When we are little, family is all we know. It’s where it all begins. The people we are surrounded by, where we live, the rules we are taught, the way we are talked to…all of this sets the foundation for who we are. While many children are raised in stable and positive households, some are not so lucky. Analyzing someone’s childhood is the first step towards understanding them better.
This is why family therapy has come to occupy a central position in the world of mental health, built on the premise that healthy families rear and sustain healthy individuals. The family unit’s stability is key – particularly to children and adolescents – to healthy and happy lives outside the home, as well as in relationships external to the family, and success in adulthood. Here, we’ll discuss five family therapy counseling techniques that are widely used.
Structural family therapy assesses power dynamics within the family unit, and analyzes each family member’s assigned “role” within the family unit. Family hierarchies are examined and analyzed, and the amount of power that each individual family member has is examined and, if necessary, redistributed. Structural therapy seeks to empower each family member and to individualize the needs of each one, in addition to establishing respect between all family members.
This therapeutic technique focuses on the analysis of belief systems harbored by individual family members or by the collective as a whole, and challenges family rituals and practices particularly as they relate to conflict. By forcing attention to these belief systems – unconscious and subconscious – Milan therapy seeks to dismantle and disempower belief systems that perpetuate conflict within family units.
Strategic therapy closely examines patterns of interaction and conflict between family members and seeks to increase awareness and mindfulness of these patterns. A more direct approach than some other family therapy techniques, each individual family member is assigned work in order to improve how they interact with their other family members, particularly those who may be facing unique challenges or struggling with mental or neurological illnesses or disorders. This therapy technique also subverts the authority of the most dominant family member, allowing communication changes to evolve positively between family members and the symptom sufferer.
Narrative therapy helps individual family members to shape their personal narratives by recognizing and embracing individual positive qualities, skills, and gifts in order to help them constructively confront and conquer problems they may be facing within their family unit or within their own individual lives. Narrative therapy encourages patients to break free of the influence of negative or destructive influences that may undermine internal recognition and embrasure of one’s own value, capability, and competency. Narrative therapy is also used in other areas of counseling, such as community or individual counseling and therapy.
Transgenerational therapy examines intergenerational relationships and conflicts in family units, and closely examines and breaks down problematic or destructive belief systems that are often transmitted between one generation and the next. This method can be especially useful when more than two generations of a family are living in the same home and facing conflict – for example, grandparents, parents, and children all living together. This technique is often used in tandem with Milan therapy.
Diving Into Family Therapy…
Family therapy is often short-term, averaging five to twenty sessions. Family therapists may use one, two, or even all of these techniques depending on the individual needs of the family in question. This may also depend on the individual diagnoses of each family member that may impact family dynamics and conflict. The goal of family therapy is to establish a harmonious and healthy family unit, and to give each family member skills and tools to deepen healthy relationships with their families for years to come.