There’s no such thing as a perfect family. Even the happiest family you know experiences rough patches. And if you’ll take a look at your own family, for sure it’s not stable and picture-worthy all the time. The stresses of modern life, conflicts about differences, family crises, and physical and mental health challenges, can create tension in the family and cause occasional arguments.
Couples usually have misunderstandings. Siblings usually argue over petty things. Teens experiencing puberty usually have behavioural changes, and often lead to intergenerational conflict. Sure, you’ve experienced difficult scenarios with your own parents, kids, or siblings.
But how will you know whether these emotional, psychological, or behavioural issues are just normal aspects of family life or a warning sign of disconnect and collapse? What if those conflicts have been going on for months or even years? If these issues have been affecting your familial relationship for a long time, it might be time to seek professional help in a form of family therapy.
What is family therapy and how can it save struggling families?
Family therapy, also called family counselling, is a form of therapy that aims to address psychological, emotional, and behavioural issues that give rise to family problems. Counselling sessions are led by a family therapist, who could be a psychologist or counsellor who’s had training with family therapy.
The goals of family therapy include:
- Determining the root of a family’s problems.
- Understanding and identifying the needs of individual members and create a balance with the well-being of the family unit.
- Improving communication, family dynamics, and problem-solving abilities
- Developing healthy boundaries
- Addressing dysfunctional interactions
- Dealing with issues with children including conduct disorders, offending behaviour, and substance addictions.
When to seek help
Family therapy is for everyone, and not just for families experiencing major problems. Think of it as one of the tools you can add to your family relationship arsenal, along with pep talks and out-of-town vacations. However, for some families, therapy isn’t just an option — it’s a necessity to save them from growing apart.
Here are some warning signs you need family counselling:
1. Breakdown in communication between family members
There’s been a deafening silence when the family is together. No one’s talking — everyone’s on their phones, disconnected from each other. It’s harder to communicate than usual, as bringing up some topics may rock the boat.
Communicating is the key to resolving conflicts, and family counselling can help with this.
2. Family members are withdrawing from family life
We don’t have to talk and bond with family members all the time. We need privacy too. But there’s a thin line between seeking alone time to recharge and actually going into total seclusion.
Warning signs include family member/s withdrawing from family meetings, preferring to stay in their room than sitting at the dinner table, and not socialising with siblings, parents, and even friends anymore. In most cases, withdrawal from social situations is a result of a bigger problem, like mental disorders, bullying or abuse, and trauma.
3. Your family had a traumatic experience
Has your family experienced a recent traumatic experience? It could be a family member’s illness, death in the family, or a tragic event, like a near-death accident. It could also be a divorce or separation or a discovered affair. Sometimes families find it hard to move past the tragedy and adjust to the new reality. Seeking professional help, even if it’s in a form of online counselling, can help families cope with these events.
4. You notice children’s behaviour problems
Do you notice a significant change in your child’s behaviour? Are grades taking a nosedive? Do the teachers report disruptive behaviour at school? Do they have you see a pattern of misconduct, frequent meltdowns, and getting overly emotional (or not expressing emotions at all)?
Your child may be struggling with regulating their emotions. Family therapy can help identify underlying issues, and give your children the support they need during this phase.
5. There are noticeable extreme emotional reactions
Do some members of your family show excessive irritation, anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, and other extreme emotional reactions? Does the mood swing from manic to depressed? Mood shifts may be the result of their frustration at school, a job, or even a relationship, or even an underlying mental health issue.
6. Someone in the family has a mental illness
Speaking of mental health issues, it’s important for a member exhibiting symptoms to get checked and receive the support they need. An undiagnosed mental disorder is one of the biggest causes of disturbance in the family. While it feels draining, confusing, and burdensome to deal with someone with a mental illness, it’s even harder for the member experiencing the inner turmoil.
With counselling, families will have a better understanding of how mental illnesses work and how they can deal and care for their loved one better — a win-win situation for all.
7. There’s substance abuse and violence involved
Is one family member abusing alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or other substances? Does the addiction put the entire family into a distressed state? Substance abuse doesn’t only put the well-being at risk — it can also alter one’s behaviour, and may lead to violence or threat to oneself or other family members.
8. You have a blended family
The reason for seeking family therapy isn’t always related to behaviour problems. Family counselling also helps unconventional families have a better structure. A blended family, which refers to two separate family units that become one, is a good example.
Family counselling helps blended families navigate their new reality, including the step-parent roles and the conflicts that arise among kids having half-siblings.
Author Bio: Carmina Natividad is one of the writers for Relationship Room Couples Counseling, a couples psychology institution specialising in relationship counselling and therapies for couples and families. She may be hopeless romantic but she’s got some straightforward pieces of advice about love, dating, and relationships.