From the beginning of family therapy, it had been suggested that individual issues could have a significant effect on the entire family (Neukrug, 2016, p. 184). There are many methods and approaches to family counseling, but across all of them is an emphasis to understand how a family and each of its parts function, as well as to take a deeper look into family patterns and build on family strengths as they face current and future issues. Family therapy can be advantageous as well as impose risks for an individual or his family. Therefore, it is important for family therapists to be properly trained and experienced, understand their professional roles, and be aware of personal biases and challenges that can affect client relationships.
When a family counselor understands the “complexities” of human communication, it can help with identifying unique characteristics of couples and families and taking steps toward developing a plan for change (Neukrug, 2016, p. 192). Family therapists can truly enter the world of each family member they work with, helping them to recognize specific functions within their family, identify individual barriers, and work towards solutions. Counselors can take the approach of being more detached from the family, or, they can choose to come alongside the clients to encourage change, such as in experiential family therapy and structural family therapy. In these approaches, a counselor “joins” with the family to develop a genuine relationship, allowing the counselor to “understand the family’s rules, boundaries, structure and hierarchy, and stress” (Neukrug, 2016, 198). Family therapists can work with families to focus on the present problem with approaches such as cognitive-behavioral family counseling or solution-focused family therapy. Or, they can focus on behavioral patterns and traits from prior generations that have been passed down (Neukrug, 2016, p. 202). In any approach, family therapists can observe how individual issues and responses connect to the whole family. They work with families to build stronger communication and relationships and equip them for any stressful situations that may arise in the future (Neukrug, 2016, p. 194).
Family therapy can provide a safe place for each family member to share their thoughts and emotions. Therapists have an opportunity to ensure each person is heard and can aid the family in seeing how their stories connect and affect their family dynamic. Family therapy allows members to move toward healthier ways of communicating as they examine family structures, rules, and behaviors that may contribute to tension (Neukrug, 2016, p. 191). Together with the counselor, families can identify why specific boundaries are in place and come up with solutions to maintain these boundaries in a healthy way (Neukrug, 2016, p. 191). Many families get “stuck” in focusing on the negative issues at hand. Family therapy provides clients with a renewed perspective as therapists draw out family members’ existing strengths, as highlighted in narrative family therapy and solution-focused family therapy, to encourage new solutions and change (Nuekrug, 2016, p. 210).
Family Therapy can be challenging when family members are not yet motivated to change or are unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions. It is easy to blame-shift or to use other means, such as children, as a distraction for one’s own pain, called “scapegoating” (Neukrug, 2016, p. 183). In situations like these, children tend to think they are the cause of their parents’ issues or take on responsibility for solving them (Ivey, Ivey, Zalaquett, 2018, p. 123). If a counselor is not in complete control over a session, family members may talk over one another or not fully listen to one another, which can cause harm to clients. Similarly, a family counselor could provide direction or personal advice that causes further dissension or does not fit the uniqueness of the family.
Family therapists have a great deal of education, supervision, and training specifically in working with families. Counselors that work with families must have an awareness of his or her own cultural biases and have unique skills in working with clients from diverse backgrounds (Neukrug, 2016, p. 212). An effective family counselor has also examined his or her own family of origin and strives to continually self-reflect in this area (Neukrug, 2016, p. 217).
I personally believe it would be a challenge to be in a session with multiple people and try to accurately follow and listen intently to the moving parts, all the while remaining in control. I know that I am currently much more confident working with individual clients. I would likely fight the urge to not “take sides,” and I would have to constantly examine myself to ensure I am not biased against any members of the family. As a Christian, I would have to be cautious to not impose my own views onto clients or “quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1, ESV) of marriage or family.
Family therapy seeks to address matters that ultimately affect all parts of the family and cause division. Mark 3:25 states, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (ESV). It is vital to place focus on individual family members as therapists skillfully and strategically identify barriers in the family unit. By doing so, family therapists can effectively help families rebuild unity, find hope, and implement new solutions, as a family, in times of struggle.
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