Family Therapy: You Don’t Need a Crisis to Benefit
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”Bessel van der Kolk, MD, from The Body Keeps Score
When I think about a family, I think about a place where it’s okay to be who you are, and feel safe. Family therapy is where we help you build a system of safety and support together.
In a healthy family, you feel you belong in its circle of friendship and care. You know deep down you don’t need to have a perfect body, a certain kind of success, or a pre-approved lifestyle to feel accepted as a member.
Family life teaches you about boundaries – your own, and how to honor each other’s. You learn what you’re afraid of, what makes you happy, and how joy grows when you celebrate together. In a healthy family, you feel able to trust each other with your needs and stand up for yourself when you need to.
Family Therapy Helps You Make the Connections You Need
It’s normal for relationships to evolve.
What works for you as a couple — and as a family — is going to change over time.
Our culture evolves. So do our relationships. It’s normal to need support as people and situations change. A newly formed family with young kids will have one set of goals and priorities. A mature family getting ready to launch their last child into adulthood has different needs. The way we relate and communicate with our family members changes over time depending on age and roles.
Children naturally look to their caregivers to deal with emotions and relationships. They attach to and depend on the adults in charge to explain how to feel safe so they can function in the world. Family therapy is about helping you create healthy attachments so each person can function well.
Family Life Is Where We Need Safe Connections Most
Ideally, your family is where you learn you can trust those you depend on to help you thrive in life on your own.
Many parents want to bring up their own children very differently from how they grew up. Unfortunately, some of us don’t experience ideal relationships growing up. With dysfunctional family relationships, you may have:
- Grown up feeling unsafe about trusting adults in charge with wellbeing or care
- Felt invisible or misunderstood most of the time
- Believed you needed to hide who you are
- Saw people acting and talking in ways that hurt other family members
- Learned to make other people’s needs more important than your own
- Suffered deep hurts that went unrepaired
- Grown up without examples of self-control and self-expression
- Wanted skills to support each other and heal relationships
Challenges growing up can impact how a person handles present relationships, including parenting. That’s when family therapy can be a great resource. Family therapy helps you figure out how your upbringing has influenced your parenting style and how you and your partner work together.
Sometimes people want to repair relationships between family members. Time in family therapy opens new ways to change unhelpful relational patterns or reactions. They learn to create new family experiences that are more positive.
When is Getting Help a Good Idea?
You don’t need to have a crisis to benefit from family therapy.
A great time for family counseling is when you think some support would help.
I think about working with the family as a system. Family therapy provides a place for people to get along and help each other in the best way that they can. They take this experience into life outside therapy.
There are many good reasons to initiate family counseling. Issues that bring families into therapy include:
- A child is getting into trouble at home or in school
- A medical illness is impacting everyone
- Family members are grieving a loss
- There is a history of mental health issues, like anxiety or depression
- A child struggles moving into adulthood (“failure to launch”)
- A child is being bullied on social media or at school
- Parents have concerns and don’t know what to do
- A couple wants support when deciding to divorce or remarry
- A couple wants support when blending families
Our goal is to build positive relationships. They can look lots of different ways. It’s about finding what works for your family and your personalities.
Learning to Use Resources You Already Have
Most often, family counseling is about learning to look at your situation a different way. It means looking at the skills you already have, and finding the resources you need. You find you can face many challenges better with learnable skills such as:
- Conflict resolution and problem solving
- Listening to hear what’s happening for a loved one
- Talking about an issue in way everyone feels emotionally safe
- Giving support without trying to fix things for your loved one
- Taking a break to calm down or giving your loved one space to calm down and reflect (as couples do in Emotionally Focused Therapy)
- Knowing when to say difficult but helpful things, like “I’m sorry”
- Being clear: “This is what I need from you.”
- How to discuss things as a couple before talking with children
Family counseling isn’t meant to fix all the problems. It’s meant to help the family find answers to questions like:
- Why is this happening?
- How can we learn what each person needs?
- What are some good ways to work things out?
It’s Healthy to Ask for Help When You Need it
Asking for help is not a bad thing. In fact it’s really healthy to ask for help whether you’re a couple or a family. Don’t wait till you’re in crisis.
Healthy relationship skills are learnable. Typically, families only need a few sessions. Many families get what they need in 10 sessions or less.
When it works well, your family is the longest relationship you’ll have in your life. You learn that joys and problems are things you can share and talk about with people who have earned your trust.
A healthy family is a powerful resource for learning to live a meaningful life.
Any one of these benefits is worth working for.
We’re here for you and your family
Call us to work with our family therapy counselors in Alexandria Virginia: