The facts and myths about family therapy
Actual medical research shows that our relationships and our emotions are very closely linked to the physiologic functions of our body, may it be through our hormonal or our immune system. A systemic approach integrates biological and psycho-social aspects of our diseases in order toto reach a complex view on a person's health problem. This is the core thought of systemic family therapy.
Systemic family therapy is specially indicated in cases of any chronic medical condition, which cannot be treated satisfactorily by pharmacologic support only and/or is leading to significant impact on the social functioning of the patient. Often, such "strangely behaving" illnesses can be encountered with children, where the occurrence of psychosomatic disease is higher than in adults. In other cases, emotional tensions does not have to lead to somatic diseases but do materialize in depressions, anxiety, eating disorders or different emotional disorders. Family therapy concentrates on the whole family, including children. In these cases, the client is not an individual or a couple, but the entire family, whether the whole family or one member takes consultations.
What should be known before entering family therapy:
It can be helpful to dispel a number of myths that people usually have about therapy in general as well as to cite ways that family therapy is unique:
1. Therapy is not necessarily a long, drawn-out process. The typical client is attending family therapy for 10 to 12 sessions.
2. The involvement of whole family in the treatment process serves to expedite change because each family member can contribute his or her unique perspective and understanding of the problem(s). The family often holds resources and influence essential to the treatment process of its members.
3. Family involvement in therapy does not imply blame of anyone. I believe that although people are trying to do “what’s best”, they can get inadvertently stuck in patterns of interaction that lead to the development of symptoms in one or more family members. The goal of the therapy is to elicit the family’s strengths and resources and to unleash hidden potentials that are somehow blocked.
4. Family therapy does not necessarily imply involvement of all family members in all sessions. The most important time for full family involvement is in the initial evaluation process.
5. A good way to consider counseling help for the first time is to view it as an experiment and simply make a commitment for a trial first session.
6. The best time to seek help in therapy is before small problems become bigger ones. People often underestimate the seriousness of their situation and wait until crises occur. It may be useful when families get “check-ups” for preventative mental health, especially if they have a question or discomfort about how someone in the family is doing.
7. Therapy need not be an admission of failure, but rather an acceptance of how people can be effectively interdependent. No one can be a master of all trades – plumbing, law, mechanics, counseling, medicine, etc., so it doesn’t make sense that seeking help for personal or family problems is something to be ashamed of!
Family therapy – who is it for?
Patients with chronic diseases which are not clearly diagnosed and/or not responding sufficiently to standard therapy. Such conditions can include pain syndromes, asthma, skin rashes, arterial hypertension, chronic diarrhoea or other functional intestinal disorders, immunity deficiencies with recurrent infections, respiration disorders, neurological affections like tinnitus or tics, chronic fatigue syndromes and others.
- Children with symptoms such as depression, disruptive behavior, psychosomatic disorders, poor academic performance, attendance problems, unrealistic fears
- Adolescents exhibiting uncontrollable behavior, substance abuse, eating disorders, school related problems, social isolation or relationship problems
- Families who are having trouble communicating or who are going through difficult transitions such as divorce or separation, remarriage or joining of two families, the loss or illness of a family member
- Individuals who are interested in methods to overcome unwanted behavior patterns, who wish to explore the current impact of past events and relationships, or who are seeking growth and enrichment of their lives
Author: MUDr. Ondřej Masner - Leading physician and family therapist at PSYMED