What to expect from family therapy

Therefore, your counselor has referred you to family therapy. Or maybe you have finally reached the end of the constant conflict and started looking for someone to mediate. Either way, family therapy can be a new ground for many people.

Do you feel fear and trembling that the therapist will “nail” you like a bad father? Are you convinced that the therapist will “fix” your child or your partner? Rest assured, if the therapist is doing his job properly, neither is the goal of family therapy.

So what can you expect?

First, expect (or seek) a therapist with training and experience in family therapy. There are many generalists who hang a roof and profess to treat everything and everyone without specific training or experience in family therapy. This is not what you are looking for. Do not go to a general practitioner to treat cancer or diabetes. Likewise, you don’t have to go to a GP to treat your family. Family therapy is very different from individual therapy and requires specialized training and experience. Your family is beautiful. That is why he deserves an experienced therapist, well trained and specialized in family therapy.

Secondly, expect your family therapist to have a systemic perspective. They will see and work with your family as a system (an interconnected whole). Family therapy involves effective intervention in relationships. It considers both individual and relational realities. The fundamental design of family therapy interventions is based on two convictions:

  • That the consequences of a person’s decisions and actions can affect the lives of all people who are significantly related to them.
  • This satisfying relationship for one person is inseparable from the responsible consideration of the consequences for all people with whom a significant relationship is maintained. (Boszormenyi-Nagy and Krasner, 1986).

Therefore, the family therapist should consider the well-being of all those with whom the identified patient has a significant relationship, whether or not they are present in therapy.

Third, expect the family therapist to avoid pathologizing and focus more on family member interactions than on the “identified patient”. Many times, when families go to family therapy, they identify a member as the problem or patient and just want the therapist to “fix” the identified problem or patient. This is not how it should work in family therapy. Expect the family therapist to see the relationships, interactions, and communication patterns between family members and intervene to improve them. The therapist can do this by involving all family members and their perceptions in the process.

Fourth, expect the family therapist to take an approach based on strengths. Although you may be coming to therapy because of what you perceive to be a problem, your family is more than just a problem. Your family has strengths and inner resources that need to be addressed, and your family therapist should help you discover them.

Fifth, expect your family therapist to provoke and pay attention to your emotions. An important principle of family therapy is what we call “state-dependent learning,” the idea that people learn best about emotions when they are in emotional states. Emotions are important in relationships and therefore in family therapy. They should not be ignored or discarded. Rather, they need to be removed. Emotions are a privileged place to influence change in family relationships.

Six, expect the family therapist to pay close attention to the stories that you talk about yourself and to look for unique results. The stories we tell about ourselves can be limiting or empowering. The family therapist will challenge those stories that are limiting and help extract those stories that are empowering.

Finally, expect the family therapist to align with your desire to improve family functioning. There is a concept in family therapy called homeostasis, the idea that family systems work (often against therapy) to return to their preferred (dysfunctional) reality or configuration. However, Dr. John Gottman suggests that each family has two homeostatic resting places: a dysfunctional homeostatic point and a functional homeostatic point. The job of a family therapist is to align with your desire to improve your family’s functioning and help you achieve it.

Boszormenyi-Nagy, I. and Krasner, BR (1986). Between Giving and Taking: A Clinical Guide to Contextual Therapy. New York: Brunnel / Mazel.

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