Written by: Jenny Smith
Many families run into times of pressure and stress. The combination of pressures at work, school and home can sometimes become too much and one or more members of each family may start expressing lots of distress. There can come a time when you feel like you have run out of resources and are no longer sure of what to do for the best, especially if you can see that people are hurting and things seem stuck.¬† Family therapy is one way of getting help to move through and make positive changes to difficult family tensions.
What is family therapy for?
Family therapy is a process that aims to support people in close relationship help each other and themselves by expressing thoughts and feelings that may feel hard to share in ways that feel safe. The term family is self-defined rather than a limited group and can be made up of a group of people who see themselves as a family that care about each other and live closely.
The sessions aim to create an environment where different experiences and views can be appreciated and accepted, and where the strengths in any family unit can be built on to make useful changes in the relationships and lives. It can be used for children, young children and adults in families and aims to include and consider all the different needs within a family group as well as working with the family rather than attempting to work ‘on’ them. The therapists aim not to take sides or blame individual members of a family and they don’t believe that there is one answer that works for all. Instead they work individually with a family group, responding and supporting the specific challenges that are being faced.
What happens at the meetings?
If you have family therapy you will be offered an initial meeting (or session) which will last between 50 and 90 minutes and if you all agree to proceed further with more sessions they will also be this length. The number of sessions that you have will vary depending on the difficulties that you are looking at and how things go with your family group. Ways of working will be adapted according to ages of children, sometimes the therapist will spend time with each family member individually before talking together as a group and sometimes there will be more than one therapist working with a family.Research has shown that this type of therapy can help families with issues such as¬† couple relationship problems, child and adult mental health problems, parenting issues, disability or illness in the family, domestic violence, self-harm, addiction, trauma and a lot more.
Sometimes one or more family member feels reluctant to attend sessions. Going to family therapy can feel like a big step and different people need different amounts of time to get used to the idea. In this situation it can be useful to arrange an initial session without any pressure to do more, so that everyone can have a chance to ask any questions and express concerns and fears about attending regularly. If the person stays very reluctant the therapist may be able to help you to identify alternative forms of support that are available to you in the mean time.
The association for family therapy
The Association for Family Therapy is the main training organisation in the UK for family therapist and its website http://www.aft.org.uk/view/index.html has lots of information on it’s website including messages of hope from families who have attended sessions and found the results to be far greater than they imagined was possible. There is also a Family Therapy UK site from an individual family therapist at http://www.familytherapy.org.uk/handoutinformati.html which has lots of free information sheets on various aspects of parenting and family pressures including different mental health issues and situations like bereavement and aging.
It can be a really big deal to admit that you are having problems in your family and that you need support to help you through, you may have beliefs that you ‘should’ be able to cope and that needing help is a sign of failure. Try and become aware of anything that is getting in the way of you asking