Counseling is often thought of as an individual process, and for many people, individual therapy alone can be helpful. However, when the identified client is a child, family counseling can be a helpful complementary modality in addressing the youth's needs. In many cases, supplementing individual counseling with family counseling is an effective way to address a youth's needs within the family context, and to help restructure dysfunctional family dynamics. Incorporating family and extended family (e.g., aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.) into the counseling process can be helpful and supportive for all members involved. "Family" may even refer to individuals that demonstrate a long-lasting, supportive role, such as close family friends.
Child and family counseling will usually focus on the overall family dynamics this way, the family unit as a whole is the identified client. Family therapists believe that the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of each family member are interrelated to those of the other members of the family. Each identified person in the family unit has an opportunity to become aware of how their behaviors impact the family system as a whole. As a result, rather than focusing on any one individual's thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, the entire family system as a whole is evaluated.
Children first relate to others through the way they relate to their family members. Children in healthy homes that demonstrate positive interpersonal interactions will often translate those behaviors to their relationships with other adults and peers. Likewise, if youth are embedded in an environment with unhealthy relational dynamics, they will often translate this into their interactions with others in school and the community. If not treated early on and healthily, those who have suffered emotional trauma due to the influence of other family members can carry maladaptive interpersonal behaviors with them as they enter adulthood. Such trauma can prevent them from getting a decent career, having long-lasting and meaningful relationships, and can decrease their self-esteem dramatically.
The Benefits Of Child And Family Counseling
One benefit of child and family counseling is that it helps to address certain issues like interpersonal conflicts, communication problems, and behavioral problems within a family context. A trained professional will be able to facilitate and model productive communication and conflict resolution skills. Typical relational patterns between family members often become enacted in sessions, and problematic dynamics can be addressed in real time. Therapists skilled in this form of counseling aim to locate the dysfunctions in the family and diminish or eliminate them using awareness and communication. For families struggling with interpersonal or communication problems, in particular, family counseling can help provide a structured and supportive environment for families to work through their difficulties. Family members may often feel defensive or reluctant to communicate with other family members directly due to resentment or fear of conflict/fights ensuing. A family therapist can facilitate productive conversation without having anyone member feel attacked or blamed. Also, it can provide the opportunity for individuals to be more empathic to other's needs. Family counseling can help foster an environment where family members can gain a deeper understanding of individual needs. The family is encouraged to work through problems in a collaborative manner.
Another benefit of child and family counseling is that it can help address the needs of very young youth (ages 6 and under). Due to developmental limitations, young youth may not have the cognitive or language sophistication yet to fully express their thoughts and feelings in a way adults can understand. In this case, individual therapy sessions may include projective techniques that help provide the counselor with insight into a child's inner thoughts and feelings. A trained counselor will be able to help the youth express and process their thoughts and feelings in a developmentally appropriate way, and effectively work with their caregiver(s) and family members in family sessions to help them understand and address the youth's needs.
The third benefit of child and family counseling is that it can help identify the family dynamics that contribute to a youth's behaviors. For example, if a youth is struggling behaviorally with following through with responsibilities or chores, and is not complying with directives, family counseling can help the youth and caregiver(s) identify any potential behaviors of other family members that may be contributing to the youth's issues. Family counseling can help the family collaborate on effective solutions as a whole, rather than focus on the youth's behaviors alone.
The fourth benefit of child and family counseling is that it can help lay the foundation for skills to be utilized beyond the family dynamic. Since family counseling aims to work on improving interpersonal relationships, the skills family members learn in child and family therapy (e.g., effective communication, problem-solving, establish healthy boundaries with others, and positive conflict resolution skills) can be translated to other life domains such as the workplace, school, in romantic relationships and friendships.
For more severe and chronic issues, such as drug or alcohol abuse, antisocial or violent behaviors, or disordered eating, family counseling can provide a supportive and structured environment for all individuals involved. Family counseling can benefit those who have family members that are struggling with mental health disorders, as it helps address the impact of an individual's behaviors on the entire family unit as a whole. These issues may seem overwhelming when attempting to handle them by yourself, but family support can be a factor in helping families cope with chronic and severe issues more positively. Rather than feeling isolated and alone, individual family members can feel encouraged and supported.
Some clinical settings provide child and family counseling. For individuals requiring a higher or more intensive level of care (e.g., rehabilitation, partial care, or intensive outpatient services), family counseling may be a part of a milieu therapy approach in treatment (i.e., it may be used in conjunction with individual or group therapy). For families generally stable in their home and community environment, family counseling can be sought out at a local outpatient clinic, or a local practitioner's private practice.
For families who prefer to receive therapy in the comfort and privacy of their home, or live in an area with limited access to therapeutic services, the option of telecounseling is available. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that has skilled licensed therapists in child and family counseling. BetterHelp has licensed therapists who are available remotely and can adjust to your family's schedule. On this platform, you will be matched with a therapist through a questionnaire; then you will then be able to speak with this therapist on your own time either through chat message, telephone, or video chat.