Family therapy is especially important when working with children and teenagers. Often, when I am seeing a child for treatment, I notice that a lot of the complications are not limited to the child. A parent might ask me to fix their child’s issues, and I will respond with, “I’m happy to…but let’s fix the family’s issues too.” I let parents know from the get-go that I need them to be on board with treatment, even if it includes family therapy.
When to incorporate family therapy
Generally, after seeing a child for about eight weeks and building a rapport, I will schedule a family session. The goal is to get an idea of what is going on within the family and how they are managing their child’s symptoms and behaviors. From there, we decide if ongoing family therapy on a monthly basis would be beneficial. The purpose is to help the child feel safe and less isolated from family members and encourage the family to heal as a whole and move forward in one direction.
Signs that a family might benefit from therapy
A clear indicator that family therapy might be useful is if a child reveals during sessions that there are extreme consequences for their actions. For example, if they text a boy and their parents ground them and take away their T.V. and phone as punishment. In those types of cases, I want to help the whole family learn about developmental stages and how to deal with ensuing issues.
Including the family may help in situations in which a child:
- Is a victim of sexual abuse.
- Feels unwilling to go to parents with issues.
- Alludes to problems within the home.
- Does not feel safe, whether at home, school, or other frequented locations.
Sometimes, especially in cases involving trauma, therapy has to work parallel to outside support. If I teach a child a coping strategy during a session, I must inform the parents and let them know how they can help their child at home.
I also deal a lot with communication issues. It is essential for children to feel like they can approach their parents when they are going through challenges. I help restructure strategies within the family so that the child can feel heard as well as safe. Families need to be able to communicate with each other in a way that encourages growth over avoidance.