What is family therapy and how does family counselling work? Families come with complexities, longings, stress and discord, love, attachment and disillusionment and therapy can be an invaluable way to heal challenges and problems and help all members of a family function better together.
While some therapists focus on one specific model of family therapy, others take an integrative or systemic approach, incorporating elements of various therapeutic models. For instance, behavioural techniques focus on skills training and psychoeducation to help family members address specific issues such as, for example, poor communication, whilst systemic family therapy looks at the interconnection to those around us as challenges are shared and flow within the family and all other systems we live in like communities, social and work networks.
Family therapy focuses on the emotional responses of each member of the family and seeks to explore relational dynamics, finding new emotional insights and better responses and adaptability. Adaptability in families is about responding to life’s changing circumstances with good communication and a flexibility.
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Children and Divorce
In addition to helping parents through the difficult times of divorce, family therapy can benefit children. Children tend to do better when their parents are involved in their lives. Long custody battles can be harmful to children, extended families, mutual friends and separated couple.
Children might struggle to make sense of their parent’s divorce or separation as the world and life as they know is no more and changes often beyond their control. Presenting a new containing and solid family picture might be difficult when parents are scared, grieving and confused about the future and children have limited capacity to understand and express their own emotions and often look at their parents as a source of security and stability.
How do you let your child know about the relational and practical implications of divorce? Is your child in a state of grief or confusion? Does co-parenting look like a new landscape difficult to conceive or imagine? How can you reassure your children when overcoming your own struggles and a sense of vulnerability? In these cases, family therapy may be helpful and supportive.
The effectiveness of family therapy depends on the willingness and attitude of each parent. When both parents are open and willing to participate in the process, family therapy can be incredibly beneficial. One parent might be resentful or resistant, whilst the other is more willing to engage in therapy. However, the context is it is important that both parents approach the process with an open mind and cooperate to create a healthier and more secure family.
Here are some of the benefits of family therapy after divorce: better communication, keeping the focus on the children, working on co-parenting strategies, developing healthy boundaries, and improving family problem-solving ability.
Separation can cause emotional disruption, fear of loss and confusion to the couple and children. At times, separated parents are so caught up in their emotional upheavals that they may not have the emotional space to worry about a child’s emotional needs. Often parents try to conceal the separation from their children to protect them because they may be too young to understand; the reality is that children can always sense that something is happening and it is always better to talk to them.
All parents were once model teenagers, completely in control of their hormones, never swore, drank and were polite, smiling and calm.
Adolescence is a period of physical change in the brain; during this upheaval perhaps the pathways for sensible behaviour are just not working well. Helping teenagers navigate their powerful emotions, mental health, and relationships with peers might become challenging enough.
The teen years are a period of heightened conflict between parents and teenagers. Teenagers are trying to figure out their individual identities and negotiate their place in society. Yet, parents are protective of their children and are often wary of letting them make big decisions. Although making big decisions is an important part of the teenage experience, teens will almost certainly make mistakes and will often fight over them. These arguments can have lasting consequences, and a professional will be able to help you resolve them.
Communication between parents and teenagers is so important. Non-critical, honest and constructive feedback from the parents helps teenagers in their process of becoming adults, coming up with solutions for problems, transcends blame and feeds the beneficial culture of taking responsibility and learning from mistakes.
Parents and Children
For many new parents, family therapy can help them navigate the transition from being a couple to the added role of parenting with the challenges of raising a child. Not only does family therapy help parents to understand their new roles but it also helps them to focus on their emotional needs as a couple.
Having a child together brings a whole new level of commitment to a couple’s relationship. With professionals’ input and guidance, you will be more confident and supported in your process of raising a child.
The first step in therapy for new parents is to determine the specific and unique needs of each child.
Counselling can support parenting a child with special needs like ADHD, and autism, in a transitional process, going through moments of anxiety, and disordered eating. There are many benefits of choosing the family therapy route, including a better sense of self and a stronger connection to other people.
Family therapy can help with co-parenting within or outside a relationship.
The goal of family sessions is to develop and improve communication skills between the parents, and carers resulting in a better post-divorce family. Parents in co-parenting family therapy may learn to be more communicative, understanding and patient with each other. Counsellors can teach healthy communication strategies and help couples use “I” statements to express their feelings.
Couples can also explore the dynamics of co-parenting between same-sex partners and families. The co-parenting counsellor will help couples identify the child’s needs and work constructively and harmoniously. It is important that parents learn ways to express and deal with their feelings especially when there are underlying feelings of anger, loss and sadness; communicating in a way that keeps the anxiety down and honours others’ experiences even if different will help to find ways forward more effectively.
Learning powerful and simple skills like “I” statements and Imago Dialogue techniques to describe a personal experience of any situation can help to reach a resolution, and deal with conflict avoiding unnecessary arguments. If your co-parent doesn’t understand your needs, try to understand their position and find out what she or he needs from you.
Co-parenting therapy helps couples learn how to work together while raising a child. Couples can learn how to set healthy boundaries and deal with conflicts without focusing on complaints. The goal is to create a harmonious home environment and reduce stress. This focus of family therapy aims to educate parents about each other’s perspectives and help them make decisions based on their child’s needs. The benefits of co-parenting therapy are numerous and can lead to a healthier relationship between parents.
In the early days of family therapy, pioneers discovered the benefits of working as a team. Consistent parental teamwork and unity help parents provide the necessary attention, nourishment and boundaries when children display and problematic or challenging behaviour.
In family therapy, you can work on identifying your experience of being parented and the impact on how you parent. There are 4 parenting styles that can be used as a frame of reference.
- Permissive parenting
- Authoritarian parenting
- Authoritative parenting
- Uninvolved or neglectful parenting
The authoritative style of parenting often promotes the healthy development of children by balancing nurture and boundaries.
Online Family Therapy
Online family counselling can also provide a good frame for therapeutic work. Increasingly more and more people prefer the online option, more practical and equally effective and particularly helpful when people are in a different location and less inclined to travel to the counselling practice location.
As with in-person sessions online family therapy can help a family with children and not work through arguments, back-talks, emerging issues, transitions, step-families, and extended family problems. With out-of-control family conflicts, it’s hard to move forward, develop relationships at a relational depth and functioning well. Online family therapy is a valuable solution for these situations.
Families with single parents are not rare or unique and so is the need for therapy. By choice or by circumstance, in the UK there are around 1.8 million single parents in a quarter of families, around 90 per cent of single parents are women and the average age of single parents is 39 years.
Children raised by single parents are and can be just as mentally healthy and happy as children living with two biological parents as long as the parent is responsive and build a warm and sensitive relationship.
The often idealised nuclear family focus on the problematic side of any differences and any unconventional family structure can have an impact on parent and children. The cultural ranking on what is considered the ‘ideal family’ can evoke a sense of the value of themselves and their family and cause single parents and children to feel different or ‘less than’.
Parenting is a full-on experience and single parenting can feel overwhelming and lonely at times; nurturing and supportive communication and relationship with family, friends and community always helps. During the family counselling therapeutic process, single parents can identify the challenges they encounter and understand the value of support from the family of origin and friends. Family therapy can help with creating a secure and connected base for parents and children, promoting greater self-esteem, increased sense of self-assurance and value, and feeling more confident about their parenting.