When families seek treatment, usually there’s one person who is struggling and the whole family is impacted. Often it’s a child or teenager and this child’s problems seem to affect everyone in some way. At other times, it is a newly constituted family situation where divorced/widowed individuals fall in love and a blended family is created. In many cases, each partner brings with them children who don’t adjust well to their parents finding a new partner. When step families are created, one partner can feel left out since they are not the biological parent and any attempt to parent is resisted, sometimes by their partner (not just the children).
I have been trained in Bowenian Family Therapy, a model which sees the family as an interlocking system. It’s as if the family is in such a reactive state that arguments are frequent and the family atmosphere feels so turbulent. Differentiation of self is impaired as fusion takes over. Sometimes, people have unfinished business with their own family of origin and this gets played out in the family. For example, as a child, one parent may have to over-function if they have an alcoholic parent and this tendency to over function gets recreated as an adult. At other times, children become the “identified patient” and behave in ways that disrupt the life of the whole family. The acting out child “helps” draw attention away from other problematic issues within the family, such as lost closeness in the marital couple who may have grown distant from one another but now can unite in helping this identified patient child. Triangles can also be the source of family strife. One parent moves closer to a child(ren) while the other parent distances, perhaps withdrawing as a way of managing pain around these triangular dynamics. Triangles may also exist with in-laws or friends or emotional ties to others that impact the family stability.
Family therapy sees the family as the patient. Sometimes sessions are held with everyone and at other times there could be individual sessions to work on certain issues in depth. The goal is to shift fundamental patterns of behavior across the family system. As a result of family therapy, people feel freer to adopt new roles in the family. There’s more fluidity and less rigidity in how problems are solved. Engagement in family life is improved. Genuine connection among the different parts of the family is enhanced.