This video clip uses a 'mobile' to illustrate how family members are linked to each other in a relational way rather than functioning as separate individuals where there is no connection or influence on one another.
Family therapy is about how families get on together – helping families to communicate more effectively.
If I can use this mobile to illustrate the situation. If one child has a difficulty it affects all family members, so if I pull on this lion here, you’ll see that all the other family members are moving, so how this one child reacts, we’re also interested in how the other family members respond to that.
Family therapy tends to take things a bit further than that, but also focuses on the other family members - how do they communicate and talk to the child who has the presenting problem, because how these people react to this person affects the whole family in terms of patterns of communication and relationships.
An Oxleas clinical psychologist answers questions about what family therapy is and how it helps people.
What is family therapy?
Family therapy is a therapy that focuses on relationships between people. It can be where we try and get members of the family together even if it’s one or two or it could actually be done with different members of the family, seen on their own. But the focus is about relationships between people, recognising that we all affect one another, what we do, what we say, what we think about each other can be very important in people’s lives. So the therapy looks at that and explores and looks to try and improve relationships between people.
If I attend will I be having therapy?
Yes it’s a kind of therapy, absolutely.
Who will be in the session?
It’s often negotiated with families as to how they want the session to be but we quite often offer a session with a team of family therapists which means there will be more than one therapist in the room with the family. Sometimes, the way that we do that is one person will interview and talk to the family and the other members of the team will be sitting and listening to that conservation and then be able to have a conversation themselves which the family can listen to. So you actually get the benefit of having different therapists present and getting some different view points from a variety of people in a session. It’s a little bit different to other therapies in that sense but all of that would be discussed with the family beforehand and negotiated so if you decided that you didn’t want to have that approach that would be ok.
Why has it been suggested that family therapy might be helpful?
It can be suggested for different reasons. Sometimes staff might be feeling that relationships are tricky in the family and that people are finding it difficult to spend time together or there’s some tension or it could be that the family seem interested and that there are people around. I think it’s a very broad thing with family therapy. It can be helpful to have some sessions even if there aren’t really any specific problems. It’s a time for people to talk together and air their views in a way that families don’t often do.
Can anyone be recommended for family therapy or is it only in certain circumstances?
I think anybody could be recommended for family therapy. I guess you need to have some relationships to work with but other than that it is quite a broad type of therapy and tries to offer something to people in all sorts of different situations.
Does attending family therapy mean I have been a bad parent and made my child unwell?
No, absolutely not. Family therapists don’t hold families responsible for mental health problems or blame families. It’s not about blaming, that’s a very important thing in family therapy, so we wouldn’t be thinking along those lines.
Will I be judged as a parent?
No as I said before it’s not about judgments at all or about feeling that anybody has done anything wrong. It’s just about different people living their lives and trying to help their relationships together be better.
How long will I attend for?
That really depends. With family therapy you aren’t seen quite as often as other therapies. It’s not usually weekly might more likely be monthly sessions which is about giving people a little bit of time to think through what happened in the last session. It is very negotiable for how long it goes on for. Sometimes families come for only a couple of sessions or maybe it could go on for a much longer time, months.
Will family therapy make things better or worse?
Hopefully, it doesn’t make things worse. I’ve not known it to because it’s just a kind of conversation that you have together. We can quite often make things better You can express things that families have not been able to express or explore in other situations, so it can be quite often a very helpful approach.
What happens if I don’t like what is being said about me during a session?
If something was being said during a session you did not like there would very much be a chance to discuss that. In fact family therapy is very much a conversation and where the therapists would be having a conversation with the family and wouldn’t be saying you know any definite ideas what they thought was right or wrong. They usually just give some different ideas of thoughts and the idea is that the therapists and the clients kind of try those on for size. I think with family therapy more than other therapies it’s very much about kind of negotiating ideas and working things out together so there would very much be a chance to say that actually I don’t think that’s right or I don’t agree with what you’ve just said. And that would be a very normal thing to happen in family therapy and actually be welcomed by the therapists.
Is what I say confidential?
It’s confidential in the way that it normally is within the trust. The same rules apply to any therapy. The information that is important to the person’s care can be shared within the team for safety reasons. We do write up some notes that go onto the RiO database so that there’s a record of the therapy. We try to keep this fairly short and brief and not give lots of information about the family that is not crucial to the care.
If I decide I no longer want to attend, will the sessions be stopped?
Yes, absolutely. It will be stopped if people do not want to come anymore. That will be fine.
What happens if I say something at a session and at a later date I don’t want the records kept?
I think you can’t actually take records out of the database as far as I understand and I think it’s possible to put some information in, so perhaps to add comments or add clarification and you can ask to do that at a later date.
What happens if someone says something in the session about something they did in the past that may be illegal?
That depends on what it was that they’d done and depends on how serious it was and depends on the nature of that issue and how serious it was and would ultimately depend on what the public interest was, and if that needed to be shared or be kept confidential. Probably the therapist would seek some advice confidentially, before they did anything and I’m sure would talk to the family about that if it happened in family therapy.