The family is a complex system based on heterogeneous emotional ties, hierarchies, and shifting roles, and it is affected by relations not only internal but also external to the nucleus. Within the family, each of us build the foundations of our own identity, shape our values, principles and traditions, and create our own personal vision of the world.
The family is therefore an ever-changing entity that crosses different phases, some of which are considered to be normative, like the entry of the children in the adolescent phase, while others are of less predictable nature, like the death of a parent or teen-pregnancy. Under all circumstances, all changes involve a reorganization of the family dynamics in order to allow the transition into the next phase.
Sometimes the roles covered by each individual in the family are too rigid, and this may make it difficult and painful to reach a stable and functional adjustment. The effort may be even greater if the family runs into very stressful events such as bereavement, illness, or economic crises, transfers, or layoffs. Often, these events end up affecting the family relationships, generating confusion, worries, or also anger, which inevitably lead to strained relationships and hostile atmosphere in the home.
When crossing challenging circumstances, the family can become the stage of behaviors that tend to support, and even further fuel, conflicts and discomfort, rather than improving the situation. More so, even if the troubles affect a single component of the nucleus, especially if it is a child or a teenager, the difficulties will inevitably affect the family as a whole.
Family therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the family system, and on the complex relationships that shape it and sustain it.
The goal of family therapy is to create a safe space where every member of the group can express own thoughts and feelings, listen to each other, and gain awareness about how own behavior affects – and is affected by – the other members of the family. In this context, the role of the therapist is to facilitate reciprocal understanding, and to leverage the family strengths to overcome the crises. These goals are usually pursued by summoning the whole family (parents and children), although in some cases the therapist may choose to meet separately only some members of the nucleus (for example only the parents, or only the child/ren).
Family therapy is particularly indicated in the following circumstances
- Issues hindering positive connections are numerous and difficult to pin down;
- The arrival of a sibling has shaken the family balance;
- Children´s difficulties to cope with parental divorce;
- Illness in the family;
- Tense relationships as children navigate adolescence;
- Traumatic experiences;
- Grief and loss in the family