What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy is short for Family and Systemic Psychotherapy. It is a special psychotherapeutic approach that focuses on healthy family relationships as a critical factor in a person’s psychological health.
What is a family?
There are many kinds of family groupings. For some, it may be the nuclear family, for others, it may be special friends and some relatives. In family therapy, ‘family’ means any group of people who define themselves as such, who care for and who care about each other.
Family therapy uses a range of psychotherapeutic techniques.
Some of the common ones include:
- Strategic therapy: here the focus is on identifying dysfunctional patterns, ways to interrupt these patterns allowing more healthy patterns of interaction to emerge and ways to entrench new healthier ways of interactions.
- Structural therapy: this approach focuses on reorganising the structure of the family system. It is most often used as a framework for the therapist to conceptualise the problem as operating in the space between people and not just in the person, therefore allowing a shift from an attack-defend pattern to a solution focus in therapy. The pioneer of structural family therapy, Salvador Minuchin, a psychiatrist, identifies 6 areas of observation in the family structure: transactional patterns, flexibility, resonance, context, family development stage and maintaining family interactions.
- Systemic therapy: the approach focuses on the belief systems existing in the family and how they interplay, conflict or collide.
- Transgenerational therapy: here the focus is on the transgenerational transmission of unhelpful patterns of belief and behaviour.
What can you expect from family therapy?
A family therapy session enables family members, couples and others to express and explore difficult thoughts and emotions safely and to appreciate each other’s point of view. Such understanding allows them to hear and accept without the emotional loading that often shuts people down. When people listen to each other at a deep level, healing and new connections emerge.
How can a psychologist trained in family therapy help?
Psychologists are trained to diagnose problems in the individual. However, individuals exist in multiple relationships for most of their lives.
They navigate the complex interpersonal spaces at work, as couples, in friendship groups, social media communities and in families. A person’s well-being is crucially linked to the quality of these relationships.
In modern times, there are many different lifestyles that people may opt for such as the Fly-In-Fly-Out (FIFO), long distance, open relationships and intercultural couples, among others.
The family systems perspective helps to widen the psychological lens on the individual to include realistic limitations or pressures arising from the worlds of work, study and peers.
This is especially important in the present climate of rapid change that places demands on interpersonal relations.