What is Family Psychotherapy?
Family therapy is a widespread method of psychotherapy aimed at systematically addressing the problems that people face with their loved ones and other important people. Traditionally, family therapy focuses on how family members communicate with each other, the quality of their relationships, the family’s various development crises, and coping with them. Therapy can result, for example, in improving family coping, increasing understanding, sharing and receiving emotional support between family members and improving problem solving skills.
Who could benefit from family therapy?
Family can be both a great provider of support and a source of stress and pain caused by misunderstanding. Family therapy is thus helpful in all cases where the aim is to increase mutual support within the family. Family therapy can address the problems of any family member that affect his or her relationships with other family members. Timely intervention helps to prevent the pathologization of a family member and to find fast and effective solutions to problems.
Family therapy is a helpful method for dealing with both crises and long-term problems. The method is also useful for preventative purposes – to prevent family members from developing behavioural problems or stop the worsening of their mental health.
The most common problem areas where family therapy has proven to be an effective intervention method are:
- Mental problems, especially chronic ones
- Psychosomatic problems
- Mental problems of children and teenagers
- Problems with sexuality
- Relationship issues, including those associated with divorce
- The life cycle of a family and its developmental crises
- Insufficient parenting skills
- Problems at school
- Work-related problems
- Traumatic experience, loss and mourning
Family therapy allows family members to express their difficult feelings in a safe environment, learn about the experiences and perceptions of other family members, become aware of the needs of others, find the resources available within the family, and thereby create a change in their relationships and in life as a whole.
How does family therapy work?
Family therapy is predominantly conducted in the form of a conversation, where all family members have a chance to express themselves openly and to be heard. The family therapist uses different techniques to bring about change in family communication patterns, treatment of problems and role distribution.
The frequency of family meetings depends on the specificity and criticality of the problem. Sessions can take place once a week or every few months. Everyone in the family or specifically people connected to a problem should participate in family therapy. Sometimes only one or a few family members are able to begin therapy, but even this helps to alleviate the problem, because when the behaviour of one family member changes, that of others cannot remain unchanged. The therapist may decide, for example, after gettig to know the family situation, to only deal with the couple.
The duration of a family session is normally 60-90 min.
Problems that families often face
- Failure to cope with the challenges that the family faces.These include failure to satisfy the basic needs of the family members (security, elementary care, finanicial security). Changes in family composition and difficulties coping with children’s developmental needs. Also, crisis tasks arising in situations that the family suddenly faces (illness or death of a family member, loss of a home, etc.)
- Communication difficulties.Many families who come to therapy have communication difficulties, which means that communication between family members is unclear, inadequate and inconsistent.
- Role problems.These occur when important functions in the family are incorrectly distributed or insufficiently filled. Typical to such cases are the lack of parental authority in bringing up children, or the so-called parentified child, whose task is to carry the role of a missing parent, for example.
- Difficulties controlling behaviour.Typically, families are concerned about the behaviour of a child or children, who may become insubordinate, antisocial or aggressive because of complicated family relationships.
- Boundaries between family subsystems and members.The whole family should have reasonably permeable boundaries between the spouses’, parents’ and children’s subsystems. An insufficient or enmeshed relationship between family members, communication difficulties and failure to control behaviour are some examples of boundary issues in the family.