My clinical work as a Family Therapist has provided me with the wonderful opportunity to experience the variation of structures, cultures, dynamics, and challenges of numerous families. Whether they are single-parent families or dual-parent families, the common denominator is they find themselves struggling with a deterioration of interactions at home. They have tried time and time again to make things better, yet to no avail. Exasperated in their efforts, they have decided to seek help from a family therapist.
The Baggage We Bring into Therapy
Napier and Whitaker (1978) explain, “Families come into therapy with their own structure, and tone, and rules. Their organization, their pattern, has been established over years of living, and it is extremely meaningful and very painful for them. They would not be in therapy if they were happy with it.” Though families may not fully understand how these structures and patterns are detrimental, the resulting fracture or tension in relationships within the home environment clues them into the need for things to change. A significant part of family therapy is therefore helping families become aware of well-established, though unhealthy familial patterns (e.g., blaming, triangulation, etc.).
For this reason it is helpful for all members within the nuclear family to participate in treatment. This allows each member to be held accountable for his or her role in shaping the current family system. The power of family therapy lies in helping each member to confront themselves, acknowledge their own role and influence in the family dynamics, and determine how they can change to improve the overall functioning at home. Furthermore, it goes beyond the individual level, evaluating how patterns established in previous generations are affecting the nuclear family today. Simply thinking about challenging those dynamics can be daunting for a family. The actual work of doing so can also be overwhelming, though in the end, addressing these dynamics instills life to the family system.
Bringing life to a dying family system is possible, and family therapy is the strategic means of doing so. A trained family therapist can guide families though this difficult process, helping them unravel the tangled web of chaos between them, and put in place a structure that is healthy, promoting dynamics leading to improved family functioning. Ultimately, the goal of family therapy is the development and continuance of healthy relationships between mothers and fathers, parents and children, and brothers and sisters, and so on. Though there are many things that could hinder the development of such relationships, families who are willing to stand united in their love for each other, and who are willing to work at building “understanding and relationship,” will undoubtedly reap the reward of solid family interactions in the end.
Napier, A. Y., & Whitaker, C. (1978). The family crucible: The intense experience of family therapy. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
Eric Gomez, MS, LMFT, MHP