Seeking Therapy For Family Conflicts
Conflict within a family is not unusual; it’s often a part of living in community with people who each have their own individual personalities, goals, and needs. However, if the conflicts have become too big to resolve and are starting to manifest as dysfunction, your family may benefit from some outside help. Below is a discussion of some common types of conflicts families may face, as well as some information about the resources that are available for helping resolve them.
Common Sources Of Family Conflicts
Each family may have its own unique set of concerns that could end up affecting the well-being of everyone in the unit. There are many reasons why a family may seek professional counseling to help resolve conflicts. Below are some of the most common reasons.
Mental Or Physical Health Challenges
Some mental or physical illnesses or disabilities may be difficult for both the person experiencing them and their family. The individual may require frequent care or more attention than other families, which can take a toll on caregivers or siblings. Or, the individual may resist or avoid seeking the treatment they may need, which can result in family feeling the strain of constantly looking out for or worrying about their wellbeing. The individual who is experiencing the mental or physical illness may also have difficult feelings to process about their role within the larger family unit.
Major Life Transitions Or Events
A family who experiences an event that significantly impacts their dynamic or the emotional state of some or all may also benefit from counseling. This type of event could be planned, like a move to a different city or a pregnancy or adoption. It could also be unplanned, like a divorce, job loss, or the loss of a loved one. A counselor may help families in situations like these process and heal from the transition both individually and as a unit.
Blended families consist of children from different relationships—such as half siblings or step siblings—now living as one, new unit. Putting young or even adult children from previously separate units into the same dynamic or even the same household can be a big change for everyone involved. A therapist may be able to give all parties a safe space to discuss their emotions related to the transition and to find compromises between each original unit’s preferred way of doing things.
Sometimes, the health and wellness of a family is affected by past experiences rather than by a current situation. Counselors can help these clients identify the emotions they felt during past traumatic times and work through the associated feelings that might be affecting them in the present. They can help the family heal so they can move forward in a healthy way.
Cycles Of Blame
When a conflict is not adequately resolved, some families may fall into the unhelpful habit of blaming those around them instead of seeking helpful solutions. Children who see their parents or caregivers engaging in this cycle of negative interactions and unproductive blaming may learn those unhealthy habits or even internalize the blame themselves.
Blaming someone else for past mistakes or conflicts might temporarily make a person feel better, but it’s not likely to repair the present—nor does it set a person or family up for a healthy future. Getting stuck in the cycle of blame usually means that the people involved have stopped listening to each other, which is where the help of a professional can be useful. A therapist may be able to help the family unpack the original issues and resolve them so they can move on.
Cycles Of Abuse
Abuse within a family may take many forms, from emotional or psychological to physical or sexual. Family therapy in cases of abuse may take place after the abuser has been removed from the home and the other family can begin healing. Or, it may involve trying to find ways to change the abuser’s behavior and keep the family together by healing together. Since abusive behavior is often passed down through generations, a therapist may also be able to help the adults in the family examine and heal from any abuse they suffered in childhood to improve the dynamic with their own children.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for help, resources, and information.
Types Of Family Counseling
The purpose of family counseling is to help a family learn to relate to each other in a healthy way. The therapist may do this by opening up productive lines of communication, assisting in conflict resolution, and initiating the healing process if necessary. The type of therapy used will largely depend on the types of issues being faced by the family who is seeking counseling. Below is a discussion of some of the common types of family therapy in use today.
Family Systems Therapy
Family systems therapy is based on ideas that come from systems theory. Systems theory attempts to explain how people think and behave based on the complex networks of relationships in which they live, and on how each of those networks operate as complete units. Systems in which a person might find themselves include school, the workplace, and the family. The theory behind this method is that people can’t be fully separated from their family relational systems, which is why it takes the approach of treating specific relationships and issues within the family unit.
Structural Family Therapy
The primary tool involved in structural family therapy is the family map. The map is used as a springboard for understanding and discussing different family dynamics so that the therapist can help the family learn healthier ways of interacting with one another. This type of therapy looks at the family holistically, examining how the entire unit is affected by certain patterns and interactions.
Family Financial Therapy
Disagreement over finances is a common source of conflict within families, especially if they’re experiencing financial distress. The main idea behind this relatively new therapy method is to help families develop healthy attitudes and approaches to money and to help them ease any conflict or stress they might be experiencing related to their financial habits or situation. While a financial therapist isn’t the same as a financial advisor and can’t give you legally qualified financial advice, they can help families start sorting out relational issues related to money.
What To Keep In Mind When Pursuing Family Therapy
Once the decision has been made to seek family counseling, it’s helpful to be aware of some challenges that can arise during the therapeutic process. There are also things that families can do to help make their experience with therapy more effective in the long run.
Therapy May Open Old Wounds
The first challenge is that family counseling may open old wounds that may never have properly healed. The therapist may make the family aware that the process could initially cause more hurt or potential arguments, but that it’s a necessary part of addressing these deep-seated issues so they have the potential to be resolved once and for all.
There’s Potential For A “Honeymoon Phase”
In contrast to the previous point, the family could also experience a “honeymoon phase.” It refers to a stage when they begin using communication techniques and strategies they learned in counseling and things start getting better. However, unhealthy habits can be hard to break, so continuing to practice what you have learned and continuing to see your therapist even after things have started to improve can be an important step in maintaining progress.
Consistency Is Key
Sticking with therapy even through the “honeymoon phase” or other early stages will give you and your family better chances of long-term success. Throughout the process, encouraging everyone in the family to consistently attend appointments and keep practicing the strategies learned there can help foster continued improvement over time.
It’s Not About Placing Blame
The idea behind this type of therapy in general is to address and adjust any dysfunctional ways the family may have of relating to each other. So although it’s generally not the role of a therapist to make rulings about past conflicts, place blame, or decide what choice the family should make about something going forward, they can help others learn to communicate and resolve conflict together in a calmer, more compassionate manner.
Finding A Family Therapist
There are many different options available for those who want to seek family counseling. Some counselors keep evening and weekend hours. Some even make home visits, while others might work with clients online—perhaps even being available outside of typical office hours through email or messaging.
Online appointments with a qualified, licensed therapist through a virtual therapy service like BetterHelp may be a convenient, accessible way for those who prefer this format to receive the guidance they may need. It can be easier to fit into a busy schedule since no travel time is required, and it’s often more cost-effective than traditional in-person sessions, too. Research suggests that online family therapy can be an effective and viable alternative to in-office visits.
Most families experience conflict from time to time. When it goes unresolved or creates dysfunction, however, the guidance of a family therapist may be beneficial. There are many different types and formats of family therapy available so you can seek out the one that’s best for you and yours.