What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy is a specialised type of group therapy designed to address specific issues that affect the psychological health of a family. It is an evidence-based form of therapy that can be used as a primary mode of treatment or as a complementary approach alongside other therapies.
All kinds of challenges and issues can disrupt the healthy functioning of a family, such as:
- mental and behavioural health disorders
- major transitions, such as moving house, having a baby, divorce or separation
- financial problems
- unexpected illness, death or unemployment.
Most families face challenges and experience some sort of dysfunction at one time or another. Many find their own ways to navigate these times, and will have some in-built resilience that they can rely on.
However, some families may face challenges that seem insurmountable, for a variety of reasons. They can be left feeling overwhelmed, unsure what to do for the best, or find themselves stuck in repeating patterns of harmful or hurtful behaviours. These families will benefit from family therapy, with support from a trained therapist, to overcome the hurdles they face and become stronger as a family unit.
Family therapy is based on the understanding that challenges and issues cannot be addressed and solved successfully in a vacuum. It is unique in that problems are viewed through a broader lens and as part of the complex system of the family unit. As such, no blame is placed on any one individual, but rather the therapy helps families explore how the whole family contributes to any problem and, importantly, the solution.
In creating a safe space, with professional support, family therapy enables family members to:
- get to the root of their problems
- communicate more effectively with each other
- express and explore difficult thoughts and emotions
- better understand each other’s experiences, behaviours, views and needs
- work cooperatively to identify and resolve family problems
- build on family strengths to make useful changes in their relationships and lives
- create a better functioning home environment, restoring balance.
Family therapy can also provide education in the skills required for healthy family functioning, including communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving. Learning and improving these skills also increases the likelihood of success in overcoming family challenges in the future.
The term ‘family’, in family therapy, is not limited to blood relatives, but is used to describe any group of people who care about each other and call themselves a family. This can include close friends, romantic partners and caregivers.
Family therapy typically uses a variety of techniques from treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and solution-focused therapy. The techniques used will depend on the specific challenges a family is facing, as well as the unique dynamics of each family.
Research shows that family therapy is beneficial for children, young people and adults of all ages, and is highly effective in the treatment of a very wide range of mental health conditions, including:
There are some situations where family therapy techniques may not be appropriate, for example where there is an active abuser within the family, or where one or both parents are psychotic (or diagnosed with antisocial or paranoid personality disorder).
There are no major risks involved in receiving family therapy with a trained professional, if family members seek therapy with openness, honesty and a willingness to change. It is an evidence-based and safe method to bring about positive change and healing for all members of a family.
What are the different types of Family Therapy?
Family therapy can be used as a standalone treatment or as a complementary approach, and can be delivered in many different ways, depending on the types of problem being treated.
Some of the most common types of family therapy include:
- to provide useful information, to better understand a mental health disorder
- to explain and support medication and treatments
- to offer training and support in self-help and self-care skills
- to provide a safe space to release emotional frustrations.
All types of family therapy are designed to help families improve communication, develop healthy problem-solving and coping skills, and enhance their sense of connection to one another.
There is no single form of family therapy that is distinctly advantageous over another, although some modalities may be better suited to certain problems than others. Studies have repeatedly shown that families who attend therapy together report better life outcomes than those who do not, so any type of family therapy will be of benefit to those seeking to improve family relationships and dynamics.
What are the benefits of Family Therapy
Families can benefit in many ways from attending therapy together, when specific circumstances are putting a strain on family relationships and disrupting harmony within the family unit.
By providing a safe and open environment, family therapy can support families in addressing and overcoming a wide variety of issues, including divorce, death of a loved one, financial difficulties, and major transitions. This holistic approach has also proven highly effective in treating a range of mental health conditions that impact a family as a whole, such as depression, substance abuse or addiction, food issues and anxiety disorders.
With guidance and support from a trained therapist, family therapy benefits families by helping them to:
- identify and reduce sources of conflict and stress within the family, that are disrupting the family’s functioning and efficiency
- reestablish and improve communication between family members
- understand how personal actions affect the entire family – and vice versa
- find ways for healthier expression of difficult emotions
- better understand each other’s experiences and perspectives
- work on acceptance and forgiveness
- understand and respect the points of view and opinions of other family members
- appreciate and value each other’s needs
- develop a deeper sense of empathy, honesty and trust towards one another
- develop and maintain healthy, clear boundaries – preventing codependency
- identify and improve family patterns and dynamics
- learn and promote problem-solving skills and coping skills
- learn healthy conflict resolution skills
- build on family strengths to develop a more supportive family environment and to strengthen bonds
- bring back and support family members who may have been isolated.
Family therapy helps family members, caregivers and friends to better understand and support each other. It helps to significantly reduce family conflict and provides a valuable range of skills and tools that families can use during therapy and well into the future.
For the process to be truly beneficial, it is essential that all family members keep an open mind, are ready to address the issues that are impacting their family, and willing to make the necessary changes to heal and restore balance.
If family therapy sounds like something that could benefit you and your family, please contact us to find out more.
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