What Is It?
Family Therapy is, as it sounds, therapy which involves the whole, or part of, a family.
It can take place in a family home, or more commonly in a hospital clinic. Sometimes there is one therapist present and sometimes more than one. In some circumstances, there may also be a team of people, sitting behind a one-way mirror, in another room, who are watching what is going on, and helping the therapist(s) conduct the session. The sessions may also be recorded.
We know this sounds a bit worrying, but people generally quickly get used to it, and nothing should ever be done without getting the family's permission first.
Who Are The Therapists?
The therapists can be any number of health professionals. They may be psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, social workers, nurses or simply people who have been trained in the use of one or more types of family therapy.
Usually, the therapist will have received some specific training in family therapy, and may have a specific qualification relating to it.
How long does it last?
This can vary quite a lot. The length of treatment can vary anywhere from just the one session, to therapy going on many times a week for a number of years.
The length of each session can vary a lot, but typically they last between 50 minutes and an hour and a half.
Why Family Therapy And Not Another Therapy?
Family therapy deals with the family, and not just one person, like many of the other therapies. This can have a number of advantages, such as being able to inflence the problem via a number of people, instead of just one.
Family therapy can take many different forms. The therapist(s) can use many different approaches including supportive counselling, cognitive-behavioural techniques, psychodynamic techniques, or what is known as a systemic approach.
What Is Systemic Family Therapy?
This can be basically summed up as an approach which uses the idea that the problem lays within the family as a whole, and not just within a single person.
For example, if a child is wetting the bed, although recognising that it is the child that is actually the one who is wetting the bed, systemic family therapy, will look at the whole family and the relationships between all the people involved (sometimes past and present) and try to locate how those relationships are contributing to, and keeping the problem going.
The therapist(s) may want to explore issues such as how everyone sees everyone else, what expectations about the problem are in the family, and what function the problem serves for the family.
We know this sounds a bit strange at first sight, but if you think about it, it's really quite sensible.
For example, if a child is wetting the bed, it may be that the child is doing it (although they don't know themselves why) because they are sensing that their Mum and Dad aren't getting on very well. Thus, in wetting the bed the child is saying that the problem lies with him or her. Mum and Dad may use this problem, again often for only the best reasons in their own minds, to focus their attention on the child and not their own relationship difficulties. This may serve the function of keeping the whole family together, instead of risking the break-up of the parents' relationship and hence the family.
How Does It Work?
All the common forms of family therapy attempt to influence what is going on using more than one member of the family.
Supportive Family Therapy is often used as a way of allowing family members to say how they feel about a problem in a safe, caring setting. Sometimes, the problem can be really difficult to deal with at home (for example, caring for a sick child), and this provides an opportunity for families to get together, and openly talk about it, as well as offer practical advice and information about further sources of help.
Family therapy using Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques attempts to change the ways people think or behave in order to reduce or get rid of the problem. Homework tasks may be set, or specific behavioural programs might be drawn up.
Family therapy using Psychodynamic ideas tends to look more into the individual's own unconscious (sometimes called subconscious) minds. It attempts to reduce the problem(s) by uncovering what is really going on 'under the surface'. It is hoped that by providing the individuals in the family with, if you like, the 'real' reasons behind what is going on, people will be able to deal with their difficulties more successfully.
Systemic Family Therapy attempts to identify the problems and relationships, ideas and attitudes of all the family to get an idea about what is going on for the whole family. Once these areas are clear the therapist(s) will sometimes attempt to shift the problem(s), attitudes, relationships, to a position that is more beneficial, less damaging, or simply more realistic. They may do this in a number of ways, which may include education, homework tasks, experimentation (e.g. suggesting that the family try behaving or relating in a different way), or attempting to provide some insight to the family members about what is really going on. The emphasis is on the whole family, and not blaming one or more individuals, for the problem.
In the real world, even though therapists may mainly use one kind, they can often use more than one type of family therapy, depending on their own judgement about what is best at the time.
Family therapy can be a very powerful and testing process to go through. Many people have found it very helpful, but there are some people whom it doesn't suit. Don't give up if it doesn't work out, it may be that perhaps you may need to try somewhere else, or, perhaps, another form of therapy. Talk it over with a health professional (maybe your doctor) whom you trust.
I can make it interesting and fun even for teenagers.
Give me a call and we can meet for a complimentry first session.