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What Family Therapy Looks Like

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

Whether you got referred to start family therapy by another provider or you decided on your own that this is something you and your family need, this may be new territory for you and you might not have any idea what to expect. We’re here to help guide you through that process a little bit easier. Of course we cannot tell you everything that will happen in your sessions and what to 100% expect, but we can give you a little insight on what might help you to be as prepared as you want to be when starting family therapy.

First, when looking at family therapy, it is not necessarily only referring to blood-related family members, but can also include those who are “seen” as family due to having a long-term, supportive relationship. Whoever you deem as family, have that discussion with them about their thoughts and feelings on starting family therapy, as it’s helpful to have everyone included at least open to the possibility of it. After everyone gets on board for it, you want to identify why you are seeking, or why you got referred, to start family therapy. Have a few basic goals and/or issues in mind that you want to bring up and focus on. Having that in mind can help your family and the therapist to tailor your sessions to what you all need. It’s also important to make sure you are choosing a therapist that specializes in family therapy specifically, as they will approach it differently than someone who specializes in something else. Family therapists approach the therapy and the clients from a systemic perspective, rather than trying to “fix” any one of the individuals in the family therapy. With that being said, members throughout the family have to be open to therapy and the changes that may occur, if they are to be present in those sessions. If not, it can be difficult to make that progress if they do not see how any action they do can impact other people throughout the family system.

Family therapy does not always mean that every family member will be present every time. Some family therapists, depending on the situation and clients, separate their clients throughout the sessions and see them individually or in certain dynamics throughout. Depending on the presenting issues, this can be beneficial to get a better understanding of those individuals and those different relationships throughout the whole family. Family therapists look at the relationships, dynamics, and communication between all members of the family and help guide and assist them to help better all of those aspects and get your family to the place that you all want to be at. So, even if individual sessions are done throughout, the therapist is looking at the whole system and not just that individual person.

You may be wondering why family therapy specifically is even necessary at times then, and why not just go to individual therapy? Families play a huge role in our everyday lives, whether having a close or distant relationship with them, and positively or negatively, they shape a large part of who we all are individually. Families can determine how we view the world, ourselves, relationships, almost everything, even if not in an obvious way. We learn how to communicate in childhood from family and those individuals modeling how they communicate to one another; if that communication is positive, it makes it easier for us to learn more positive ways of communication, and if it’s more negative, more conflictual, then we tend to pick up on those habits as well. Family therapy allows a space to work on all of those different aspects as a family, outside of everyday life, with an unbiased professional who is there to help assist you in the direction you need to go.

Going into family therapy with an open mind is key. The mindset that things can change, that things can get better is vital in order for there to be progress made, while also recognizing that all family members play some role in all the different aspects of the family dynamics, both positively and negatively. As mentioned above, your individual actions affect other family members, whether directly or indirectly, but being aware of the impact your decisions and behaviors make on the whole family system is important when going into family therapy; having the understanding that no singular person is at fault for everything that might go wrong within the family. Lastly, make sure the therapist is a good fit for you and your family. Make sure they understand all of your needs, individually and together, and that their way aligns with yours in how to best help guide you all to get to the family environment you are striving for.

Written by,

Emily Blair, ALMFT



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