(image: Christine H)
Therapy is growing more and more accepted as a mainstream practice, rather than a scary, stigmatised ordeal. After all, it’s important to take care of mental health, and sometimes, we could all use a little extra help.
However, when it comes to any kind of therapy, it can still be scary. We don’t know what to expect, and we worry that we’ll be forced into something that makes us too uncomfortable. This can especially true in the case of family therapy. Often, family therapy is utilised when one or more family member confronts a serious mental health challenge (such as, for example, bipolar disorder, addiction, or major behavioural issues) that affects the rest of the family.
So, in order to dispel some of the misunderstandings surrounding family therapy, and to perhaps help people become more comfortable with it, here are some important things to know:
There May Be a Mix of Alone and Together Time
Contrary to popular belief, family therapy isn’t just going to be your family talking in a circle with a therapist the whole session. Well, maybe sometimes it will be. But other times, “family therapy” refers to a lot of different compilations of relationships within your family. Parents may talk with the counsellor separately, and then a child who has been the primary subject of therapy will talk with the therapist, and then perhaps the counselor will enable a conversation between the child and parents in order to share information that needs to be shared.
Additionally, family therapy is most effective when all family members are utilising therapeutic tools to get what they can out of the experience. For example, often in the case of addiction, support groups are available for both the person struggling with addiction, and for the family members who are affected by it. In these separate group therapies (which you can learn more about here) family members can gain new perspectives which will empower them to return to family therapy with the information they need to make it a productive venture.
Information that You Want Confidential Can Be Confidential
During all the mix-match of family therapy modules, many individuals are wary about sharing information with the counselor if they don’t want it to be shared with the whole group. And although this might sound kind of shady, it’s not just about keeping major secrets. Often, it’s about protecting family members’ feelings, or being embarrassed or worried about our own feelings.
Since family systems therapy is ultimately about repairing relationships and empowering healthy communication and cooperation, a counsellor can help individuals identify what information is important to share, and how to go about it in the best way. However, there are some challenges that are best talked out one on one with the therapist, and not in the group as a whole. It’s important for all parties involved to understand that they can still control the information that’s shared, and the way they choose to do it… or not.
It’s Not All Talk Therapy
Although sometimes all that’s needed in order to strengthen a family’s power to communicate and cooperate is an outsider guiding the conversation, other times talk therapy can be frustrating for families, as they’ll find themselves going around in the same old circles and arguments that they would on their own. That’s why most counsellors will utilise other techniques and approaches to achieve family goals.
For example, sometimes it’s useful to utilize experiential therapy, which could include anything from a cooperative ropes course, to role playing exercises. You can learn more about those options here.
Practicing Outside of Therapy Sessions Is Vital
One common assumption of family therapy is that the work will get done in therapy sessions, and it doesn’t have to change the way things are outside of therapy. Family therapy can only be successful when it creates changes to habits and systems within the family dynamic that aren’t serving individuals as well as they should.
Most of the time, a therapist will give family members assignments and goals that they can do–both by themselves, and as they interact with the rest of the family–in order to improve family relationships. Often, these are small habits in the way that we talk and the way we share duties in and out of the house.
This article was written by expert on family therapy Christine H