Family therapy is a particularly powerful type of therapy in which the dynamics between different family members becomes the focus of treatment. While individuals may have personal issues that are addressed, the strength of the family as a whole is used to help healthy changes occur.
A family can consist of many different configurations. Families may be traditional with two parents, single parent families, families that include extended family members such as grandparents, or gay and lesbian couples with children. Family members do not have to be currently living together but usually have significant interactions with one another. Families can also be psychological families comprised of friends or primary support persons.
The same principles apply in family therapy regardless of which family members attend. It is generally more beneficial for all family members to be present whenever possible. The focus is usually kept in the moment between the present family members. The work of therapy is related to the relations and tensions between the individuals who are in the room and how those are resolved or defined.
Family therapy is a useful tool for teaching communication skills and fostering appropriate relations between individuals. Communication problems may have to do with poor listening, trouble speaking up, or excessive arguing. Family members are taught to communicate in more effective and productive ways with the help of a neutral third party. The family therapist also teaches how to communicate feelings and how to speak in a less emotionally charged manner.
There are many ways in which the dynamics between individuals can be destructive or unhealthy. Family counselors are trained to identify and help family members change ineffective patterns of behavior. Some of those patterns may include misuse of power or authority, passive/aggression, stonewalling, deliberate aggression or avoidance, among others. After successful family counseling, family members are able to treat one another with respect and honesty and have an improved sense of trust. More healthy dynamics include openness between individuals, appropriate authority, and increased family cooperation and support.
With improved family functioning, individuals are able to deal with their personal problems more easily. Family therapy addresses the needs of the entire family so that individuals can grow and develop healthfully within it.
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