Every family will occasionally experience periods of disharmony. There will be arguments and disagreements, and as roles within the family change over time, the overall dynamic of each family unit will also change. This in itself can cause unforeseen issues and conflicts.
Many families are able to navigate change and disruption, but plenty more struggle and often find that it’s hard to communicate with each other effectively and healthily without an argument ensuing. Even families that seem to be able to move through issues in relative harmony can fall into the trap of overlooking issues or not properly addressing concerns. This means every family can benefit from family counselling.
In this article, we’re going to talk more about family therapy, what it is, how it works, and what the benefits of it are.
Family counselling, also known as family therapy, is a branch of psychotherapy that aims to aid families in understanding each other, communicating with each other, hearing each other’s struggles, and resolving conflicts or issues that could be causing a tense or fractured dynamic.
There are lots of reasons why families attend family therapy, be it to resolve parenting inconsistencies, sibling rivalries, a serious issue with one family member that is affecting others, divorce, loss, and chronic illness.
Family counselling gives families the chance to speak about the problems they have and work through them as a unit, with the intention of making everyone feel safe, heard, and understood.
There are many types of issues that families can face, and as such, there are different types of counselling aimed at tackling specific problems.
Functional family therapy is a type of therapy that is typically used in families where a child or teenager under the age of 18 has behavioural issues and poor familial relations. It aims to look at why the young person might be acting the way they are, open up lines of communication between key family members, and improve relationships on the whole.
Multisystemic family counselling is an intense form of therapy for families where a young person, typically ages 11 to 17, is at risk of being placed in care or police custody. This type of counselling focuses on more severe behavioural problems and emotional issues than functional family counselling. This form of counselling typically involves the child, their key caregivers, their school, and their general neighbourhood area. The aim is to reduce the young person’s antisocial behaviour, improve their engagement at school and in their local area, and mend broken familial relationships.
Transgenerational family therapy looks at the roles of different family members across generations, such as parents and children. It looks at how the family has dealt with problems in the past, specifically problems that have been ongoing, and uses this as a basis to predict how future problems might develop and be dealt with. This is a good therapy option for families that struggle to break certain cycles but are keen to prevent issues from hindering another generation.
Structural family therapy looks at the actual structure of the entire family unit as opposed to problems within the family unit. It looks to define roles, set clear boundaries, and ensure the family unit is balanced and coherent.
The type of family therapy you have will depend on the issues you’re trying to deal with and your family dynamics, but the long-term benefits of attending family counselling can be seen across all types of therapeutic approaches. The main thing to keep in mind is that no matter your issue, there will be a type of counselling that can help you address it.
Now, let’s look at some of the key advantages and beneficial points you can take away from family counselling. It’s important to remember that everyone takes something different away from therapy or counselling, and it may take some family members longer than others to work through issues, but if you engage fully and take the advice of your counsellor on board, there’s every chance that you can get something positive out of it.
1. Improve communication
Any type of therapy involves communication, so by default, family counselling will offer more open, honest, and healthy communication. As your counsellor guides you through sessions, you may find that you feel comfortable enough to open up and discuss your feelings in a neutral environment free from judgement. Your counsellor will be able to provide advice and guidance on how to communicate in a more healthy, positive method, teaching you listening techniques and how to speak in a non-inflammatory way. These are lessons you can use in the future and that can help you navigate future issues in all areas of your life.
2. Strengthen familial bonds
A lot of families go to counselling because the bond between them is fractured or strained in some way. There are lots of reasons for this, but for families that want to repair and strengthen their bonds instead of going no contact, counselling is a great way to do so. Once you understand how everyone feels and you communicate your issues to those around you, you can gain a better insight into your family members and how you can be there for them and support them. This can help you to rebuild your relationship with each other and strengthen the bond of the family unit.
3. Develop boundaries
There are multiple instances where family conflict arises from a lack of boundaries. For example, you might have a parent who feels entitled to your time and attention, even if it makes you uncomfortable. It can be difficult to set boundaries yourself in such instances, especially if you think it might cause emotional distress to the other person. Counselling can help you set clear, healthy boundaries based on your feelings, needs and wants. You can talk about why you want those boundaries, and you can also learn what other people’s boundaries are, too, and ensure you don’t overstep them.
