Family therapy can be one of the most difficult and heart wrenching work that happens in my office, it can also be some of the most powerful and life giving work that a family can do. What makes the difference? I've been thinking about this a lot because I have more and more clients coming to therapy in despair over the dynamics of their family. What can we do to stop the chaos? How do I get my child to see how destructive they are being? How do I love them when they are hurting me so deeply? They don't know where to turn and they sit in the tension of two options; either I give up on my this person who I love or I keep fighting for them and risk being heart broken and rejected over and over again. It's beyond painful to think of these options and feel alone and out of ideas. There is another option that I passionately believe can work to help families find health. Family therapy.
In my early training, my focus was on supporting the individual. This is beautiful work. Whether it is a child or an adult, the work is to be a mirror to the client and listen deeply to offer a supportive and sometimes challenging reflection back to the client and help them to work with these reflections in a healing space. There is so much I love about this type of work. It is with great honor and care that therapists hold this role as listening and reflector. In the recent years I've moved more of my work to couples and families. The work of couples and family therapy is to help people in relationships where they are broken down by the ones they love and shift to dynamics in which these relationships can offer them support and healing. In this work, the focus is helping the members of the relationship begin to be the mirror to each other. This is very difficult work when often the members of the family or couple are grappling with their own difficult realities within the relationship.
As a family therapist, I listen..... hold..... and invite families into a place of healing. As I listen, the family members will share their burdens and their heart ache. It takes so much work for the other members to manage their defenses and to resist becoming reactive to the pain one member is feeling. I hold the room and the people in it to honor what has been shared. This isn't likely the first time these feelings have been shared, but it very well may be the first time they have felt held in the space of these very difficult feelings. Then the invitation is to help the partner or the parent learn the way of accepting what has been shared with curiosity and empathy. This often requires a moment of slowing down in order to become present with what is real for each one in the room.
This is where change happens. When members of a person really begins to feel accepted with compassion and care by someone who has hurt them, there is an ability to allow their defenses to melt away and their vulnerabilities to be witnessed. This can be a very scary process, but under the support of a trained family therapist that knows how to assess for ongoing trauma within the relationship, can be safe and healing. As the members of the family learn to make room for each other they begin to respond with openness and curiosity. This creates a shift in the postures of defensiveness and reactivity and allows for a deep sense of connection.