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Is Family Therapy Right for Your Family?

By Carrie Sporer, Fraser Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Pam Dewey • family therapy, therapy, parent therapy, therapy for families, help for families, family mental health care, mental health care families, children and parents mental health, mental healthcare, mental health therapy families • July 28, 2022

Support from family is so important to a child’s development. Siblings stand up for each other and teach each other about sharing. Older siblings are often models for younger children to learn about what’s cool and how to present themselves. Parents teach children right from wrong, how to behave in social settings and help them grow healthy and strong. In some families, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles help raise children. 

But sometimes, families hit roadblocks. Maybe parents decide to divorce or separate, or perhaps, a family member passes away. Children may also experience a traumatic event. A child’s diagnosis of autism, a disability or a mental health issue can also be a lot for a family to process.

Families may want to pursue family therapy for many reasons. Here’s how to know if family therapy is right for your family.

Therapists don’t “do” therapy to families

Fraser Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Carrie Sporer wants families to know that family therapy is a collaborative process, and therapists work to support families where they’re at.

“It doesn’t need to look like family members being directed to talk about their feelings immediately. We work with families to identify the right approach and priorities for family therapy,” says Sporer. “We don’t ‘do’ therapy to families but rather with families.”

Who is included, and how long does it last?

Depending on a family’s needs, family therapy can include parents and a child; only parents or parents, a child and siblings. Non-immediate family members can also be included with consent from the family.  A parent may suggest this, or a therapist can make that suggestion.

How long therapy lasts is also dependent on a family’s needs. Families may attend family therapy to process something and then move on. Other times, family therapy is ongoing, or families take breaks and re-engage. When a child has neurodevelopmental differences, families may need more support when their child enters a new life phase or stage of development, like entering adolescence. 

You can join online!

Since family therapy often includes multiple people, busy adults often prefer to join therapy through telehealth, so they don’t have to commute to a clinic. This is also a good option for anyone that lives farther away from a Fraser location.

Why do families seek family therapy?

As mentioned earlier, families going through a divorce, death or trauma may benefit from family therapy. Families who need to learn to communicate or understand each other in different ways can also benefit from therapy. Sporer says Fraser also offers a type of family therapy called parent guidance, which supports parents after their child has received a diagnosis, like autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety or intellectual or developmental disabilities. During this therapy, a therapist educates parents about their child’s diagnosis, works with them to better understand their relationship and teaches them parenting strategies to help support their child.                

What can families learn in therapy?

Family and marriage therapists are taught to look at families as systems. Each member is a moving part of the system and influences the other members when they interact.

“That means you can sometimes impact the whole family by impacting just one member,” explains Sporer.  

For example, a mom and one child may attend family therapy to work on their communication. When they return to their family, the other members may notice how much their communication has improved and adopt these same techniques. Thus, the entire family improves how they interact with each other.

“I’ve seen families gain a better understanding of their child’s needs and development and begin to understand everyone’s perspective so much better,” says Sporer. “When parents have the tools to support their children and understand their emotions, their child’s problematic behaviors are often reduced. This in turn, makes parents calmer, and then children feel calmer. It can dramatically improve family dynamics.”

But how do you know if it’s right for you?

Sporer encourages any family that is curious to reach out to a Fraser therapist to talk more about it. Family therapy can even be a short burst; it doesn’t have to be a long commitment.

“If it feels like something that would be helpful after talking, then we’d love to support your family. If after connecting, it doesn’t feel like the right time, that’s okay too,” says Sporer.