Does My Family Need Family Counseling and Where Can We Go to Get It?
Updated October 19, 2018
Reviewer April Brewer , DBH, LPC
A healthy family life brings joy to every family member. In hard times, family members support each other. They work toward common goals and enjoy leisure time together. Being a part of a family isn't always easy. Sometimes, individual problems meld together to create family dysfunction rather than support. Even so, it may be difficult to know when to get help in family counseling. How do you know whether you are just going through a rough patch or you are all in a serious downward spiral? If you are wondering whether it is time to call in a counselor, the first thing you can do is to find out more about what family counseling is and how it can help you.
Definition of Family
Years ago, a family was considered to consist of a married couple and their children or all the descendants of an older adult or ancestor. Today, the common definition of family is more inclusive. A family is a basic social unit. In addition to its earlier meanings, a family can also mean a single adult and their children, an unmarried couple and their children, a same-sex couple and their children, or any group of adults and the children they care for. For many people, friends are as much or more important than their biological family. However, unless they live together, they don't meet the definition of a family.
Sometimes, a family lives together. They may also live apart but be closely related. For example, a parent who does not have custody of their child would still consider their child as their family. Or, separated parents may live apart but share custody of their child. In that case, the child would be considered a part of each parent's family. Family therapy for such a family sometimes includes both adults - not because they still consider each other family, but because they are still co-parenting. Usually, members of a family are either biologically related or living together, or both.
Each family has a unique structure and communication style. What affects one member of the family usually affects other members as well. If two people in the family are at odds, life is more stressful for everyone in the family. When changes happen within the family unit, all members must adapt to the new situation.
Issues Addressed in Marriage and Family Counseling Sessions
Families that have never developed a beneficial structure or a healthy communication style may quickly fall into turmoil when something goes wrong. Even a family that once functioned well can become dysfunctional when they are under unusual stress. If you see any of the following problems within your family, consider getting help through family counseling.
Children's Behavioral Problems
If a child is misbehaving, chances are there is significant dysfunction in the family. Either unhealthy family dynamics are at the root of the problem or the child's misbehavior is causing stress within the family or both. Addressing the child's problems is an important part of arriving at a place of peace within the family.
Behavior problems of children and teens may include:
- Acting out at school
- Failing at school
- Skipping school
- Problems controlling emotions
- Bullying or being bullied
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Rebellious attitude toward school faculty and parents
- Sex issues
- Teen pregnancies
- Intense sibling rivalry
- Throwing tantrums
- Telling lies constantly
- Mental or physical illness
Troubles in the Marriage or Other Adult Partnership
Children do not have the monopoly on dysfunctional relationships. When adult relationships are troubled, the entire family suffers. Perhaps you have problems resolving conflicts within the partnership. Maybe one partner has had to take care of all the childcare and discipline for the children.
If you don't communicate with your spouse, the household can become fractured as well. Sexual problems within the marriage can generate larger problems in the family, too. When these types of problems are present in a marriage, marriage and family counseling can help you renegotiate the relationship in a way that decreases family conflict and improves family functioning.
Parents and children share a special bond that is more profound than in almost any other type of relationship. Parents and children don't always get along well. Sometimes, it is because of the child's behavior, but other times, the parent causes the problem by the way they behave toward their children. Some common Parent- Child dysfunctions include:
- Child abuse or neglect
- Obvious favoritism towards one child
- Being too strict or too permissive
- Sheltering the children too much
- Expecting a young child to take on adult responsibilities and roles
- Inconsistent discipline
- Being uncommunicative
- Not providing emotional support or nurturing
- Unrealistic expectations
- Disrespecting the child or their privacy
Sibling rivalry is so common that most people assume it's okay. However, sibling rivalry can be a form of bullying. The children arenot competing as a team would in a sport, but instead, they're hurting each other out of their emotional distress. Many parents have little hope that they can ever help their children overcome sibling rivalry, but there is hope! Children and family counseling can help them learn how to cooperate, have compassion for each other, and get along better than you might ever expect.
