Family counseling is a world and a half away from individual counseling. The DBT approach is thrown out the window, and a more “systems” based approach is used. Family counseling is used to look at the root of problems in the family dynamic and identify behaviors that trigger these problems to keep recurring. Family counseling can also be used as a simple tool to effectively communicate with a mediator.
What does it look like?
“Counseling is about a relationship that can aid us through times of depression, anxiety, anger and pain” Chris Oneth LMFT says. In family counseling, you and all or just some members of your family sit in the session. This could look like you and your dad, you and your mom, or you and both parents. This could also look like you and a brother or sister, or all of your family in one room. On the low end of the spectrum, family counseling can last as little as six sessions before progress is produced or boundaries are effectively set. However, some families find it intensely effective and continue to go weekly or monthly because they find it brings the family together.
How is it different to individual therapy?
Family counseling can take a while to start to really roll the ball. This is because the therapist needs to develop a trustworthy relationship with each individual and get to know them before any sort of real progress or honesty can take place. It is possible to delve immediately into direct problems in individual counseling because the counselor is focusing only on you. In family counseling, each individual story needs to be heard in depth and each individual’s style of handling conflict and confrontation needs to be taken into account. Similarly, it typically takes a while for family members to become comfortable opening up to each other in the presence of a stranger. Trust must be built.
“The goal of family therapy is to help family members improve communication, solve family problems, understand and handle special family situations, and create a better functioning home environment. ” –Dave Kaplowitz, LMFT, CGP
How is it similar to individual therapy?
“There are two basic modes of therapy, reflective and directive, each containing elements of both. An essential ingredient in therapy is an uncoupling of action from effect.” – An expert from pubmed.gov. So, in essence, individual therapy is working on much more personal issues and how they affect the world around you and family therapy is working on interpersonal issues and how they affect the people in your household. Similarly to individualized therapy, family therapy involves a lot of talking and a lot of work. There may be “homework” and books to read as a family, and most importantly there will be truths that you will hear that will upset you. It will be uncomfortable.
Opening up and being honest with your family
Family counseling is a scary thing. It’s something meant to bring you closer to the people you should be closest to, but it’s a natural thought to believe that maybe it will have the opposite effect. Being honest about your feelings or discontent could hurt the feelings of another family member and this could cause some awkwardness or flare ups in the home. That is why there is a mediator in place to quell any uneasy feelings or instantaneous lash outs. Family counseling is intended to be the place where feelings are shared and where it is learned that it’s okay to share feelings- and how to deal with them. Also, Ryan Mebust – LMFT adds that “We all experience obstacles in life that keep us from feeling and being whole. Many have found counseling as a way to invest in themselves, their relationships, or their families in order to support a better or new meaning on life.”
Dealing with what you hear
If taken seriously, there will be things said by your family that will shock you. You will probably feel attacked at times, ashamed by your own actions, and surprised by the complexity of the emotions of your family. This is all part of the process. What is important to remember is to be gentle with yourself and with those who are being open with you. Ask yourself if they are saying these things to hurt you, or to simply express themselves. Afterall, they have agreed to come to counseling with you, which means they are equally if not more invested in repairing their relationship with you!