When I tell people that I love working with families in therapy, I often get a large reaction.
“Really? You actually LIKE working with the whole family”?
“How do you manage that many people’s thoughts and feelings and perspectives?”
Truly, the answer is, YES! I really do love working with families! I enjoy the multiple opinions, values and perspectives. I love helping individuals who have difficulty seeing other perspectives be able to hear from their child in a new and impactful way. Sometimes it is very difficult and painful work for the families that sit on my blue couches. Sometimes we have fun and they talk about their feelings with each other through play and games. Most of the time, people find that through family therapy, they are given a space and an opportunity to talk about challenging things in a way that doesn’t feel quite so emotionally charged.
Why would this be true? What we know about the brain is that when we are faced with an experience that feels threatening we go into “Fight, Flight or Freeze”. This is designed to happen for our personal survival. So we operate with our own personal safety in mind rather than the wellbeing of others. It’s biological and automatic - without even thinking about it.
The difficulty with this in relationships is when a member of our family operates in a way that is difficult to understand it may even feel emotionally threatening. So when our teenager rolls their eyes at us when we gave them a simple directive, or our child gets a poor grade on their report card AGAIN, we flip! This is when we start to get stuck in unhelpful patterns. When we are operating with the beliefs that this is a threat we resort to criticism, defensiveness and resentment in our relationships. Trying to sort through problems when we are feeling threatened is at the very least unhelpful but often becomes very harmful to the relationship.
Family therapy offers a place to address the threatened feelings and determine a process that respects the values of each member of the relationship. Families have unspoken expectations which come from deep seeded thoughts and feelings.
“If my child keeps getting poor grades they may not be able to graduate school” – threat
“If my child is rolls their eyes at me, she may hate me”- threat
“If my partner doesn’t get off the phone and spend time with me, we may end in divorce”- threat
In family therapy, we start to address some of the underlying feelings that bubble up in response to others behaviors. We work to build a space where the vulnerabilities of the members of the family do not become ammunition and we help a family define and pursue a culture of love and appreciation within their relationships. Sometimes this work happens with a whole family with young children, adolescent children or even adult children. Sometimes this work is done with the adult couple, to help them find deeper intimate connections or gain skills to model healthy relationship dynamics and parenting . Sometimes this work happens between one parent and child who seem to be constantly at odds with each other.
When there is conflict with the people we love we often begin to feel worried, disheartened and lonely. If you are finding yourself falling into patterns of chaos with the ones you love, a therapist at “The Family Therapy Place” is here to help.