Family therapy strengthens the entire family, allowing each family member to rely on one another to work towards desired family change. During counseling, we look at the family as a whole --not on the individual elements of the whole. Essentially, the family unit becomes the client.
Every family is unique and the counseling plan will reflect the needs of that family. But in general terms, family counseling helps families or individuals within a family to strengthen communication, improve the way family members interact with each other, and resolve conflicts together.
During the counseling session, we will explore elements of the family that will help develop a focused picture of who your family is, how it functions and what interventions would be the most effective. The elements of the family include:
- the interactional patterns of families.
- the structure, organization and boundaries in the family.
- communication patterns and stability and change. For example, hstable is the family in terms of life cycle transitions? How does the family generally handle change?
- the rituals and roles in the family. These are the customs that help to establish a family identity and continue the family customs
- the hierarchy of a family. Hierarchies are often best defined by tasks and functions. For example, parents usually are at the top of the hierarchy and hold most of the responsibility for family members' well being
- the rules in the family. Rules are the stated and unstated guidelines for the way a family will function. These typically become established through repetition
When might you consider family counseling?
Family members have substance abuse problems. Substance abuse produces chaos and trauma throughout the family system. When your loved one goes into drug/alcohol treatment, they will be counseling and other tools to start their healing and recovery process. Families often receive little or no services throughout this process. Often the services are classes or educational in nature. That is important but families also need and deserve an opportunity to begin their own healing and recovery process. In addition, families who participate in their own recovery process increase the liklihood of successful outcomes for your loved one. Family therapy means more than education or classes, it means counseling - a safe place to begin unraveling the complicated feelings created during substance abuse. If your loved one does not go into treatment, the family can still begin their own healing and recovery process, which will also be beneficial to the loved one who is actively using drugs or alcohol.
Family members have difficulty functioning in their normal capacity. Do you feel an constant "energy drain" in your family? Things that used to be routine and normal are now burdensome? This may indicate a problem that may need outside support to return to normal functioning
Family members tend to have extreme emotional reactions. You or members of your family exhibit excessive anger, fear, sadness, depression or other emotional reactions?
There is a significant breakdown in communication between family members. You find it harder to communicate than usual; more strains around communication conflicts or maybe experiencing the "silent treatment" more often than usual
Family members are withdrawing from family life. Maybe notice a new pattern of one or more family members going into seclusion; checking out of family life, either mentally or physically.
There are symptoms of violence or the threat of violence to oneself or other family members. Are feeling concerned about personal safety, or feeling that violence in your family is a problem. This goes beyond normal "horseplay," between siblings, where things physically escalate quickly. Are you noticing behavior that would be considered "assault" if it weren't between family members?
Family members express feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Do you feel that you have reached the end of your rope? Is coping with the stresses just too much to bear? Do you wonder if your family will ever recover?
There have been changes in the children's behavior at home or school. Children communicate through their behavior. Sudden changes are a clue that something is going on. Changes to be aware of are grades; changes in friends; lose of involvement or interest in extracurricular activities. Are you noticing concerns about attendance problems or disruptive behavior at school? Is one of the children out of control at home?
The family has had a traumatic experience and members are having a hard time coping. Has there been a death in the family? A divorce or separation? An affair discovered? Is the family having difficulty adjusting to the new reality? We all need help from time to time adjusting to new life experiences and families are no different.