We all start this life with a family, whether that family is composed of blood relatives, adopted parents, a close-knit neighborhood, or a foster family. This family that we acquire when we are born influences every aspect of our lives, from our first moments to our last. Our family affects who we are and who we become, for better and for worse. We learn our vocabulary, our habits, our customs and rituals, and how to view and observe the world around us. We also learn how to love and how to interact with others from these first important relationships.
If we are born into a healthy family with healthy relationships, we are likely to learn how to maintain healthy relationships. If we are born into a dysfunctional family that struggles to connect, we may also struggle to connect with others. While it is certainly unlucky to be born into a dysfunctional family, it’s not an unchangeable situation. Nearly all families deal with some sort of dysfunction at one time or another, yet most families retain or regain a sense of wholeness and happiness.
Family therapy offers families a way to do this, a way to develop or maintain a healthy, functional family. Family therapy is a form of treatment that is designed to address specific issues affecting the health and functioning of a family. It can be used to help a family through a difficult period, a major transition, or mental or behavioral health problems in family members. Family therapy can employ techniques and exercises from cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, interpersonal therapy, or other types of individual therapy. Like with other types of treatment, the techniques employed will depend on the specific problems the client or clients present. Behavioral or emotional problems are common reasons to visit a family therapist. Problems do not exist in a vacuum; they exist, and will likely need to be addressed, within the context of the family.
A family who is struggling with a situation that brings added stress, such as the death of a family member, addiction, or dire financial straits, may benefit from counseling to help them through their struggles to emerge on the other side as a stronger and more cohesive unit. If a family is struggling with more chronic mental or behavioral problems, such as a father dealing with schizophrenia, a mother fighting depression, or a child who has been abused, psychotherapy is likely the better choice.
This type of therapy is appropriate for families with problems such as these because a family therapist has a different perspective on treatment than an individual therapist. While the individual therapist works with one client on solving or curing a problem, the family therapist views problems in the context of the “system” of the family. To solve a problem in a system, you need to consider all parts of the system.