How to Attend Family Counseling
Family counseling or therapy is a kind of group psychotherapy. Led by a psychologist or licensed therapist, it’s usually short-term and can teach families how to resolve conflicts and improve their communication. Family counseling can work with the whole group or only with willing family members. If you’re interested in this kind of therapy, talk to your loved ones about attending. Then, find a suitable therapist and start working on your issues.
Getting Your Family to Counseling
Have a talk.Getting loved ones to attend family counseling together might take some effort and organization. Whether you’re trying to convince your spouse, your parents, or your siblings, you’ll first need to have a frank talk. Ask your loved ones to sit down so you can communicate your desire with them.
- Let your loved ones know that you want to have an important talk, i.e. “Bill, I have something really important that I want to talk about with you. Can we sit down together?” This will help them focus their attention and also communicate that they should take what you have to say seriously.
- Pick a good time and place for your conversation. Choose a moment when your loved ones are not busy but can give you all their attention. You might approach them in the evening, for example, after they return from work and are settling down.
- Choose a moment when your family members are relaxed and at ease. Avoid bringing up the subject in a public place or if you are fighting.
Propose counseling.The whole point of talking to your loved ones is to propose family counseling, so be direct and to-the-point. At the same time, be prepared for some possible push-back. Approach the topic gently and with patience and try not to get angry or defensive.
- Try saying something like, “Maria, I’ve been thinking and wonder if we might communicate better with some help. What do you think about family counseling?”
- Show empathy, i.e. “I know this is a hard conversation, but I’m only saying this because I care about you and our relationship. I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t love you and want things to be better between us.”
- Since your loved ones might not be receptive to what you say, consider using “I” statements, i.e. “I think that family counseling could help us” or "I'd really try and find a way to stop fighting with you, and I think having some help would be useful for me." This wording can help you express your feelings but avoid language that assigns blame to others.
Focus on finding solutions.Your loved ones might be more receptive to the idea of family counseling if you focus on how it can solve problems. Stress the practical element: how therapy together will teach you to fix problems in your relationships and communication, rather than the chance it gives you to vent your feelings.
- For instance, you might say something like “I want to get counseling so that we can learn to get along better and find compromises” rather than “I want to go to counseling so you can understand me better.”
- Point out that family therapy can show you problems in your behavior and family roles, teaching you how to work through issues. Family therapy can also allow you and loved ones to improve your ability to communicate, express thoughts and emotions, and solve problems together.
Explore alternatives.Your loved ones ultimately have a choice: they might be receptive to counseling or they might not. People may be afraid, distrustful, or skeptical that therapy can work. But even with a refusal, don’t lose hope. There are still other alternatives to family counseling that can help you and loved ones improve your relationships.
- For instance, propose a weekly family meeting where you can talk about the state of your relationship. Or, promise to spend 10 minutes every day listening to your loved ones’ feelings.
- You can also try self-help material. Books likeGetting the Love You WantandThe Seven Principles for Making Marriage Workexplore things like communication and dealing with conflict and power struggles in relationships.
- Don’t forget that you can seek counseling on your own, too. Every member contributes to a family’s dynamic and is responsible on some level for the quality of relationships. You can learn a lot, even if your other loved ones aren’t present.
Finding a Counselor
Decide what kind of program you need.In general, family therapy is useful in dealing with problems that arise in family relationships. However, there are different focuses. Family therapists can help parents cope with a child who acts out, for example, or improve spouses’ person-to-person communication. The type that’s best for you largely depends on your needs.
- Are you dealing with an at-risk child? There are family therapies that focus on kids and adolescents who show behavioral problems, delinquency, or substance abuse.
- Does a family member have a drug or alcohol problem that is affecting the group? This can be another focus of therapy.
- There are also family therapists who work on marriages or help families cope when a member has a severe physical or mental illness.
Talk to a doctor.Your primary care doctor should be able to refer you to a therapist, if you express the desire to see one. You might also get advice from another medical professional like a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, or nurse. Just ask. They should be able to give you advice, suggest names, and to help you find someone in your area.
- Ask plenty of questions about potential therapists. What are his or her training and credentials, for example? Are they licensed and do they specialize in family psychotherapy?
