Strong and healthy family relationships are the foundation for good mental health. As a consequence, well adjusted families are the pillars of a vibrant and progressive society. However, our world is becomingly increasingly complex with new challenges on every level and families are being impacted by an increasingly number of stressors. Naturally these impacts are undermining the healthy family dynamics and creating or amplifying conflict and feelings of
disconnectedness. In many instances parents or care givers are finding it difficult to access coping resources and sometimes lack the knowledge and skills to analyze, understand and resolve these issues at a deeper level.
Modern family stressors are too numerous to describe here but some of them include: divorce/separation, substance abuse, domestic violence, poor communication, emotional avoidance, trauma of one kind or another, unreasonably high pressures to succeed, depression, medical issues, blended families, financial problems, moving to a new home or school and even the passing of a loved one.
Family therapy can be an important resource because it helps family members to examine their interpersonal relationships in a balanced, gentle, objective and responsible way under the guidance and care of a professional therapist. Family therapy views family problems as attributable to patterns or systems of interactions that need observing and adjusting. This is opposed to the pathologizing approach in which a specific family member is viewed as mentally
ill or maladjusted and their functioning difficulties are causing problems for every one else in the family. In contrast to what is often known as the “medical model” approach, family therapy, is a strength based approach, because even in our non-adaptive patterns of responding to each other and to the world, there is opportunity to grow and find healthier ways of connecting and being in relationships with those we love.
Family therapy is an intervention that can help a family to make significant progress in identifying deeply rooted, non-adaptive patterns of interactions that have contributed to conflict and mental illness so that these patterns can be modified in a way that promotes more harmonious attachments in the family as well as better individual functioning for each family member. A family therapist is specially skilled and trained to help family members identify the powerful but unconscious drives which motivate certain difficult to understand patterns of behaviour within the family as a unit.
The therapist may conduct group, couple or one on one sessions or sometimes all three depending on the issue.
Family therapy sessions can help to reduce anxiety and disagreements by enhancing communication and strengthening cohesion among members. A successful course of therapy may also help to foster empathy and understanding among family members, develop and maintain healthy boundaries by coaching individuals to walk away when reactive, so that they have the time needed to access their natural problem solving skills and ability.
Family therapy is a delicate, sensitive and skill demanding process. Not every counsellor is trained for family therapy. It should be conducted by a well qualified, professionally recognized and experienced practitioner. The service should be provided in a setting that is safe, neutral, confidential and conducive for exploring emotionally challenging issues.
“Families come into therapy with their own structure, and tone, and rules. Their organization, their pattern, has
been established over years of living, and it is extremely meaningful and very painful for them. They would not
be in therapy if they were happy with it. But however faulty, the family counts on the familiarity and
predictability of their world. If they are going to turn loose this painful predictability and attempt to reorganize
themselves, they need firm external support. The family crucible must has a shape, a form, a discipline of
sorts, and the therapist has to provide it. The family has to know whether we can provide it, and so they test
Augustus Napier, The Family Crucible: The Intense Experience Of Family Therapy