Manuela has master's degree in counseling and has taught psychology, social psychology, and a tests and measurements course.
Family therapy is based on the theory that family is a system, a unit in which the members are acting and reacting to one another. Imagine your automobile engine. If one part is not functioning properly, other parts in the engine will be affected. But, if all parts are working well, the engine will be at optimum performance.
The goals of family therapy are to:
- Establish healthy boundaries
- Improve functioning
- Change negative patterns of interaction
- Build positive relationships among family members
Because the family system is interrelated and mutually influential, family therapists don't focus on an individual family member during treatment. Instead, family therapists address problems within the family system. In other words, family therapists assess what is going on in the family that is contributing to the problem behaviors.
Let's look at an example: If parents come to therapy and indicate that their son is aggressive and, in their view, out of control, the family therapist will assess observable behavior patterns and family dynamics that might be contributing to the son's aggressive behavior. She might find that the parents themselves display aggression and that the son is merely exhibiting learned behavior.
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Common Family System Problems
Some common family system problems are related to hierarchy, boundaries, and affect.
- Hierarchy: This term pertains to the power structure in the family. In healthy families, the parents are in control. In unhealthy families, the child might have too much power or control. If, for example, the son yells at his mother and leaves the house, despite being told that he is grounded, the hierarchy is unbalanced.
- Boundaries: This term refers to appropriate patterns of interaction. Healthy families demonstrate clear, appropriate, respectful interactions and limitations as to what is acceptable and not acceptable. Unhealthy families have inappropriate or unclear boundaries that do not convey respect and do not meet the needs of the family members. If, for example, a divorced parent confides in their 10-year-old child that they are hurting and depressed and hate their ex, there is clearly a boundary issue. The result might be a lack of respect from child to parent.
- Affect: This term refers to emotions and feelings. Healthy family members demonstrate appropriate and respectful emotions toward others. Unhealthy family members demonstrate emotions that are inappropriate. If, for example, a 6-year-old girl fails her spelling test, and her father reacts by yelling that she is stupid and useless, his affect is inappropriate and damaging to the child. The result might be an aggressive teenager whom the father views as being out of control.
Assessment and Treatment
Assessment strategies can include direct questioning, observation, and sequencing of events. The therapist might incorporate constructs from structural family therapy, strategic family therapy, and behavioral family therapy during the session. Structural therapy addresses observed interactional patterns. Strategic therapy addresses whether interactional patterns are fixed or not. It also addresses communication patterns. Behavioral therapy addresses behavior patterns that limit or reinforce behavior within the family system.
Specific treatment strategies used in a therapy session might include practice with appropriate expression of affection, problem-solving and communication skill building, role play, change in position of seating within the session (to promote effective boundaries or appropriate affect), and homework tasks. Many family therapists also use genograms (a type of diagram similar to a family tree, but which also shows medical histories and other hereditary patterns) to aid in identifying relationship patterns.
Family therapy is based on the theory that family is a system. The goal of family therapy is to establish healthy boundaries, improve functioning, change negative patterns of interaction, and build positive relationships among family members. Common family system problems are related to hierarchy, boundaries, and affect. To treat these and other problems, the therapist might incorporate constructs from structural family therapy, strategic family therapy, and behavioral family therapy.
Therapy often includes:
- Practice with expression of affection
- Problem-solving and communication skill building
- Role play
- Change in position of seating
- Homework tasks
- Use of genograms
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What Is Family Therapy? - Techniques & Concept
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