcomes for the future.
The familial power dynamic is unclear...
Family therapy will help identify patterns of behavior that can lead to an imbalance of power, chaos, anger, and confusion within the family structure or unit.
A family therapist will observe your family dynamic to determine exactly what the hierarchy is, addressing things like children taking on parental roles and responsibilities, as well as parents assuming subordinate roles.
These are only a few of the reasons a family may choose to seek therapy. There are many. Any issues, obvious or not, that negatively impact the mental and physical health of family members is worth sorting out in therapy.
What to Expect in a Family Therapy Session
Your first family therapy session will be a time for your therapist to learn more about your family, and you about them. They are likely to ask a series of questions in order to better understand you as a group and as individuals.
Different therapists may use different approaches to their counseling sessions, but more than likely, they will want to hear from everyone sitting in on the session. You will need to address why you have sought therapy and provide any extra information that pertains to the functioning of your family relationships.
Sometimes, you will be given homework when you leave a session. This can include exercises that should be completed as an individual and as a family.
Once you have completed your session, sit down as a family and evaluate how you are all feeling. If your relationships feel easier to manage, or you find everyone feels more optimistic, it is a good indication that you are benefiting from therapy. If some individuals in the family are reluctant but if the overall sentiment of the group is positive, discuss it with your therapist.
There are a few different ways to choose a family counselor.
You may ask your family doctor for a referral to a reputable family therapist. Additionally, you may ask for suggestions from friends or family members that you trust.
The family therapist you choose should have an extensive educational background in mental health and mental illness. You will also want to look for a counselor with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work or psychology or a master’s degree in counseling.
You will also want to ensure that your family therapist is a member of the American Association for Mental Health Counselors.
Your therapist should allow you to speak, but also ask questions where necessary, and offer helpful advice. Your therapist should also be impartial and maintain strict confidentiality.
Find out what the costs are going to be so you can be sure that their hourly rate fits your budget. Reach out to determine if any part of your counseling can be covered by your insurance plan. Some therapists can work with you and adjust their rates according to what you are able to pay.
Once you have had an appointment, decide if you feel comfortable with your therapist, and after a few sessions, evaluate if you or your family are making progress. If you don’t feel as though you are, it could just mean you haven’t found the right fit.
Remember, therapists are there to help you. If the one you are using isn’t helping, don’t be afraid to try another.
Even if you and your partner have decided to end your relationship, your family relationships will continue, but change. Even if you are no longer a married couple, attending therapy together or as a family unit can help resolve conflict, improve communication, and strengthen family bonds for a better future relationship.
If you need any further information about family counseling or a referral from our team, please contact us at Untie the Knot. We are here to support you!