- Ask too about location, availability, and format. How long is each family counseling session? How many sessions are usual? Is the therapist available in emergencies?
- Inquire about cost and insurance, as well. How much does the therapist charge per session? Does she require full fees paid up front? Will she accept payment from your insurance provider?
Search the internet.Check online for family therapists and family therapy resources, too. Start with a general search in your area, like on Google, i.e. “Family therapists in Baltimore,” but don’t neglect other specialized search engines. There are a number of therapy websites with special tools to find practitioners around the country.
- Psychology Today hosts a Therapy Group search engine on its website, for instance. You can search your locality and then narrow the results to find specialists in things like divorce or family conflict.
- A second tool is the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s therapist locator. Search by the name of your area to find lists of nearby licensed Marriage and Family Therapists.
Ask local organizations.Apart from your doctor and online resources, you might also consult with local health organizations in your area. Contact places like hospitals, mental health clinics, community centers, or even university counseling services to see if they offer family therapy sessions. You can either call, inquire in person, or send an email.
- For example, call your local hospital and ask what kind of family counseling services they can provide. Some places, like the Rhode Island Hospital, run family therapy clinics for help in a range of psychological issues.
- Most universities also have counseling services – including family therapy – on campus for students and staff. Contact a college or university near you to see if you can make use of their programs.
Learn about the methods of therapy.You’ll also want to know what sort of methods your potential therapist will use in treatment. Family counseling can draw on a number of techniques, each with their own assumptions and goals. The method may depend on your situation or on the therapist’s preference.
- Ask if Structural Family Therapy is for you. SFT assumes that problems are inside of the family structure – that is, the therapy focuses on interactions in the group rather than on the individuals. The idea is for the therapist to change the family’s ingrained ways of interacting.
- You might also ask about Brief Strategic Therapy. This form of counseling is short and tries to take stock, again, of how the family interacts as a system. The therapist will try to identify problems and will then set goals for change, alongside “tasks” for members to do outside of sessions.
- Consider Functional Family Therapy, too, especially if you have an at-risk child. FFT tries to lower the negativity that’s often found in such families, by focusing on changing behavior at the individual level. This can take place by working on members’ skills in parenting, communication, and problem solving.
Working Out Your Issues
Expect to participate.Most people think that family counseling involves the entire family (or both members of a couple) in the same room. This is only part of it. Family therapy can take place in group sessions, but the therapist may also want to meet individually with each member of your family. Be prepared to participate, whether on your own or as part of the group. In fact, the cooperation of each member will be key to the counseling’s success.
- Some therapists prefer to have the whole family together in sessions. More often, though, you should expect to have some full sessions in addition to some apart or in smaller groups with the therapist.
- Sessions typically last for about 50 to 60 minutes each. Family therapy courses are also usually fairly short and last no longer than 6 months.
See yourself as part of a unit.One of the basic ideas behind family counseling is to see you and your loved ones as a unit. Families are not just isolated individuals, but made up of people who are part of social groups and systems. Each member of a family influences the behavior of the other members, father, mother, sister, brother, and other relatives.
- Say that you are in therapy to address behavioral problems with your child. A therapist can help connect the child’s problems to what he experiences as a member of the family. Perhaps he is doing poorly in school because a parent has been laid off; perhaps he acts out because he overhears arguments and is afraid his parents are going to divorce.
- A family therapist might also ask you to change your behavior and relationships with other members of the group. For instance, she might ask you to change how you communicate with loved ones.
Be prepared to learn about yourself – and your family.Family therapy has to include a good deal of exploration of you, your loved ones, and your roles in the larger unit of the family. Getting family counseling may well teach you a lot about how you interact, express your thoughts and emotions, and solve or create conflicts.
- One of the therapist’s aims is to help you see how you and your loved ones interact, i.e. what are the family roles, rules, and behavior patterns. Then, with this knowledge, you can find ways to work out issues more effectively.
- A therapist can also point out your family's strengths and areas that need improvement. Perhaps you are close knit and loyal to each other, but do not express emotion easily. The therapist might then focus on encouraging you to communicate more easily and openly.
- Armed with knowledge, family therapy should help you find ways to cope with family conflict and, ideally, gain a better sense of understanding with your loved ones.
Video: How to Attend Family Counseling
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