Family therapy often focuses on a specific problem within a family. Usually, all members of the family attend the session together with the therapist. Therapists who conduct family therapy include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, clergy, lay therapists and other mental health workers.
Family as a System
Family therapy techniques are based on the theory of family systems. This approach sees the family as a unit in which whatever happens to one member of the unit (the family) has an effect on every other member of that unit. Rather than focus on one particular member of the family, the focus is on making the entire family system work more effectively.
The therapist may help the family create a family genogram. The genogram highlights relationships among family members (including the extended family) and allows members of the family to explore their own patterns of behavior and how they relate to the rest of the family. The genogram is used to assess family dynamics, either in a global way or focused specifically around an issue. It is a visual way of “telling a family story.”
Family therapists, after spending time learning about the family’s issues, teach family members how to communicate honestly and more effectively. This may mean talking about feelings as well as becoming better listeners. Members of the family learn how to listen to one another and how to respond without necessarily trying to fix a problem or reacting negatively to what they hear.
As communication improves, the family is taught how to work together to resolve the issues that brought them into therapy. With better communication patterns, they are better able to identify current and future problems and create possible solutions. Sometimes the family will be engaged in role-playing. By pretending to be another family member, each member gets to better understand the other person’s point of view. The family learns to disagree without anger and to move toward creating a solution to their problems.
Creating a Family Contract
A family contract is a technique that enables the family to continue on a better path without the therapist being present. Creating the contact generates discussion and clarifies expectations for each member of the family unit. Because each member of the family has had input, the rules that are established are fully understood by everyone, as are the consequences. The family has agreed, in advance, to the consequences of the contract not being upheld.