If you’re starting family therapy, there are some steps you can take to prepare for your experience. It is very common to feel uncomfortable or a bit overwhelmed by the idea of doing family therapy. However, with some preparation for your first session, feelings of apprehension may fade into excitement for what is ahead.
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What to Expect for Your First Family Therapy Session
Family counselors will usually meet with the whole family during the first session. Together the family will have the opportunity to talk about the history of distress and each individual will have the opportunity to discuss his or her perspective on the problem. The role of the family counselor is not that of a referee, as it is not up to the family counselor to decide who is right and who is wrong. Instead, the counselor’s role is to help build insight, foster healthy communication, heal historical pain, and create a safe environment for all members of the family.
Identify the Problem:
The family counselor will be looking to identify historical places of hurt and pain within the family, ways that this pain has disrupted communication and feelings of safety, and where the family has compensated with unhealthy behaviors and habits.
Many individuals feel completely misunderstood within their family and feel isolated in their experience. During the first session, it is imperative that each member of the family feels understood and that the therapist can empathize with their experience.
Therapists will often provide information on common areas of difficulty within a family and what effect these patterns may have on the individual’s mental health. They may share recent research on family relationships and provide helpful insights based on this information
Formulate a Plan:
At the end of the first family session, the family counselor will outline a treatment plan and propose ways to meet these treatment goals. The family will have the opportunity to contribute to this treatment plan and provide feedback on desired outcomes
At the conclusion of the first session a family should be able to:
- Identify if the family counselor is the right fit
- Feel as though your therapist empathizes with the positions of the whole family and can understand each person’s unique perspective
- Feel as though the counselor has identified a few key problem areas and knows how to fix these problems
- Have a sense of hope that the family may be able to heal and find healthy ways to love and respect each other in the near future. Or, that no matter the outcome, each individual will grow from the experience and receive benefits from taking this step towards growth
What Techniques Are Used in Family Therapy?
Good family counselors often use a variety of techniques specifically tailored to each family’s specific needs. Yet some of the most effective and evidence-based approaches operate from a Systems Theory or Emotionally Focused Family Therapy.
A family therapist seeks to understand the positive and negative patterns that have been perpetuated in the family as a whole. Distress and dysfunction occur when the family gets stuck in a negative cycle of communication, has unhealthy alliances, has a history of unresolved hurt, and frequently engages in power struggles.
A Family Therapist may:
- Help the family identify strong emotions such as anger, fear, shame, and self-blame that block their ability to communicate effectively.
- Deepen insight into behaviors and reactions as a way to reduce inflammatory communication and aggressive reactions
- Identify unhealthy patterns of control or power and replace these patterns with behaviors that lead to greater unity of the family
- Provide psychoeducation to help the family navigate stressful life circumstances such as parenting strategies, childhood development, aging across the lifespan, or planning for the future.
How to Help Your Child(ren) Prepare for Therapy
Children may often fear that something is wrong with them when the family decides to attend family therapy. While developmentally normal, children often struggle to understand how they are not the center of their world (in both good and bad) and therefore feel responsible for all distress within the family unit.
To address these feelings of fear and guilt be sure to:
- Explain to your child why your family is going to try therapy
- Discuss what a therapist is and what they will likely do during a session
- Stress how the entire family could do well with such help, and that everyone will befit from the experience (not just the identified patient)
- Remove mental health stigma by normalizing therapy and talking about it openly
Finding the Right Family Therapist
More than anything else, fit with your family therapist is the most important variable to consider when finding the right family therapist. A prestigious or highly credentialed therapist may not be able to help your family nearly as much if they do not make the family feel comfortable, cared for, or understood. Finding someone that you can trust, that has a personality or energy that you enjoy, and that inspires feelings of hope will make a world of difference in your therapy experience.
At Biltmore Psychology and Counseling we are passionate about helping families heal and become the very best they can be. We know that having a healthy family correlates with greater happiness, longer life-span, and greater overall achievement and success. We find it so rewarding to witness families heal from long-standing pain or overcome recent tragedy or change. We understand how hard life can be, but know that for the motivated family, they can overcome so much and learn how thrive.
If you are interested in learning more information on family counseling, please Contact us for a free consultation.
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Dr. Melissa Estavillo is a Licensed Psychologist and founder of Biltmore Psychology and Counseling. With over 7 years of experience, she specializes in both individual and couples therapy in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. She integrates complementary methodologies and techniques stemming from Emotionally Focused Theory, Psychodynamic Theory and Other Evidence Based Practices to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each client.