The Importance of Family Therapy

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How Family Therapy Works at The Wave Clinic.

When treating young people with mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders, it is impossible to consider only the individual on the route to recovery. Children and teenagers are shaped by their circumstances and are hugely influenced by their family members. Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and close family friends all play a significant role in a young person’s life, and any therapy aiming to provide lasting and effective treatment must take this into account.

The need to provide treatment which includes the entire family has been well established by psychologists and researchers, particularly in cases relating to young people. Family therapy has emerged as a significant tool for therapists, coaches, counsellors, and all manner of healthcare professionals working with mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders around the world.

At The Wave Clinic, family therapy is a major part of the treatment programmes we offer. Involving those who are close to our young people to participate in the recovery process through family therapy is beneficial to all: family members feel as though they are a part of the journey alongside the young person they love and want to support but without the pressure of feeling responsible for fixing their struggles and behaviours. 

By contrast, young people who may have struggled to connect to family members while suffering from the symptoms of their condition are offered guidance and support by trained therapists in communicating their experiences and feelings honestly.

In this week’s blog, we will use the actual words of Parent X – a parent who has participated in their child’s recovery journey at The Wave Clinic to underscore the principles of family therapy and where it is especially beneficial in treating mental health conditions in young people.

(Names and gendered pronouns have been removed to protect the anonymity of our young people and their families).

History and Principles of Family Therapy

“For me, the family therapy program was a good balance between structure and free time. The group sessions were not too long and were productive, and there were clear objectives. My child was very articulate in expressing their position – and I am sure a lot of preparation went into this with The Wave team.” – Parent X

Family therapy is a type of psychotherapy in which the entire family is viewed as a unit, and that unit is the subject of treatment rather than the individual.[1] As a therapeutic practice, family therapy emerged in the 1940s and 1950s and has its roots in systems theory, which focuses on communication patterns and interactions between individuals.[2] This means that, rather than focusing on one member of the family and their feelings or actions, family therapy aims to identify how members of the family habitually communicate with one another, how those habits form hierarchies of power within families, and how those hierarchies affect individual behaviours, feelings, and anxieties. 

Therefore, the main goal of family therapy is to facilitate change for individuals by reducing and hopefully eliminating problematic patterns and interactions that influence negative behaviour patterns.[3]

As such, enabling each family member to communicate their feelings and their position openly and freely beforehand, without the influence of these patterns of interaction, is very important to the success of family therapy. This is particularly true where age plays a part in power dynamics: young people, for example, often feel unable to communicate their position to parents who are the authority figures in the family.

But, as Parent X points out, there is a significant benefit in taking the time to help young people establish and articulate their position. This enables them to communicate their feelings clearly, without falling into the habitual power constraints of family.

Scaffolding Recovery As A Family

“The focus was on my child showing they are in a good place and ready to move on. The emphasis was very much on looking ahead. There was some discussion on their resilience in the face of setbacks or triggers. They themselves demonstrated their resilience when talking about their past traumatic experiences.” – Parent X

Once the communicative patterns and power structures of families have been established, challenged, and hopefully overcome, the emphasis is placed on scaffolding recovery strategies as a family. This requires systematically addressing past family relations or points of pain within a family and making clear plans to move forward with new communication patterns in the future.[4] 

Parent X specifically highlights the way in which their child was able to articulate the challenges they have faced in the past and clearly demonstrate a willingness and an ability to move forward with a new, more positive approach which forefronts resilience and open communication.

Reassurance and Recovery For All

It was fantastic to see my child looking very well both mentally and physically and also happy to see me. They have clearly taken greater responsibility for their own well-being and they seem less concerned about what other people think and more able to express their own needs and look after themselves. – Parent X

Family therapy is not just about treating the individual; it is about mobilising the family’s internal strength and functional resources as a unit.[5] Mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders do not only affect the individual young person who is struggling with them; they are also extremely painful and challenging for the loved ones of that young person. Therefore, providing reassurance and recovery for all members of the family unit is critical to achieving long-term success in therapy.

To learn more about family therapy, or any other aspect of our treatment programmes, visit https://thewaveclinic.com/family-services/

Sources

[1] B. Jalali, (2007) Overview: Theoretical Models of Family Therapy. Encyclopaedia of Stress (Second Edition).

[2] Crane, R. and Morgan, T.B. The Efficacy and Effectiveness of Family Therapy: A Summary and Progress Report. Family and Health Care Services, Brigham Young University.

[3] Gleaves, D.H. and Carter, J.D. (2008) Family Therapy. Adolescent Addiction.

[4] le Grange, D. (2001) Clinical Psychology of Family Therapy. International Encyclopaedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences.

[5] Varghese, M. et. al. (2020) Family Interventions: Basic Principles and Techniques. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Jan; 62(Suppl 2): S192–S200.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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