When a family lives together, they may face shared life challenges, such as:
- Death of a loved one or family pet
- Financial problems such as low income, credit problems, foreclosures, reports
- Illness of a family member - physical or mental alike
- Natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes
- Criminal attacks such as break-in in the family home, home invasion, assault
- Social conflicts with friends, neighbors, extended family
- Parents are so unhappy they are considering separation or divorce
- Intense sibling rivalry makes your home feel like a war zone
- Conflict outweighs harmony in the family environment
- Children and parents are constantly fighting
- Family members cannot find common ground for working through shared challenges
- Family members never or rarely spend time together
- There is intense stress in the family
- Children are in constant trouble at school or in the community
- Anyone in the home has a drug and/or alcohol problem
- After a shared traumatic experience
- When one or more adults neglect the children
- When anyone in the family is physically, mentally, or verbally abusing another family member
Benefits of Family Counseling
What Happens in Family Counseling?
It's common for people to be apprehensive about their first family therapy session. Commonly, before the first session begins, family members all get a chance to fill out paperwork that includes their history, individual medical and mental health histories, and possibly a questionnaire about what happens within the family from each of your perspectives.
During the first session, the counselor explains the process of family therapy and how confidential statements will be handled. Then, the counselor gets to know each family member, what brought them to therapy, and the stressors each is facing. The family therapist also asks a lot of questions and observes how you all communicate, who takes on different roles, and where conflicts lie. The counselor usually talks with the entire family first and then possibly with one or more family members individually.
In later sessions, the therapist, having gathered significant initial information, may focus on the most serious problems in communication and family functioning. The counselor may choose certain family members to attend sessions together, sometimes seeing the entire group and sometimes working with an individual or only a few family members. They may spend more time with those who are having the most difficulty or in the best position to make changes for the better.
The counselor may assign homework to do between sessions. The homework may be a new behavior to practice, a journal-writing topic, or a request to come up with solutions to a problem. At the next session, family members get to talk about what happened when they did the homework.
Types of Family Counseling
Therapists use one or more different types of family counseling to help your family learn to function in more healthy ways. The following counseling types can stand alone or be used together with a wide range of counseling techniques.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy - A therapy in which thoughts are assessed and changed to create changes in behavior.
- Communication Therapy - Therapy that focuses on improving verbal and nonverbal communication skills.
- Narrative Therapy - A therapy in which family members share stories from their life to solve their problems via wisdom gained through their own experiences.
- Psychodynamic Therapy - This therapy uncovers unconscious thoughts to find the roots of the family problems.
- Relationship Therapy - Therapy that addresses problems within the relationships between family members, especially in the relationships between the adults in the family.
- Strategic Counseling - A 5-stage counseling method that includes a social stage, a problem stage, a goal-setting phase, and a task-setting stage.
- Structural Therapy - A therapy that examines and works to change the structure of the family.
- Supportive Family Therapy - Supportive therapy is usually used in conjunction with other therapies. Its purpose is to provide a safe environment where family members can express themselves and be heard.
- Systemic Counseling - Family therapy that focuses on interactions between family members. It recognizes personal identities, family structure, the way families respond to needs, and how dysfunctional growth patterns can be changed.
- Transgenerational Therapy - A type of therapy which examines the behaviors of past and current generations and how they have dealt with problems and behaved appropriately or inappropriately.
Where Can I Get Family Counseling Near Me?
Are you ready to explore the question of 'How do I find family counseling near me?' Finding the right family counseling services for you may require a bit of research and consideration. After all, you are a unique family. You have your own unique set of strengths, challenges, and family history that no one else shares.
You may choose to go to a therapist who has a private practice in your city or who works within the community mental health system. Before you choose a family counselor, it is important to give them a summary of your problem and ask them what kind of therapy they recommend. This will give you a basic idea of their approach.
Some family counseling services are especially well-equipped to deal with cultural differences within the family as well as in community where they live. Family Tree Counseling, for example, is a branded therapy that includes marriage and family counseling. Therapists have experience dealing with non-traditional families and the LGBT community.
One other type of counseling is even closer to you than any of these other family counseling services. Online family counseling allows parents to bring the family together for therapy in their own home or anywhere they have an internet connection. At BetterHelp.com, thousands of licensed counselors provide therapy for individuals and families. You can choose a counselor with the training, experience, and value system that matches your family needs. Peace at home is more than possible. It is what you deserve for all your family members. Family counseling can help you find that peace.