Whether you are a service provider, educator, caregiver, or family member, we have all seen how the mental health of a child can impact the functioning of an entire family. Despite this powerful firsthand experience, we often find ourselves in situations where treatment focuses on the struggles of the young person without considering the whole family dynamic. “Whole family” means siblings, caregivers, extended family members, and non-biological kin who live in one or many households, which are important to the general functioning of the family unit.
What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy is a form of treatment that views behavioral health issues and their treatment in terms of the interactions among family members. Families are seen as an integrated, interconnected unit in which psychological functioning is influenced by each family member individually and collectively as an entire system. In family therapy, there is no traditional identified patient; the focus is on relationship patterns and communication among family members. During family therapy, therapists avoid blaming any individual family member for the problem and instead help the family interact in new, different ways that may improve functioning.
The Whole-Family Approach
Therapists who work in outpatient settings typically see their clients for an hour a week at maximum. For a weekly treatment, that leaves 167 other hours in which families coexist, cohabit, and co-influence. For kids, this means that the strategies and techniques they are learning in therapy must be regularly employed at home. That being said, caregivers may have their own mental health challenges, are working long hours to provide for their children, and face substantial stressors, themselves. A whole-family approach can help family units rally around a direction of change, where support can be provided flexibly, when and where they are needed.
It is important to note that in family therapy, every case is different and it is not always appropriate to include parents and other family members in a child’s treatment. Without the parent-child connection, progress can still be made but maybe at a slower rate as the skills that the child is learning may never be practiced outside the therapist’s office. Parents help immensely by noticing when their kids are using their skills and praising them for it.
Some tips for parents to work collaboratively with a child’s therapist:
- Before you have scheduled your intake appointment for family therapy, take time to organize your thoughts about your concerns involving your child. Be prepared to provide a lot of details regarding your concerns. Some helpful things to think about:
- When did the concerning behavior begin?
- How often does your child show concerning behavior?
- How severe is the behavior?
- What successes have you had? What has not gone well?
- What strengths does your child have? What are some resources they already use?
- From the beginning, be transparent and open with your child’s therapist. Having more information helps the therapist set specific and helpful goals with your child.
- Don’t be afraid to disagree. If your child’s therapist suggests something that doesn’t seem workable for your family or says something that rubs you the wrong way, let them know. Your child’s therapist wants you to feel heard, safe, and that the interventions are helping.
- Ask questions. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what skills are being targeted each and how you can support your child in practicing them in between sessions. It can be helpful to restate the tasks your child and you might be practicing in between sessions at the end of each meeting to make sure you and the therapist are on the same page.
- In between sessions, jot down notes about questions you have for the therapist, and if you have noticed a change in how often or severe your child’s symptoms are. This will help you all track your child’s progress in therapy, determine what is working, and if something needs to change.
- Once the therapeutic relationship is established, feel free to request an appointment to meet without your child being present. This may give you a chance to speak more openly, work on parenting techniques, and feel more comfortable with your child’s therapist.
To put it simply and to use a familiar saying, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” When the parent works collaboratively with the child’s therapist, they will see more progress and feel empowered to create the change they desire in their relationship and beyond.
Family Therapy Professionals
Ocean Mental Health Services is a leading provider of exceptional family therapy services to help your entire family unit live harmoniously. Our trained and experienced family therapists will assist in building a strong “whole family” dynamic to create a brighter future for your family. Contact us today to get started!
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