Family therapy is group psychotherapy that helps reduce distress and improve relationships among loved ones. It is especially useful for assisting families in coping with the impact of a mental health diagnosis.
Many psychological difficulties are rooted in the family we are raised in or in our broader social and cultural contexts. A variety of different approaches to family therapy are available.
Systemic Family Therapy
Many family therapists believe that individuals are inseparable from the network of relationships in which they live. Unlike psychoanalysts, who often use pathological language, these therapists try to create more scientific treatment processes and work with normal human behavior rather than viewing families as dysfunctional.
A popular method involves having the therapist ask families to consider what they want their futures to be. This technique allows families to refocus their thinking, generate new ideas and reframe problems differently.
Structural family therapy is a type of family psychiatric care, that examines your family structure’s inner relationships and boundaries. It also looks at subsystems such as the parent-child or sibling subsystem. It requires your family members to interact directly and the therapist to observe these interactions.
Studies have found that this type of therapy reduces self-reported suicide ideation. It has a similar impact on other measures of emotional and behavioral problems. This is particularly true for those with depression and anxiety, which various factors, including relationship stress, uncontrollable emotions or lack of coping skills, may cause.
For families of patients with psychiatric disorders, family therapy can help them learn to understand their mental illness better. It can also provide psychoeducation about a particular disorder, its treatment, and its prognosis.
Ego-defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological processes that protect the conscious mind from anxiety by eliminating threats to self-esteem or reducing the impact of negative emotions. They are necessary for maintaining normal functioning in normal people but can lead to psychiatric disorders when they become maladaptive.
Examples of ego-defense mechanisms include displacement (taking frustrations, feelings, and impulses out on other people), isolation (avoidance of threatening thoughts by mentally separating them from different experiences), splitting (discussing parts of a problem that are mutually exclusive), and denial (refusal to admit that one is thinking or feeling a certain way). A family therapist trained in this approach can help patients identify their defense mechanisms, assess their effectiveness, and suggest strategies for overcoming them.
Psychodynamic Family Therapy
Psychodynamic family therapy seeks to identify the unconscious fears, desires and conflicts that influence a person’s interactions with others. This is often where a dysfunctional marital relationship or the escalating conflict in one child’s behavior originate, even though they may surface in other areas of the family.
The therapist explores past events and traumatic experiences that may have shaped family members’ responses to present-day conflicts. They may also encourage family members to communicate with one another openly. They can also employ psychodramatic techniques, such as role reversal and doubling, to resolve projective processes and difficulties modulating closeness and distance in family relationships.
Psychiatrists practicing this form of family therapy may also use creative expression to help their clients. This can include art or music. For example, a therapist may allow a client to showcase specific art pieces and discuss the emotions they evoke and the meaning they find in these works. This allows a counselor to analyze and interpret the client’s communication and understand whether countertransference is at play in the session.
Family therapy (also referred to as family group psychotherapy or family systems theory) is a general term for the various methods that psychologists, social workers and other mental health professionals use to improve communication between family members and address emotional problems. These techniques have evolved over the years and are now widely used.
In the 1950s and 60s, Eric Berne developed a system called Transactional Analysis to explore how people interact with one another. It focuses on the “transactions” that continually occur between family members and analyzes these into three components: parent, adult and child.
This approach to family therapy recognizes that individual psychological issues and conflict are influenced by and embedded within the larger family system. It is also designed to identify dysfunctional patterns of interaction and communicate with family members in a non-judgmental and secure environment. This approach aims to change the “rules” of the relationship and promote healthier interactions.