Family Therapy Can Support Families Dealing With A Whole Range Of Issues
For adult families, many issues can influence the decision to seek family therapy. This can include financial stress, physical and/or mental illness, estranged family members, aging parents, family compositional changes, or cultural differences between family members (for example, between parents and adult children, parents and grandparents, or parents themselves). These issues can often raise old resentments and hurts. Family members find themselves falling back into old roles or feeling forced into these roles by others against their will. Relational factors, in particular, can really batter families, which can make families lose sight of the love, connection and unity, and get hung up, instead, on pain, anger and resentment.
Family Therapy For Cultural Differences (Both Big-C and Little-C Culture)
Often adult families seek treatment when they’re dealing with cultural differences, whether adapting to values of new chosen families or different ideas about the role of family, vacations, holidays, etc. When we use the word culture, we tend to think about a set of notions like religion, regional differences or ethnicities. While those are all very relevant to family therapy, we, as family therapists, also think about what we call “little-c” culture. This includes things like how kids are disciplined, expectations about caring for aging parents, loaning money to family members, and understanding family as the nuclear family as opposed to a definition that prioritizes extended family as more central.
It’s important to relate to these differences of opinion and perspective historically, meaning appreciating that they come from past experiences. This allows us to create understanding, to be more empathetic, and to appreciate the underlying principles that define family members’ preferences and inform their actions.
Reconciling Old Hurts, Past Abuse And Resentments
Family therapy can be a place for adult families to get help talking through old pain. Significant life transitions, especially those that are hallmarks of creating new families, like marriage or becoming a parent, raise questions and provoke a particular sort of reflection. While individual therapy can address this pain as well, of course, there is still a living family or remnants of one that can heal.
Similarly, with issues like aging parents or financial stress, long latent issues can come to a head or issues that have remained unsolved for years must be attended to or worked past in order to address a pending issue or problem that can’t be avoided. These issues force everyone to take action.
In Family Therapy, We Ask Each Individual What They Are Trying To Resolve
In our NYC family therapy practice, we begin by identifying why everyone has been asked to do family therapy–why they are in the therapy room and what they understand to be the focus of the work. Often there are different ideas about what we’re trying to resolve.
This is an essential step for family therapy because communication, even if not the defining issue that brought a family into treatment, is often in poor shape with families that are struggling. We want to be certain that we’re on the same page, but also want to open up the possibility of defining the page together. We also don’t want to find out later that someone had a certain expectation that was ignored.
There’s also a meta-purpose to this step, which is to begin to establish principles for how we’re going to work together in therapy. Listening and being curious about how everyone understands what needs help in the family is a great way to do this.
We Define The Scope Of The Work Together (Including What Isn’t Addressed)
The work of family therapy is always issue-focused, which means we look at which issues the consensus is willing to work on. As family therapists, we offer our wisdom and experience as to what sort of work (including time) is involved in taking these things on. We define the scope of the work together.
There are often many issues of concern to some in the family that we elect not to talk about. Families are incredibly complex, and hurts and resentments can run deep. Part of our job as family therapists is to help individuals in the family accept that and stay disciplined about not allowing these issues that aren’t going to be addressed to interfere.
Good Family Therapists Provide Leadership For Families
In our family therapy, we provide leadership in addressing the issues that bring adult families into treatment. Sometimes this can start even while in the process of getting family members, including adult siblings, parents, and spouses, on board for family therapy. In family therapy, all members need to agree they want to do therapy together and feel like the therapist is the right choice. Typically there is an organizer (or organizers) that initiates enlisting a family therapist for help and these family members sometimes need our guidance in getting the rest of the family in the door. Read more here about starting family therapy and getting the family in the door.
A good family therapist’s job is to support the family to speak honestly about what’s happening and to acknowledge that there is a life change or a crisis. We also work to recognize that everyone in a family has a different experience, and that past experiences are often, at once, formative and irrelevant.
We’re also interested in who is currently providing leadership within the family. How can the family better support that individual’s leadership? How can the leader perform more strongly? And how can he or she organize more support from the other family members moving forward?