Being a child, couple and family therapist is a little like being a detective. I look for clues in the family system to understand why particular difficulties or dynamics exist. Family therapy seeks to understand people within their contexts. Rather than diagnose an individual with a disorder, the family therapist would like to understand the patterns that play out between people over and over again.
Once these patterns are identified by the therapist and clients, they can be understood and changed. What can at first glance be seen as one partner being distant might actually be that they are for example feeling rejected by the other, afraid of something, stressed at work. A child might be acting out at school because they came to believe over time that their sister is the “smart” one. Another pattern that plays out in families and couples is a thing called a recursive dynamic. One person’s behavior ignites the other. When person A yells, person B might slam doors; When person B slams doors, person A yells-and so on. If allowed to go on for too long, it might seem like the situation is unsalvageable. However, family therapy is a very potent tool. It is possible that a few intentional conversations can go a long way.
One challenge for the family therapist is to offer suggestions that work for everyone involved. What the child might love to hear, might make mom feel angry or hurt. A spouse might feel defensive if they feel the therapist is challenging them to make a change they feel the other party should be making. Some members of the family might not feel that change is even possible. Even though people tend to enter therapy when they are already fed up or at wits-end, it is important to try to see things a new way.
As we continue this series, we will look at some of the ideas put forward by effective family therapists. I will explain some of the common terms used name a variety of dynamics that we see in family systems. Working through these dynamics may have the potential to unlock a family’s history, offering a new way to understand each other. It will also likely offer new possibilities for your relationships as you move forward.