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  • Writer's pictureEmily Smith

Family Therapy: "We need it, I think I want it, my kid DOESN'T want it, how do we make it work?"

It's a tale as old as time. It was recommended to you that you and your family start family therapy. It sounds like a good idea, because quite frankly, your family relationships aren't all sunshine and rainbows. But..it's another thing on your calendar, you're already struggling to get your kid into their own individual therapist's office and lets face it, the thought of airing all your family's dirty laundry sounds pretty terrifying.


These are some of the most common reasons why families hesitate to commit to get their families involved with whole family therapy. When I'm working with a family, one of the first areas that we target is their commitment to these relationships. What I've learned over time is that when the adults in the picture aren't sure about their commitment to the process, their child will be unsure about their commitment t00. We have to build true awareness of the issues causing your family rupture and any change we want to make in life has to start with that genuine awareness (more about this concept in a separate blog post.) I've learned that every member of the family system that I'm working with has to know me, like me, and trust me in order for us to make gains together (and relationships do take time.) I've also learned that often times it's not about what's said but but what's observed. You need to observe real changes in your family relationships and your child does too. The rest of this blog will dive a little further into how I work with families to meet these goals and meet your goals, and ultimately help you to create the lasting change and solid relationships that you're looking to build.


I work with caregivers to set reasonable expectations with their child for embarking on this healing work as a family and empower parents to define their expectations, model them, and help their child hold true to them too. Something that we spend a lot of time talking about are the similarities, differences and importance of boundaries and expectations. In short, expectations are an explicitly defined framework and boundaries are your response to that framework being followed or not. When caregivers are ready to start their family's therapeutic journey, they'll have to be ready to explicitly define those expectations and prepare for what their responses might be should those expectations not be met. I understand that this is really hard. And it's really hard because as a caregiver, your struggle with this concept might be one of the very reasons leading you to family therapy. It's hard because it's planning for a possible conflict before it even happens. It's hard because sometimes it feels like in order to go forward, it feels like you first have to go backward. My clients and I start by building the caregiver's confidence in committing to this journey, so that they are ready to model this for their children.


Back to knowing me, liking me, and trusting me. Therapy is already a tough thing and then you add multiple people to the mix - everyone with their own beliefs, opinions, perspectives, emotions - it can be a rollercoaster to say the least. This is why it's essential that every part of the family system has a continuous relationship with the family therapist. I very intentionally and purposefully build these working relationships with each member of each family system to be able to lead by example and immediately practice tools for change, because this stuff can often be a lot more tough with your family at first. In my work, I want to show you what the concepts that I talk about actually look like and feel like so that you can more confidently practice on the people who really matter, your family.


Now, on observing real change. After all, that's the very reason why you're thinking about embarking on this journey in the first place. In this work, families have to push aside their desire for instant gratification. I said it, and the assertive person that I am will say it again, true, sustainable, lasting, healing, change doesn't happen overnight. It's a journey that involves a lot of hard work, patience, forward momentum, sliding backward, brutal honesty, and willingness to explore the uncomfortable. Like a snake shedding their skin, the process of shedding the old and growing the new is sometimes painful and often arduous. At the end though, the snake's skills are more beautiful than they ever were before. At one point or another, every member of the family is going to have an experience where this process feels too hard, too uncomfy, too time-consuming, too whatever. What I've learned through time is that the best way for that family member to continue staying the course is by observing their family members staying the course. Sometimes you'll need to be the observer, sometimes you'll need to be the one being observed.


Making the decision to begin family work is not one that I recommend making lightly. Choosing the right family therapist for your family is not a decision that I recommend taking lightly either. You should have an understanding of how your chosen professional plans to work with your unique family and what their process looks like for ensuring everyone's commitment to the journey. If you're in a situation where you feel some concern for one or more member's struggle with commitment, your ideal family therapist will have a plan to be flexible with their process and emphasize relationships with each individual member.


Everything worth having, takes time.






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