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How Does Family Therapy Work? 5 Common Family Therapy Goals




Almost 75 percent of family counseling cases take less than 20 sessions to complete. In fact, the average number of sessions is around 12.

Though no one should view therapy as a race to get to the finish line, it should give you some hope that your family therapy goals are achievable.

And if you don’t know anything about the benefits of family therapy or what your goals should even be, don’t worry. You can figure all that out as you go.

But if you are nervous about therapy or aren’t sure why you’re doing it, you may not give it the attention it needs to work. Whereas you can wing individual therapy, family therapy needs everyone to work together.

So, here is a detailed breakdown of what it entails and all the main benefits of family therapy.

How Does Family Therapy Work?

Like individual therapy, everyone involved goes to a separate, safe space for the therapy sessions.

A qualified, professional psychiatrist or therapist leads the sessions. In an ideal world, everyone is comfortable with the choice of therapist. They might specialize in family therapy or they might have more than one discipline.

There are four traditional family therapy stages that you might work through. These are:

  1. The Preparation Stage
  2. The Transition Stage
  3. The Consolidation Stage
  4. The Terminal Stage

In the first stage, you figure out your problems and family therapy goals. In the second stage, you attempt to work through the problems and accept them. In the third stage, you try alternatives and find the best methods to move forward with.

And in the fourth stage, you work out how you will all move forward after finishing therapy.

It is vital for everyone in the family unit to attend every single session without fail. There is no standard amount of time given to each stage. All family units and their unique issues are different and need as much attention as they need.

Also, the “family unit” is an undefined term. It could be members of one household, an extended family in many households, or part of one family.

If you are yet to find a family therapist in your area, here are some resources and suggestions:

1. Promote Better Communication

One of the most common family therapy goals is better communication and it is one of the easiest ones to achieve.

Why? Because people are often on their best behavior in front of strangers. They are less likely to raise their voice or use shaming or degrading language in a therapy session. The therapist will also ensure no one talks over each other and everyone gets a turn.

Once the therapist models proper communication, families can mirror it in their everyday life.

Therapists can act as mediators or “the voice of reason” when it comes to family communication. They can explain, in a non-judgemental way, why some language is unhelpful or hurtful when some family members can’t. For example, if someone in the family has come out as trans, a therapist can explain why using the person’s dead name is traumatic.

And they can also encourage better communication to avoid resentment and pent-up anger. For example, if one person made a decision without consulting the rest of the family, a therapist can let everyone voice their opinion.

2. Develop Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are important in all healthy relationships with friends, partners, and family members. One of the benefits of therapy is that you can not only set these boundaries but discover what yours are.

Issues around boundaries are common with parent-child relationships. In particular, where the child is becoming a teenager. They have changing needs and wants, which means parents have to be adaptable.

Except, many parents have a “my house, my rules” attitude and ignore any boundaries. This can lead to the child feeling neglected and unimportant as a member of the household.

But some teenagers don’t ask in the kindest way, either, which can cause problems. And this is only one example of how boundaries can cause problems in families.

It is acceptable for family members to set realistic and reasonable boundaries. These might be:

  • Knocking before opening bedroom doors
  • Lowering the volume of movies and music
  • Keeping common spaces tidy
  • Not taking things without asking or snooping in others’ belongings
  • Respecting that others need alone time and space

And the more everyone respects everyone else’s boundaries, the stronger the familial bonds will become.

3. Reduce Conflict

Differing values, opinions, lifestyles, and beliefs can be difficult within a family unit. Whereas you do not have to be in a romantic relationship or friendship with someone with different values, the same does not apply to family.

Family therapy can help you identify areas of conflict and work with you to reduce them. For example, some families have different political beliefs. But a therapist can help you pinpoint values you both share so you can find common ground.

Familial conflicts can also arise due to financial or other external stress. In these situations, families can learn to focus on the problem and not on the people involved. If money is an issue, you can work together to make a budget rather than pointing fingers at the person who spends the most.

The same goes for an addiction or mental health disorder. In these circumstances, it’s vital that families learn to give each other the benefit of the doubt before punishment.

To work together as a family, you also need to learn how to apologize which therapy can help with. When you do something wrong, it is important to be sincere when you ask for your family member’s forgiveness.

And sometimes you may not feel like you have done anything wrong, and the other person might not either. Therapy can help you understand that relationships are more important than always being right.

4. Build Empathy

When families or individual family members go through tough times, it is important to show support and understanding.

But some family members either don’t know how or don’t want to be empathetic for many reasons.

For example, parents might not understand how difficult and demanding school and homework can be nowadays. They might not 100% grasp how much stress their child is under and not offer the proper support. Or, they might offer the wrong type of support by calling their child’s school to complain without their knowledge.

When in reality, the child might only need a hug and some encouraging words. Most people only want to know that their feelings are valid and that they are being heard.

Family therapy sessions can help build empathy by providing a safe, equal space for everyone to share their feelings. This means that some family members have the opportunity to listen or talk more than they might at home.

Being vulnerable is also essential when building empathy between family members.

It is common for men to not share their innermost thoughts to the same extent as women. And you cannot “force” someone to open up if they don’t want to. But in a family therapy session, therapists have the tools to encourage participants to share exactly what they feel.

5. Figuring Out Family Dynamics

Often, families seek outside help when there is a recent change or shift in the family setup. This could include a divorce, a new baby, a new parent, a diagnosis, or a family member coming out as LGBTQ+.

Your family therapy goal might be simple (in theory): to figure out how you all fit into your new normal. To make sure that no one feels sidelined and that everyone is happy with the new arrangement.

For example, in the event of a divorce, most parents want to make sure that their children do not blame themselves. They want their children to still feel loved and they do not want them to be around any conflict.

If a family member gets a life-changing diagnosis, there might be a huge upheaval in the house and someone might need to be a carer. Families might need logistical help as well as emotional help to determine who handles which tasks.

And using the trans example again, families may need an expert to guide them through the transition process. The trans member of the family may need help communicating to everyone else what phrases and memories are and aren’t triggering.

Modern families are much more complex than they were 50 years ago. But there is also so much more room for growth and understanding than there used to be, too. Unconventional family dynamics are tough to navigate but, with help, they can 100% work.

Family Therapy Goals That Make the Effort Worthwhile

Your family therapy goals may include one, all, or none of these listed. You might have more specific issues to tackle, like separation or unexpected pregnancy. But you might find that whilst you are working on one issue, other issues improve too.

Wonderful things happen when you decide to show up for your family and commit to making things better.

Want to learn more about improving your family’s wellbeing? Browse our education and health categories for tons of useful tips!

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