Family therapy

The most common cause of distress in families is parental conflict; second in line comes unfortunate life events like death, injury, disease or collective loss/disaster. In the absence one the of a triggering events just mentioned,  emotional conflict between parents (overt or covert), is generally seen by therapists as the first candidate to explore when children are referred for behaviour/emotional difficulties.  This is why family therapy approach gained popularity 40 years ago and has been steadily refining it’s methods since.

Many couples divorce, and then remarry without knowing the true cause of their marriage problems in the first marriage. This is why the second marriage divorce rate is even higher than that of the first marriage! It is also another reason why counselling during divorce proceedings can benefit both parents and children.  If  divorcing parents can overlook tiredness, anger and ‘a whole list of grievances’, counselling for separating families can reap multiple benefits.

Studies in the early 1980’s showed that children in repeat divorces earned lower grades and their peers rated them as less pleasant to be around. (Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage -Harvard University Press 1981)

Forty percent of children growing up in America today are being raised without their fathers. (Wade, Horn and Busy, “Fathers, Marriage and Welfare Reform” Hudson Institute Executive Briefing, 1997)

Teenagers in single-parent families and in blended families are three times more likely to need psychological help within a given year. (Peter Hill “Recent Advances in Selected Aspects of Adolescent Development” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 1993)

Compared to children from homes disrupted by death, children from divorced homes have more psychological problems. (Robert E. Emery, Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment” Sage Publications, 1988)

I have worked extensively with divorcing families where the parents are child-focused as opposed to conflict-focused.  Sadly, the children of divorcees most in need of family therapy, probably have parents with a mindset, that precludes acknowledging family counselling as a priority at that time.  My clinical observations over 30 years, are that legal costs and post-separation conflicts and children’s distress are greatly reduced by a series of focused counselling sessions, particularly when matters between parents are unresolved.

Whether working with intact, blended or separating families, family therapy attempts to alleviate psychological distress in children and parents by asking everyone to be open to contributing to solutions and new ways of being together.  An intervention aimed at opening communication lines between family members is the usual first approach, along with listening to the opinions and experiences of each member of the family. The general outcome of family therapy aims to create is an upgrade in the ‘family culture’ whereby intrinsic support becomes more available to all family members in an enduring way.