“Only the family, society’s smallest unit, can change and yet maintain enough continuity to rear children who will not be “strangers in a strange land,” who will be rooted firmly enough to grow and adapt.”
— Salvador Minuchin (Families and Family Therapy)
Being a social organism, for most of us family is the most important entity in life. A family may not always be blood-related. It could just be people we love and surround our lives with. “Family” is defined by the modern family therapist as anyone who plays a long-term supportive role in one’s life, which may not mean blood relations or family members in the same household. This family that we make or born with, influences every aspect of our lives. It affects who we are and how we get there for better or worse. Hence it is very essential to have a problem-free relation with our families.
Family therapy or family counseling 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 of time, a major transition, or mental or behavioral health problems in family members (“Family Therapy”, 2014).
As Dr. Michael Herkov explains, family therapy views individuals’ problems in the context of the larger unit: the family (2016). Basically, this means problems of individuals cannot be solved without knowing the family context and dynamics. It is an ideal method for helping family members adjust to an immediate family member struggling with an addiction, medical issue or mental health diagnosis. It is also recommended for improving communication and reducing conflict.
Outcomes from Family Therapy
- Building and maintaining healthy boundaries
- Positive communication among family members
- Reduces family conflicts and promotes problem solving
- Building understanding of the family dynamics
Types of Family therapy:
Bowenian (Murray Bowen) – This form of family therapy is for those who cannot or do not want to bring family members into the therapy room. It constitutes two factors, triangulation and differentiation. Triangulation includes diverting anxiety and/or conflict by involving a third party (for e.g. a sister complaining to her brother/cousin about her parents). Differentiation is about developing tactics to become less reactive to one’s relationship with other members. (for e.g. writing letters instead of verbal communication) This increases connectedness among the members.
Structural (Salvador Minuchin) – This form of family therapy focuses on reordering the hierarchy of the family system according to how the roles and power are distributed. It makes sure the parents or adult caretakers in the home, are in control of the situation and work as a team in setting appropriate boundaries for children. The therapist strengthens adult and sibling relationships by joining with the family to help make sure no one person in the family system have too much power.
Systemic (Gianfranco Cecchin-Milan Model) – This form of family therapy focuses on the aim of the family member’s behavior. It is based on the fact that family communication is happening at an unconscious level and generally tackled by the therapist being neutral and distant but at the same time he/she makes sure the family has its own rituals that helps the family to articulate and understand the reason behind the problems.
Strategic (Jay Haley) – A very brief and fairly direct family therapy approach, it is suited for people who want a fast result. The therapist assess the situation and prescribes homework with the family dynamics in mind for all family members to interact with the person identified as a problem. The homework is intended to improve the way the family communicates and makes decisions. Ideally the therapist takes charge of the entire family to facilitate each member of the family to communicate more effectively.
“I consider therapy successful when the family members (or individual clients) have discovered ways to get what they need from their relationships with the people in their lives, so that their relationship with me is no longer necessary to sustain them. Like a chemical catalyst that facilitates a reaction between two other substances, the therapeutic relationship catalyzes the transformation of relationships in the lives of clients. But the real healing takes place not in the therapeutic relationship but in the client’s relationships with significant others.”