by Dawn Ferrera, LPC
Reviewed by Karri Francisco, LMFT
Sometimes, in the midst of family struggles, it’s hard to objectively assess our needs as individuals and as members of a unit. While relationships and things like shared values and beliefs hold families together, there are often secrets that bind them as well. Sometimes there are closely guarded, even generational, family secrets that are not apparent to a casual observer.
A family can look completely harmonious and put together, while just below the surface lie secrets and struggles that create serious friction and distance. The stress of protecting the family image can erode the family’s health over time.
If you’re wondering if your family needs help, chances are something is creating a feeling of discomfort. Maybe your family has experienced a significant event that has left you all struggling to cope. Or there’s a tension between you that you can’t exactly name. Maybe you’re struggling with an unhealthy pattern of behavior. Sometimes, the dynamic can feel off because you’ve changed as a person or developed a simple desire for things to be better in some way.
As individuals, we all deserve support, and sometimes we need help getting our needs met. Families are the same: sometimes, you need professional support to work through things and ensure that everyone gets their needs met.
Signs Your Family Might Need Family Therapy
Here are some signs that family therapy might be helpful for your family:
- Your family isn’t getting along. Conflicts between family members never seem to get resolved, and being together is just an emotional drain.
- Communication has broken down. Communication is the foundation of any relationship, and when it breaks down, conflicts and resentments soon follow. You try talking things out but don’t seem to be getting anything but more hurt feelings.
- You’re avoiding each other. Sometimes things can get so bad that family members stop talking and avoid interacting altogether. This doesn’t always happen in a dramatic fallout; sometimes, this disconnection is gradual until one day, you realize no one is talking anymore.
- The family is dealing with substance abuse or serious mental illness. These issues can create distress and dysfunction within families struggling to support their loved one. Even if your family is aware of the problems, they may not know how to offer support in healthy ways. Codependency and enabling behaviors can create rifts between family members.
- You’re now a blended family and find yourselves struggling to bring the two families together.
- Parenting or co-parenting is a struggle.
- The family is struggling with a loss or significant event.
- Life has brought unexpected changes such as a major move, a job change, or welcoming grandparents or adult children into the home. Changes in living arrangements can create distress in the family; big changes, especially unexpected ones, can create imbalance and distress.
Whatever reason you feel drawn to family therapy, the important thing to know is that your family therapist is trained to help families deal with all kinds of conflict.
How Can Family Therapy Help?
It might surprise you that not every family who comes to therapy is in crisis. Sure, sometimes an event happens that shakes the family to its core. Often one or more family members find themselves struggling and wanting to help heal rifts or gain support. For some families, a communication breakdown is reason enough for therapy. Dysfunctional patterns can create instability and tension.
The reasons for seeking family therapy are as unique as the families seeking help. Some of the most common reasons for seeking family therapy include:
- Adjusting to new circumstances (e.g., a move, blending of a family)
- Unresolved conflicts within the family
- Parent-child conflicts (adult children or younger)
- Behavioral problems that are affecting the family
- Substance abuse or mental illness in the family
- A significant loss or health crisis
- A catastrophic event that the family is struggling to come to terms with
Each family will have their own reasons for choosing family therapy. Sometimes, families come to therapy not really knowing what the problem is – they simply know that things are out of balance and they need help. Whatever the reason, a family therapist can help the family sort through the issues and find solutions and tools to help everyone heal.
Benefits of Online Family Therapy
Traditionally, families sought therapy in an office with everyone sitting in a large room. But getting everyone together in the same place at the same time can be challenging, especially if some family members live far from home.
Today, therapists can conduct family therapy online and bring everyone together in one place, even from multiple locations. Online family therapy can be especially helpful when a family member is in treatment or lives far away. A virtual platform offers other advantages to families, such as:
- Flexibility in scheduling
- Zero required travel
- Comfortable surroundings (e.g., your home)
Of course, some situations require in-person therapy. A family therapist can help you to determine which setting is most appropriate for your family’s needs.
When family members learn how to work together, the whole family can heal and become stronger.
What If They Won’t Go?
Deciding to start therapy isn’t always easy, and getting a family on board can be even more challenging. People have fears and concerns that make asking for help hard. Here are some of the common barriers that keep people from seeking therapy.
Shame is one of the most common barriers to seeking professional help. In some families, going outside of the family can be perceived as shameful or a sign of weakness, and it’s a fear that family members are often unwilling to face. In reality, attending therapy is a positive and proactive step towards a healthier family.
Someone with a history of family illness would benefit from the professional support of a specialist who could tell them what to look out for, help them get a diagnosis, and create a treatment plan. Family therapy is similar: a therapist can look at the family as a whole and make informed, professional, objective observations with treatment recommendations rooted in evidence.
Another concern people have is privacy and confidentiality. Will people be able to find out that I’m in therapy or be able to find out what I say? Whether you or another family member choose to share your therapy information is up to you. Confidentiality is at the heart of a therapist-client relationship.
Strict legal and ethical boundaries prevent therapists from breaking confidentiality, and there are very few instances where a therapist is legally obligated to release information. Your therapist will discuss those limits of confidentiality with you and your family.
When it comes to online family therapy, the same rules apply. Therapists and mental health companies take drastic measures to ensure client confidentiality and HIPAA compliance, especially on a virtual platform.
Some people have difficulty asking for or accepting help – they think they can or should be able to handle things on their own. Therapy isn’t about “fixing” someone. Instead, it’s a stepping stone to increasing one’s autonomy and learning how to handle things in healthier ways.
Being the Scapegoat
Many people envision family therapy as a setup for an inevitable fight, with everyone arguing and blaming each other for what’s happening. By the time a family comes to therapy, they’ve probably had more than a few blowups, leaving the family wounded and emotionally disconnected.
Getting vulnerable in an unfamiliar environment can be especially painful for someone like the family scapegoat who’s already been on the receiving end of verbal assault.
But family sessions aren’t the same free-for-all skirmishes people might experience at home; instead, a family therapist guides each session, providing a safe space to explore issues. A therapist can assess the unhelpful dynamics, help the family get to the root of blame, and process the deeper issues contributing to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Moving Past the Obstacles
What if a family member still won’t attend therapy? It happens. But you can still make progress – not every family member has to attend therapy for the family to benefit.
Sometimes, when a family member sees that others are making positive changes, they may feel more motivated to join in. But even if they don’t, the rest of the family can still benefit and learn healthy ways of interacting.
Find Whole-Family Support
At All Points North, we believe that a healthy family is the foundation for individual growth and wellness. We are proud to offer online family therapy services provided by our team of dedicated family therapists. Telehealth sessions are provided using a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform.
We’ve created a full continuum of care to support you in your wellness, from detox and assessment to residential and outpatient treatment, mind-body fitness, interventional psychiatry, neurotechnology, family therapy, and couples therapy. Our evidence-based, client-centered treatment approaches can support you and your family, both as individuals and as a unit.
- Varghese, Mathew et al. “Family Interventions: Basic Principles and Techniques.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry vol. 62,Suppl 2 (2020): S192-S200. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_770_19
- “A Portrait of Stepfamilies.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 13 Jan. 2011, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2011/01/13/a-portrait-of-stepfamilies/.
- McLean, Siân A et al. “Exploring the Efficacy of Telehealth for Family Therapy Through Systematic, Meta-analytic, and Qualitative Evidence.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology review vol. 24,2 (2021): 244-266. doi:10.1007/s10567-020-00340-2
- University of Zurich. “Psychotherapy via internet as good as if not better than face-to-face consultations.” ScienceDaily, 30 July 2013, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130730091255.htm