There are many circumstances that may lead you to consider hiring a family therapist. Possible barriers to seeking family therapy include believing that your family should be able to solve its problems independently of outside help, not achieving consensus among family members to engage in therapy, being unsure of the effectiveness of family therapy, or questioning whether or not your family’s challenges are significant enough to seek help.
How do I Know if My Family Needs Help?
Different models of family therapy will emphasize different aspects of family functioning to assess if a family is healthy. It is important to acknowledge the socio-cultural values informing these assessments and recognize that what works for you and your family may not work for another family. In other words, there is no single formula to determine whether or not your family is functioning healthily or unhealthily. By the same token, if it feels as though things within your family have become difficult to manage, reaching out and connecting with a family therapist can be a proactive step towards overcoming challenges and healing.
Family Therapy Can Address Several Family Challenges:
- Has your family suffered a traumatic event? This may include a death in the family or an individual member having been the victim of abuse. Turning to one another for support during times of crisis can help a family heal from traumatic events. Sometimes families are facing a traumatic event about which they don’t know how to communicate for fear of upsetting each other further or saying the wrong thing. Sometimes vulnerable feelings get expressed through anger, and distance is created between family members rather than closeness. When family members isolate themselves to cope with their feelings, sadness and despair can deepen. Building a language for talking about traumatic events and signalling that it’s okay to talk about it is an important step towards processing the event and healing from it.
- Communication breakdown. Has communication in your family broken down? Has it reached the point where there is constant fighting or virtually no communication at all? Family therapy can offer your family a space in which to communicate differently. Stepping outside of the conflictual dynamic will allow you to see where and how your family is getting pulled into a negative cycle. Building an awareness of the emotional processes within individual family members that contribute to a conflictual or avoidant dynamic can lead to an atmosphere of empathy, understanding and acceptance. Healthy communication allows for effective problem solving.
- Is your family going through a transition such as a move or a divorce? Transitions can be difficult to navigate, especially for adolescents and children. Adjusting to a new environment or to a new family configuration involves mourning what has been lost. This includes the things that were not conducive to the family’s wellbeing. It also involves building new relationships. It’s natural for transitions to evoke insecurity and anxiety. Processing these feelings as a family can help rebuild a sense of safety and security for adolescents and children.
- Mental health issues. If a family member is struggling with new or ongoing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or addiction, family support can be a critical component of treatment and recovery. Family therapy can help both the symptomatic individual and the family unit. It will help you develop tools to understand and cope with their own suffering and to support one another.
Turning towards one another for support in times of need can strengthen a family’s ability to problem solve effectively. It can also help you to heal from traumatic events and to cope with both individual and family challenges. If you feel like your family is struggling to connect, family therapy can provide you with a space in which to build healthy communication and strong relationships.
Written by: Alexa Leon, MSW, M.Sc.(A), Couple & Family Therapist, Montreal Therapy Centre