What is Family Therapy or Family Counselling?

The primary purpose of the different approaches to psychotherapy is to help people feel differently, and to change their thinking and behavior. Individual and family therapies are approaches to understand human behavior, and to treat emotional and psychological difficulties in clients. While individual therapy focuses on helping clients to gain insights on themselves and their problems in order to change, family therapy emphasizes the family system and changing its organization. Changing the organization of the family leads to change in the individual members. The systems perspective views the family as a self-regulating system held together by unspoken rules to maintain itself. Structure is a very important, and this defines how a family organizes and maintains itself. What is also important is how the family adapts and changes over time; for example, learning to connect with teens. Psychological symptoms are viewed as indications of a dysfunctional family. Thus in family therapy, the focus of treatment is the family system, and not the problem or symptomatic family member.

Family Subsystems

The family is a basic human system and consists of various subsystems. These are subgroups within the family’s structure with the responsibility to carry out various family tasks. Subsystems in families could be based on generations, gender, and common interests and role functions

  • spousal (wife and husband).
  • Parental (mother and father).
  • Sibling (children)
  • Extended (grandparents, other relatives).

Family Structure

There are rules that organize the way the family interacts, and different families interact differently depending on their rules. These repeated interactions promote expectations that establish lasting patterns. According to Minuchin and his colleagues in Mastering Family Therapy, "Family members adapt to family rules that allocate roles and functions.This adaptation fosters smooth functioning, anticipating responses, security, loyalty, and harmony" (p. 33). It is possible to understand the structure that governs a family’s communication patterns by observing the family’s actions. This would include which family member says what to whom, in what way, and also the results of the interaction. In addition, it is important to observe how appropriate the hierarchical structure in the family is. The repeated sequences emerging in family therapy reveal the structural patterns of the family. But the family structure is reinforced by expectations that establish rules in it. The structure is also shaped partly by general, and partly by family specific constraints. For example, all families have some kind of hierarchical structure, with adult and children having differing amounts of authority (Nichols & Schwartz, 2005). If the underlying structure is altered, this will have ripple effects on all the family transactions. So according to Jorge Colapinto, “Consistent with its basic tenet that the problems brought to therapy are ultimately dysfunctions of the family structure, the model looks for a therapeutic solution in the modification of such structure.”

Boundaries

Boundaries are invisible barriers that allow contact between individuals, subsystems, and families. They protect the integrity of subsystems by regulating what enters and leaves them. For example, when children are allowed to freely interrupt their parents’ conversation, this erodes the boundaries separating the generations and the spousal subsystems from the sibling subsystem. Boundaries range from rigid to diffuse. Rigid boundaries are very restrictive and permit little contact with outside subsystems. This leads in disengagement, where individuals or subsystems within the family become isolated. This could limit affection and support in the family system Diffuse boundaries are unclear to the extent that others can intrude into them. They lead to enmeshment, where family members become over-involved in each other’s lives. While a sense of mutual support is beneficial, too much could result in lack of autonomy and dependence. Clear or healthy boundaries are an appropriate blending of rigid and diffuse features. While clear boundaries help family members attain a sense of their own individuality, they also lead to sense of overall belonging within the family system.

The most common goals of family counselling are

  • Join the family in a position of leadership so that it is active and involved.
  • Map the family’s underlying structure (boundaries, hierarchy, and subsystems) and identify its potential for change.
  • disagreeing about core values (i.e. children, how to spend money, religion)