4. Define familial roles
Most families operate in a hierarchy, and different family members with different skills can take on different roles. For example, you might have a sibling who is logical and who can help you problem solve, and a sibling who is creative and can help you with interests and hobbies. Then, you might have your parents who are authoritative. For some families, roles aren’t so clear cut, and some children struggle to identify their authority figures or to know their own roles. Family therapy can help with this. When roles are defined, families tend to be more fluid.
5. Talk through parenting problems
Most parents have different parenting styles. For example, it’s common that one parent might be stricter than another. This can cause a myriad of problems, both for the parents and the children. From the parent’s perspective, it might seem like one is undermining the other which can cause friction. For children, it can send out mixed messages about what is acceptable and what isn’t. This can create a dysfunctional dynamic. Therapy can help parents address issues, and it gives children the opportunity to talk about things they find unfair in relation to their parent’s parenting style.
6. Address issues such as substance abuse
Addiction and substance abuse can be detrimental to families. Families typically want to help their loved one through a difficult time and keep them safe, but without an understanding of how addiction works, it can be hard and they might not go about it in the right way. Those who suffer from substance abuse may engage in antisocial and hurtful behaviour that harms their family and causes emotional distress, which can further impair relationships and cause even more of a wedge. Family counselling is useful for families going through issues such as this, or those where there are mental health problems present, as it gives everyone a platform to speak on the matter and truly try to understand each other.
7. Process bereavement
Loss and bereavement are hard for anyone to come to terms with, especially families. Losing a parent, child, or sibling can drastically change the family dynamic and cause rifts charged with emotion. Bereavement counselling is always useful for those who have experienced loss, but if your family is struggling to cope with loss and move on as a complete unit, family-specific therapy can be of use.
8. Adapt to significant changes
As well as loss, there are several other big changes families may have to come to terms with, such as divorce. This is a change that affects the family in a big way and that can be hard for everyone to adjust to, and that may see fractures open up across the unit. Everyone deals with things like this differently, but different approaches can cause problems, and blame may be attributed. Counselling can be useful for families that need to adapt to big life changes, such as divorce, as every member can talk about how they feel and understand how others are impacted, too.
9. Confront marital problems
Problems within a spousal relationship can affect other members of the family and create an unpleasant or unhealthy living environment for everyone involved. Couples therapy or marriage counselling are an option, but in instances where children have been affected by their parents marital problems, family counselling can help give them a voice and get their feelings heard. It can also help parents explain what’s happening and why it’s happening, giving everyone a better understanding of what’s going on and how it might be addressed.
10. Resolve conflicts
Conflicts in families can happen between any and every member. You might not get along with your parents, or perhaps you have a conflict with a sibling. Such issues can be hard for everyone to manage. For example, if you don’t get along with your sibling, family functions may be fractious and tense, and this can have an impact on everyone else. Counselling is a good tool to explore conflicts and potentially resolve them, no matter what they might stem from.
Aside from the benefits of family counselling listed above, it has been proven to be effective in the long-term for a range of issues. There’s no guarantee that seeing a counsellor will enable your family to move past their problems, but many families find it to be a useful tool that helps them to build healthy family relationships and improve their bond over time.
Every therapy session is different and the approach will depend on the type of therapy that is being undertaken, but sessions typically last an hour or just under are carried out by a mental health professional. It’s recommended that sessions are carried out on a weekly basis where possible for continuity.
Firstly, you will outline the issues your family is having to your family therapist, and they will then determine the best course of action thereafter. Some families see multiple therapists before finding one that works for them, so if one counselling approach doesn’t work for you, there are other options through other counsellors.
How long you have family therapy sessions for depends on the issues being raised and whether other family members join in with the therapy. Some families only need a couple of sessions, whereas those with more complex issues may benefit from more.
Lots of families can benefit from counselling, whether there are serious issues such as substance abuse, chronic illness, pre- or post-natal depression, or loss at play, or if you simply want to improve the harmony and communication within your family.
At Psymplicity Healthcare, we have a team of 24 doctors and therapists who specialise in family issues and family psychotherapy. More than 10,000 families have trusted us to undertake therapy with them. We offer a warm, calm, and comfortable environment where you can talk through your concerns with us and receive a tailored counselling plan to help improve your familial relationships.
If you would like to find out more about how family counselling could benefit you, or how our other services could be of use to you, please get in touch with us today.
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