Family and couple therapies address the interaction and relationships involved, with the idea that it is a system unto itself, and more than a grouping of individuals: more than the sum of its parts. Circular patterns of interaction can maintain or exaggerate problems and change requires something from everyone. Regardless of where or how the “problem” started, there is something about the dynamics between people that keeps it going – it serves some kind of purpose in the system. Sometimes, dysfunctional family interaction is how unhealthy patterns are passed down from one generation to the next.
Treatment for families is usually of shorter duration than individual treatment. I meet with several members of the family at the same time. Some sessions may involve different combinations of family members. This allows me to make observations about the interaction that the family members themselves may not notice, out of habit. Treatment focuses on the interaction, more so than on individual or historical factors: what goes on between individuals rather than within an individual person. The focus is on finding a solution to the problem rather than laying blame by identifying a single cause.
In family and couple treatment, everyone has to feel heard and valued. Sometimes, a family comes believing that one of them, just this one, is the problem and needs to be “fixed”. That person may come believing that they are being ganged up on and scapegoated. Usually, everyone contributes in some way to the problem. Everyone needs to be able to listen to each other and take account of each other’s point of view. Often, things can be said when someone feels that there is a neutral, objective therapist there to ensure a sufficient hearing, that can put things into a different perspective and allow ideas for how to address them. Feelings can be intense but if everyone can ride it out and take it in, change can happen.