Family therapy helps families reduce stress and conflict within their relationships in order to improve systems of interaction and connection. It’s great for families in transition, experiencing grief, dealing with issues related to mental health or addiction, or having difficulties manning every day stressors.
Family therapy helps identify patterns that perpetuate conflict, and implement new ways of communicating. It also looks at the systems in place not only within the family unit, but the environment in which the family exists.
What to expect in family therapy
First things first, expect there to be a good amount of sessions spent on gathering information. Your therapist needs to know so much about your family that it’s going to take some time.
Some therapists will do all of the information gathering with all family members present in every session. Some therapists will break up the sessions between family members. They may have you all come in at first to discuss what each person thinks is “the problem”, then ask for a session with just the parents, or one parent and one kid, or just the grandparents, or only the kids. This is so that the therapist can assess the dynamics within different relationships that exist within the family unit.
Next, expect to explore how culture and generational patterns of boundaries, communication, parenting styles, relationship dynamics, and conflict management are influencing your family’s behaviors. It’s human instinct to try to achieve homeostasis, meaning we want to keep things the same because that’s what is known and comfortable. Family therapy is going to help your family examine how this might be perpetuating the problems rather than fixing hem.
Finally, expect homework. Your family is going to be learning lots of new tools and they’re going to require practice. Have patience with one another as you learn these new systems of engagement, it’s not always easy to make changes.
If you’re thinking of starting family therapy, know that you can talk to therapists before starting. You can ask them what to expect from sessions with them specifically.
Article by Emma Carpenter, MA
Emma is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She supports individuals and couples develop stronger relationships with themselves and others. Emma has family therapy training and Level 2 Gottman training.