What to Expect from Family Therapy
The support of close friends and family members is essential when a teen is recovering from a mental health disorder. At the same time, mental illness and recovery can bring up conflict and confusion within family units. Family therapy provides an avenue through which family members can learn more about a loved one’s condition.
Furthermore, they can learn about their own roles in supporting the teen and restoring the family system. Thus, family therapy can be an extremely beneficial addition to the overall treatment plan for a teen who is undergoing mental health treatment.
Research Proves Family Therapy is Key
Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated the power of family therapy. Research on family therapy can be an effective supplemental treatment for youth with anxiety, depression, ADHD, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions.
There are various types of family therapy. Strategic family therapy addresses specific problems. Structural family therapy looks at the family as a system of relationships, behaviors, and patterns. Both the strategic and structural family therapy approaches fall under the category of family systems therapy, based on psychiatrist Murray Bowen’s family systems theory. In multiple family group therapy, several different families come together to learn from each other, with the guidance of a therapist.
Questions About Family Therapy
A teen’s therapist can support the family in finding a family therapist. A family therapy center can also be helpful.
Family members planning to enter therapy may have a number of questions and concerns regarding the process. Here are seven things to expect when beginning family counseling.
1. Feelings of Uncertainty
Before working with a family therapist, family members may feel nervous and resistant. However, family therapy—just like individual therapy and couples therapy—is most effective when each individual is committed to the process. In order to garner everyone’s support, it helps to first ensure that everyone understands how it works.
Especially when explaining the concept to younger children, parents might consider drawing a comparison between mental health professionals and doctors. While doctors make sure our bodies stay healthy, mental health professionals help us stay healthy in the ways we think and behave.
To help family members understand why the therapy process will be worthwhile, parents can provide examples of difficult situations, conflicts, and emotional challenges that the family might be able to navigate more smoothly with the guidance of an expert. It’s important to stress that the entire family can benefit from the process.
2. An Extensive Introductory Process
A teen’s participation in mental health treatment can have an impact on the entire family. Additionally, strained relationships within the family or disturbed family systems can exacerbate a teen’s symptoms. During family therapy, a mental health professional will help family members learn how to work together to support each person’s mental health.
Therefore, family members should expect to spend a significant amount of time helping the therapist get to know everyone in the family. Moreover, the therapist needs to get up to speed on the challenges the family is facing, as well as the family history. Therefore, the family therapist will likely ask about common sources of stress or conflict in the family, any histories of trauma and abuse among family members, and other personal details that can be helpful in determining family therapy goals.
In order for family therapy to be productive, everyone involved must be honest and committed to the process. It is important for all family members to be attentive during each session and to make an honest attempt to trust the therapist and the family therapy techniques they use.
Just as in couples counseling, each individual is expected to openly share their thoughts and emotions, and to be forthcoming about their role in the family and its conflicts.
4. The Creation of a Plan
The family therapist’s goal is to guide a family in assessing its problems and developing constructive strategies to overcome them. In doing so, the therapist will help family members develop their own vision of a stable and happy family unit. Furthermore, the therapist will support the family in creating a roadmap to get there.
Therapy provides families with a structure by which to assess and improve their interactions. In some cases, a family therapist may begin this process by having each participant sign a contract promising to communicate respectfully during each session.
5. A Focus on Conflict Resolution and Communication
During therapy sessions, family members discuss the family’s significant conflicts and how they are typically addressed within the family unit. Then, with the help of the therapist, they look at how they might improve the way they work through challenges. As the family strives to improve its conflict resolution skills, the therapist will help them take a closer look at how the family communicates.
Family therapy can help family members learn how to share their thoughts and emotions clearly and respectfully. In addition to teaching healthy ways to resolve disagreement, therapy also assists individuals in learning how to advocate for themselves and their opinions in a constructive way. Family members spend time working on communication skills, such as speaking up politely or knowing when to say “no.”
6. A Closer Examination of a Teen’s Mental Condition
When participating in family therapy as a part of a teen’s broader individual therapy and treatment strategy, parents and other family members will have an opportunity to learn about the teen’s mental health or addiction in depth. This process will help the entire family better understand and relate to the teen. Additionally, it can be effective in mitigating stress or concerns regarding the teen’s condition.
To truly benefit from family therapy, the entire family must be committed to integrating the lessons and insights from each session into their daily life. Moreover, the therapist will most likely assign tasks and family therapy goals for the family to work toward between sessions.
These tasks might include making note of situations in which family members successfully employ coping skills or conflict resolution strategies. It will likely also involve setting aside time to discuss thoughts and feelings outside of therapy. Parents might consider setting up a regular family meeting to address conflicts, coping strategies, and future topics of discussion. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page about the therapy process.
Therefore, the entire family can play a part in building a healthy, happier life together.
Crane, D & Morgan, Triston. (2007). The efficacy and effectiveness of family therapy.