Every family faces challenges. Even during the best of times, families can have conflicts due to differences in personality, communication styles, wants, and needs. When life adds additional stressors, such as illness, loss, or trauma, families can suffer greatly. Family therapy can be a great way to get your family back on track so that you can thrive individually and as a group.
Types of Family Therapy
There are many different types of family therapy. Almost all of them deal with the family system. You’ll work with your therapist to deal with trauma, conflict, transitions, the impact of the past on the present, and many other challenges. You will learn how to develop the strengths of each family member in order to increase respect, communication, and positive feelings within the entire family system. That said, there are variations within different approaches, and you might find that one approach works better than another for your family.
For example, structural therapy recognizes that power is distributed differently in various family relationships. Parents hold more power than children, for example. The therapist helps the family properly distribute that power. For example, if one parent has aligned with a child against the other parent, the hierarchy of power has been disrupted, so the therapist works to help everyone transition to a healthier distribution of power between two aligned parents. Much of this therapy is about setting appropriate boundaries, which is something that’s useful for all families to practice.
In contrast, systemic family therapy isn’t so concerned about individual power but instead focuses on how the entire family interacts. There’s an underlying belief that each person plays an unconscious role in whatever the perceived problem is. For example, if one member of the family has a problem with alcohol misuse, it isn’t seen as that person’s problem, but rather that each person in the system contributes to the problem. More importantly, changes in even one person’s actions will change the whole system, so anyone can take steps that produce positive changes in the entire family. Systems family therapy emphasizes addressing what’s happening at the unconscious level within the family.
Supportive Family Therapy
When a family is coping with one specific problem, they might benefit from supportive family therapy. It’s a common approach for families with one member who is severely mentally and/or physically challenged. For example, when a child has a degenerative chronic illness, it impacts the entire family. Supportive therapy helps educate everyone in the family about the condition as well as allow for an emotional outlet about how it impacts each person.
Strategic Family Therapy
Strategic family therapy incorporates some of the same underlying principles as other approaches to family therapy. However, it’s a short-term, solution-focused type of family therapy. Family members participate in family therapy activities and do homework to help draw attention to challenges and shift family communication. For example, a family that yells frequently might be asked to yell even more; this emphasizes the issue and helps create changes in longstanding patterns.
CBT for Families
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is yet another option for families. Your therapist helps you identify your thought patterns and the behaviors that you’re choosing related to those thought patterns. You’ll gain insight into why you do what you do as well as why your family members behave the way that they do. Moreover, you’ll practice specific behavioral changes that allow you all to work better together as a family.
Individual “Family” Therapy
Finally, there are some types of family therapy that individuals can do on their own. For example, Bowen family therapy is a model that helps you look at the challenges in your own relationships and how you can move past them. You’ll look at ways you can change in order to reduce your own negative reactions within situations. You might also do exercises such as writing letters to family members to work through conflicts and challenges.
Similarly, individuals may use narrative therapy to rework their version of their own family’s history. In narrative therapy, you tell the story of your family. Then you work with your therapist to redefine that story into one that is more empowering and helpful for your future. You do the work individually, but you can focus on the family as part of this therapy.
Whether your entire family goes to therapy or you have to start working through family issues on your own, taking those first steps can lead you on a journey to healing.
Dr. Jeffrey Levine a Hartford Therapist Licensed Psychologist with over 40 years of clinical experience. He specializes in treating adults in individual psychotherapy, with expertise in trauma focused hypnosis, energy transformational healing and Internal Family Systems.