Sometimes issues impact a whole family: not just one or two people. Family therapy involves multiple members of a family—often the entire household—who sit down together with a therapist to face family obstacles to peace and happiness.
ometimes family life is extremely disrupted by a life-changing event. When one family member has harmed another or him/herself in some way for example, the family often needs family therapy to help them come together as a team and face what is happening to the family. Grieving families often come in for family counseling because a family member was killed or seriously injured, or has been diagnosed with a serious illness or condition.
Other times more gradual changes bring about a need for family therapy. An aging family member or the progression of an illness, such as drug or alcohol addiction can gradually add stress to the family until family members start showing signs of disruption. An angry or distant adult or an out-of-control child is often the first indicator of a distressed family. A family member reverting back to a previous developmental stage can be another sign—such as a fully potty trained child who starts wetting the bed or an adult who stops working or who returns to a former bad habit.
Here are some other specific reasons people have sought family therapy:
Change in family structure:
Some examples of a change in family structure include a break up or the remarriage of one of the parents, the moving out of a maturing child, or the incapacitation of a family member, e.g., Grandpa had a stroke and can’t take care of himself as well anymore. Rules and roles get established in families and changes in structure require new rules and roles for things to work right. Until the new ones are established there is a high probability of friction and disruption. Families often attend family therapy in an attempt to help these changes along.
Sometimes one or more family members are having trouble getting their needs met, and know it will take the cooperation of the entire family to make a needed change. Many parents for example, have initiated family therapy because they are having trouble getting support from their partner and the children in running and taking care of the home.
Parents often bring their children in because the child shows a an extreme behavior or a pattern of destructive or rule-violating child behavior the parent has been unable to improve. Once parents have tried everything they know in order to solve a problem wise parents seek help from trained professionals with experience and training in helping children put problem behaviors behind them.
Arguments between adults that don’t involve children or other family members can often be handled in couples therapy. But when arguments between children, between parents and children, or arguments that involve children who either try to intervene but only make things worse or who seem to set off the arguments or otherwise get in the middle of them, can often best be confronted in family therapy.
Violence in families happens when arguments or a desire to control escalate to threats, breaking things, or family members physically harming or intimidating one another. Even when it is not always witnessed, a pattern of violence always negatively impacts everyone in the immediate family, and usually in the extended family as well. Outcome studies have shown that family therapy is effective in reducing violence in the home. It also works to bring family members together so that after the violence has been stopped, families tend to be stronger and more cohesive than if they had not had family therapy.
Substance abuse and other addictive behavior:
Patterns of abusing substances or engaging in other addictive behaviors like out-of-control gambling, pornography use, shopping, eating, or other addictive behaviors can greatly disrupt family functioning. Families attend family therapy to better face this disruption and to attempt to help the addict. Entire families are impacted by the addictive behavior of even one family member. Through family therapy, addicted families can come together and more effectively support efforts to overcome the addiction. They can also begin to notice and stop doing things that inadvertently encourage continued addictive behavior. Finally, family therapy can provide a great stress relief to all family members because the painful and confusing thing that nobody knew how to talk about is finally being talked about.
Other illnesses or conditions:
People participate in family therapy when one or more family members have emotional or mental health struggles and the family is having trouble coping. A few of these struggles include depression (like Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymia, or Dysthymic Disorder), Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Bipolar Disorder, “Pathological” or out-of-control Gambling, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (also called ADHD or AD/HD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or even Schizophrenia or other illnesses that can include psychosis.
Sexual abuse is a form of violence in which there is sexual activity without the full consent of one of the participants. Even your wife, husband, or long-term sexual partner must consent to sexual activity or it is sexual abuse. Children are not legally or psychologically able to consent to sexual activity. The same is true for mentally or physically disabled adults. Individuals and families cannot heal until the sexual abuse of a family member is confronted and stopped. Family therapy can help gather proper family support and protection for the sexually abused family member and can lead to the abuser getting help and/or getting out. Although it is not easy for anyone, facing abuse in family therapy tends to greatly reduce the stress level for everyone involved.
Other issues can and should be confronted by the entire family through family therapy. A skilled family therapist will draw upon the strengths and relationships of everyone, and family unity is often greatly strengthened in the process.