Family therapy operates under the principle that the family is a system, and that every individual within that system can benefit from working together to identify problems and nurture an environment that helps solve those problems. The therapist will want to meet with members of the family both individually and in a group. This can be a valuable way to allow each family member to be heard and for the therapist to better understand the big picture that has led to the family’s decision to attend counseling.
So how do you know when normal family issues have ballooned into something that you need to seek therapy or counseling for? Every family has situations and patterns that are stressful and hard to navigate. When those turn into toxic dynamics or they create repetitive and unhealthy patterns it’s always a good idea to think about professional counseling.
Upsetting Family Members on a Constant Basis
One of the top signs that counseling could help is when the dynamics between two or more individuals in the household are upsetting other members on a constant basis. It can be normal for sibling rivalry to lead to hallway shouting matches. If the entire family gets into shouting matches because of the rivalry, then there is more going on than just sibling dynamics. In a similar vein we know that parents often have differing opinions on discipline, but if those differing opinions result in the children experiencing extreme stress than the entire family may need to work together towards a solution. Any time the patterns of the individuals are disrupting the groups emotional undercurrents than family therapy is indicated.
Lack of Communication with Each Other
Group dynamics are dependent on good communication. A total breakdown in a family’s ability to communicate with each other is a sign that outside help may be needed. If family members feel like it is hopeless to try to talk to each other about problems, or if you have family members who are refusing to even try to communicate about ongoing issues than a licensed counselor can help everyone feel heard in a safe way. Often communication patterns have deteriorated to the point that family members literally don’t know how to say what they mean. Family counseling can help.
A family member with a substance abuse problem can and will develop behaviors that affect the entire group and not just the individual. Addiction is a disease that is just as hard on family members as it is on the patient. If a parent or sibling is struggling with a substance abuse problem than the entire household can benefit from family therapy. This is true even if individual members of the household are going through separate therapy programs of their own. The family system will need support to develop healthy coping mechanisms and to support each other.
A family who has experienced a traumatic event should think about seeking out a family therapist. When a member of the family is lost through death, or when parents decide to divorce the family must navigate immediate and immense changes in their everyday structure. Sudden accidents that change the health status of a family member will also create unique and deeply stressful challenges. Proactively going into family therapy to help you through the rapidly changing family patterns will have a positive effect on the recovery period after such a disaster.
To paraphrase the author Tolstoy, dysfunctional families are all dysfunctional in their own way. There are many times when a family can use the framework and support of family therapy to promote healthy behaviors and systems within the family. If the dynamics in your family are going awry due to problems between individuals, a substance abuse issue or sudden traumatic event than a therapist can help the group system function together. Families experiencing communication breakdowns can be guided through reestablishing functional and healthy channels of communication.