Family Counseling and How Therapy Can Help

When most people think about family therapy orfamily counseling, they picture a therapist or counselor engaging in a discussion with them and only them, one-on-one. Therapy, however, can take many forms, and can include couples counseling as well as family counseling. Since families have a different dynamic in comparison to couples, family therapy involves the entire family in the counseling process, rather than just one part (i.e. the parents). As a San Diego Family Counselingexpert, I have helped many families come together and discuss their issues in a private, safe environment, whereby everyone has the opportunity to be seen and heard from. This is one of the most important components of family counseling: the chance to speak in front of your family members in an open and honest manner. Most dysfunctional families do not feel as though they can express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions directly to the other members of their family, resulting in poor communication within the family unit. In severe cases, this can lead a troubled family member to behave in ways that are incoherent with his/her “normal” behavior. For example, things like alcohol and drug abuse are common coping mechanisms that a distressed family member may turn to. As you can imagine, this leads to much larger problems for both the individual and the unit. Above all, it masks the real, underlying issue which is the feeling of suppression this member is experiencing with regards to being able to effectively communicate with his/her family.

Before things get to this point, however, family therapy can be a beneficial intervention. Not only will a counselorprovide a safe environment for the family to openly discuss their matters in, but the they will also ensure fairness by allowing each member his/her opportunity to speak freely and openly. As I said previously, most family units are unable to do this effectively on their own, and that is why sometimes it takes the aid of a third, objective party to provide this type of environment for you.

During therapy, we will examine your family’s ability to problem-solve and express feelings and emotions. Roles may also be explored in order to help identify issues that are leading to conflicts. Above all, and with some help, your family will be provided with ways to help work through these inevitable conflicts as a family, ultimately bringing you closer together. This is often accomplished by identifying and focusing on the family’s preexisting strengths. It is also important that each member participates in all the sessions for optimal results. Additionally, each family member must take ownership for his/her role in the issues contributing to the family dynamic. While some family members may need to change their behaviors more than others, the goal of family counseling is never to blame a certain individual. Instead, the focus remains on the family as a whole and the strengths of the family unit.

Family counseling is often used in situations where one family member is ill (either physically or mentally). With one unwell family member, the entire unit is affected. Family counseling can help not only the troubled individual (this could be both in group sessions and in individualized therapy), but can also benefit the other members who are indirectly affected by this member’s issue. For instance, this kind of therapy can help a family cope if a member has depression, an eating disorder, or an addiction – to name just a few.  These are issues that people often (falsely) believe affect only the person dealing with them. But as many of us know, when one member is not functioning at his/her optimal level, the entire family unit is adversely affected.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – Many of us have heard this expression, but perhaps have not completely understood its meaning. When applied to the family, this means that in order to fully understand the family as a unit (a “whole”), we have to examine the dynamic processes and dialogues that are central to the family overall. This means that the focus is away from the individual family members (the “sum” of individuals in the family), and instead remains on the unit as a whole. Without disregarding that a single member may be affected by some physical or mental illness, family counseling recognizes that this is something that affects the entire family unit, and not solely the “affected” individual. In order to understand the family as a unit, we cannot isolate the individuals from their extended context (the family).

There are several benefits to family counseling. To name just a few:

  1. Is often short term, and depending on your individual family’s situation, can last anywhere from 4 – 6 months in duration.
  2. Sessions are also relatively brief, lasting approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending upon your family’s schedule and availability.
  3. Each of the sessions can teach you skills to strengthen family connections and overcome stressful periods, even after counseling has ended.
  4. It can help you improve troubled relationships with your spouse, children, and other family members. Specific issues, such as marital conflict and financial stress can be addressed, along with general issues such as poor communication skills.
  5. It can be useful in many situations that causes tension, grief, anger or conflict. It can help your family better communicate and understand one another, ultimately bringing you closer together.
  6. Unlike other types of therapy, it requires no preparation. The only preparation needed is to find good counselor or therapist. Please do not hesitate to call me for a free consultation so that I can get to know your situation better and offer you the help your family may require.
  7. Seeking help does not automatically imply that your family’s problems are miraculously solved and will never resurface, it can help your family achieve a better understanding of one another. In addition, it can provide you with a wide range of skills that will help you cope with the inevitably challenging situations your family encounters throughout life.

Once you have attended several sessions, you can begin to implement some of the communication techniques you have acquired in your own home. Your family therapist will teach you ways of communicating with one another that are 1) tailored to your individual needs and specific situations, and 2) are respectful and sensitive to each member involved. Once you have a repertoire of good communication skills to draw from, you will find that your arguments lessen and your productive, healthy discussions increase.  Call me at 858-481-0425 for more information.

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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