As marriage and family therapists we are passionate about family systems. We see each family member as part of a bigger picture, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle.
Example of a Family System
Sally sought therapy for her teen daughter, Kerry, because she was struggling in school and fighting with her brother. Kerry was difficult to be with at home and was making everyone in the family miserable. Sally initially thought it would be good for Kerry to engage in therapy because she was in the center of the difficulties in the family.
When talking with a therapist about therapy for Kerry, Sally began describing their family’s recent move and subsequent loss of her husband’s job. Sally has increased her hours at work and hasn’t been able to help her children with homework in the evenings like she had done in the past. Her husband has been there for the children but there has been increased tension in the family’s evening routine. Sally and her husband have been feeling stressed about their finances and have been fighting more than usual.
In a situation like this one, there is often one person who carries the pain of the family in a notable way. For this family, Kerry is acting out and attracting the attention of her parents and sibling. Kerry is playing an important role in keeping the family system together. She is absorbing the family stress and providing something for them to focus on that distracts them from the other problems they are enduring. A family dynamic like this is not usually a conscious choice that family members make. It just seems to “happen.”
How Family System Therapy Can Help
As therapists, we could provide help to Kerry if she were treated for individual therapy. However, we believe that there can be more enduring and meaningful change if we work with the family system.
In therapy, we would help the family talk about the grief and loss they are experiencing from their recent move, loss of job/income, and change in routine. We would also help each family member talk about how these changes have impacted their connection to one another. The goal is to help the family talk about their pain, learn how to support each other, and feel more connected. Kerry’s difficulties would likely subside as the family dynamics shifted.
Starting family therapy can be scary. We are already in stressed and depleted – why would we want to talk about this with someone else who doesn’t know us? What if it doesn’t help? What if we don’t find a good fit with our therapist?
These are valid fears and the truth is that nothing is guaranteed. Reaching out for help is a risk. On the other hand, it just might help. What if therapy helps us see our relationships more clearly? What if we find new ways to relate to each other that surprise us? What if we learn new things about ourselves that help us grow and become more connected?
Steps for Starting Family Therapy:
- Talk to your family. Discuss the possibility of family therapy.
- Choose where you would like to go for therapy.
- Reach out to the center or therapist you have chosen.
At the Center for Family & Relational Health, we are reachable in multiple ways:
- Complete an inquiry form on our website familyrelationalhealth.com
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone 630-733-8161
After you reach out, our intake coordinator will call and ask you a few questions that will help to clarify your struggle and determine if family counseling is right for you. If therapy is a good fit, the intake coordinator will then match you with a therapist.
Working with Your Therapist
Your therapist will then walk through the next steps, which may include:
- Deciding which family members would come to therapy
- Deciding to meet in-person or over video
- Therapy schedule
- Payment options
- How to access forms to complete prior to your first session
- Answering other questions you may have
Your first session will be a time for you and your family to tell your therapist how you are struggling and what you would like to accomplish in therapy. The following sessions will then focus on areas where you would like to grow.
Examples of Family Issues
Below are some examples of family issues that can be addressed in therapy. If your concern is not on the list, don’t worry. This is not an exhaustive list.
- Unresolved conflict
- Therapy for children in the family context
- Financial concerns
- Managing a mental health concern
- Grief and loss
- Blended family systems
- Teen pregnancy