While good child therapists work closely with a child’s parents to assist them in understanding and relating to their child, their primary focus is the healing and development of individual children. When therapists conduct family therapy, they aim to improve the functioning of the family as a whole, and thereby better the lives of all family members, including the children. Family therapy sessions may include all members of a household, and may even include grandparents or other members of the extended family.
Family therapy can be particularly effective in a number of circumstances, including:
- When families have difficulty communicating feelings and ideas to each other in a constructive manner
- When families are anticipating or have experienced major transitions, such as when a breadwinner retires or when a child goes off to college
- When new members, such as stepparents, stepsiblings, and adoptive children enter the family
- When a family member suffers from a mental, developmental (page 6), physical, or alcohol or substance abuse difficulty that is impacting the entire family
- When families are adjusting to losses such as a family member’s death or a parental separation
- When relationships within families are characterized by factions and bitterness
- When roles within families are particularly unclear, such as when children frequently disobey limits or adults assume dependent roles
- When families lack cohesion or a sense of shared purpose
Many families find that family therapy can be effective even if a problem seems to be primarily situated within a given child. Families that improve their communication and relationships through family therapy often find that the emotional and behavioral health of the children in the family also improves.
Family therapists look at a family as a “whole system”, and address all of its component “parts” in the process of therapy. They work with parents and other caretakers to establish an environment of respect and affection. They support children in their efforts to develop themselves within the family milieu. They work to strengthen the bonds that each family member has with one another, and assist the whole family to communicate in a positive and constructive manner. Successful family therapy results in a more cohesive family unit, and a more positive and supportive family atmosphere in which all individuals within the family are able to grow and thrive.
Please see our blog for an article on family therapy and autism.
Please see our blog post on the value of family meetings, which are are a common outgrowth of family therapy.