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Life and who we are starts with our family. Family can be so many different things and include all kinds of people. Either by birth or through those we choose, family influences who we are and who we become. Through family we develop values, beliefs and learn how to interact with others.
Family therapy, also known as family counseling, addresses issues that influence the functioning of the family. It may include all family members or only those able to attend sessions. It allows family members to safely express and explore their thoughts and feelings, understand each other’s experiences and needs, and get through transition together.
Sometimes, our family can be our greatest source of strength and a place of safety. At other times, we may feel the need to escape from our family. At times, we can feel that comfort and safety are replaced by neglect and conflict. When we find ourselves in a continual loop of pain or frustration in our family system, family therapy can be helpful. Negative feedback loops can manifest in many ways: fighting between parents, behavioral or emotional problems in children, and feeling isolated or ignored by your family of origin are just a few examples. In situations like these, a family therapist can help by being someone who can look at the whole family system and recognize how individuals fit in it.
Goals for family therapy are commonly set around improving communication to resolve conflict, understanding family situations, and creating a more stable family system. Family therapists use different techniques to help families meet their goals.
The family therapist will identify presenting problems in the system, observe how people interact within units, highlight unhelpful patterns, and resolve and evaluate relationship problems.
People tend to find that going through a family therapy process increases understanding of individual and family patterns, family dynamics, and boundaries. Generally, this increased understanding happens through improved communication, better problem solving skills as a family, and developing a deeper empathy to family members.
You can see a family therapist for many reasons, including:
Family therapy has been shown to be useful in the management and treatment of the following conditions, and is now recommended by NICE guidance, which provides evidence-based treatment recommendations for people and health services in the UK.
There are a wide variety of strategies and methods that a therapist may apply in Family Therapy. Some of the most common are:
In this model, the therapist works from the assumption that problems are maintained from dysfunctional family patterns. Rather than analyzing the origins of unhealthy patterns, systemic therapy focuses on recognizing and altering those patterns. This process helps uncover how members communicate and behave within the system. This approach emphasised the “here and now” and tends to be solution focused rather than problem saturated.
Murray Bowen believed that change happens when individuals move along in the process of differentiation. Differentiation is the ability to maintain your genuine self in the face of high anxiety, usually brought on by the expectations of you from your system (family, work, peer group, etc.). Therapists in this school of thought ask process questions – “How does that work?” “What do you think about this?” – to separate thoughts and emotions in order to reduce anxiety. The goal is to help clients decrease their emotional reactivities and increase thoughtful responses to remain autonomous, thus developing a higher level of differentiation.
Structural family therapy assumes that problems reside within a family structure, which include boundaries, hierarchy, and subsystems. Structures could be too rigid (chaotic or closed) or too diffused (enmeshed). After mapping out the structure of the family, therapists help clients to realign boundaries by changing their patterns. Restructuring the system changes the experience clients have in the family.
In this model, we see family problems as being rooted in the suppression of feelings, denial of impulses, lack of awareness, emotional deadness, and overuse of defense mechanisms. In order for change to occur, the family members must get in touch with their real feelings. Experiential therapists present the genuine self to work with the family. Sometimes, there are needs to increase stress among the family members to induce an honest and open communication. Termination happens when the defenses of family members are broken – the family communicates openly, and members can relate to each other in a more honest way.
The narrative therapist believes reality is shaped by the language individuals use to describe their worldview. An individual’s truth may not match historic events exactly or match up with another person’s truth, but it is true to the individual who created it. Narrative therapists assist the family with telling their individual stories, their experiences with their problems, and presumptions about those problems. The goal is to help the family find the alternative but preferred story that is not problem-centered. Further information about Narrative Therapy can be found on our webpage.
Yoriko is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and is a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT). Yoriko worked as a Lead Clinical Supervisor at the Community Mental Health Center in the USA seeing clients and training licensed and unlicensed clinicians before she relocated to Japan. Yoriko has experience working with individuals of all ages, from young children to older adults, with depression, trauma, substance misuse, ADD/ADHD, PTSD, adjustment disorders, general anxiety, social anxiety, behavioral problems, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and many other conditions. Her treatment approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, motivational interviewing, object relations, seeking safety, interpersonal therapy, play/art therapy, and solution focused therapy.
JouAn Chen, also known as Anne, holds a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology in Taiwan. She completed her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family therapy and also received Certificate of Advanced Study in Child Therapy from Syracuse University. Anne provides services, in English and Mandarin, to individuals, couples, and families. Her theoretical orientation includes training in systemic theory, narrative therapy, solution-focused therapy, emotionally focused therapy, and CBT.
Ryota Sakurai is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT), and Licensed Industrial Counselor working toward getting an MFT license. He has worked with clients with depression, general anxiety, social anxiety, behavioral problems, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and substance misuse. He uses cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, motivational interviewing, object relations, and seeking safety. He also has experience working with couples and families.