This evidence-based intervention aims to identify and change harmful communication and behavioral patterns within families. A child’s “problem behaviors” are viewed as part of a much larger puzzle that extends to multiple family members. A variety of techniques can be used with the end goal of improving relationships, communication, and emotional health for family members. Family therapists often support individual family members in learning helpful skills and tools – while still working with the family as a whole. Family therapy can occur in an office or home and can take weeks or even months to complete.
The following questions and answers will help to keep you informed and involved in your child’s treatment:
What will the family therapist be inquiring about, to formulate issues and solutions, when the family is in session?
- What brings the family to therapy?
- What is the current level of family functioning?
- What are the sources of stress on the family?
- What solutions has the family tried in the past?
- When did the current problem(s) begin, and who is most affected by it. How often, and under what circumstances does the problem(s) occur?
- What are the family members’ assumptions about the nature and cause of the problem(s)?
- What recent significant changes have occurred?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the family as well as individual family members?
What should my therapist be doing?
- Identifying the problem.
- Observing family patterns: ways of relating, problem-solving, family “roles,” family “rules,” disciplinary practices, etc.
- Developing a hypothesis as to why the family is unable to solve its problem(s).
- Keeping the focus on treatment of the problem(s) and the reasons why the problem(s) persist.
- Challenging family members to see their own role in the problem(s) that plague them.
- Pushing for change and providing real time, practical, “can-do”, interventions.
What should I be doing?
- Being honest, transparent, and even vulnerable.
- Contracting with therapist and family that you will be an active participant, and that you will be a “safe” person. In other words, there will be no thought of emotional or social “retaliation”.
- In the beginning, your therapist will most likely be directive with his interventions. Follow them. As you learn new skills, you can adapt, change, revise, etc., those interventions that most specifically meets you and your family’s needs.
- Being the first to change. Don’t expect other family members to change, and THEN you will follow suit.
- Being prepared for the therapist to want to meet with individual family members. Be sure to honor the confidentiality that your family has with the therapist. DO NOT go fishing for information about the individual session.
How will I know if it is working?
- You can answer YES to the following questions:
- Is the presenting problem(s) resolved or greatly improved?
- Is your family satisfied that they have gotten what they came for, or are they interested in continuing to learn more about themselves and improve their relationships?
- Does your family understand that what they were doing wasn’t working, and how to avoid the recurrence of similar problems in the future?
- Do minor recurrences of the problem(s) reflect a lack of resolution, or merely that the family, while not completely resolving the problem(s), can manage on their own without therapeutic intervention?
- Has each of your family members developed and improved how they relate to each other, and by extension, improved relationships beyond the family system? In other words, are ways of relating to school mates, co-workers, neighbors, other social institutions improved?
- Do you find your family actually liking each other?