A small child has just been diagnosed with ADHD. Her heightened levels of energy and activity finally make sense, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to deal with. Her parents, though they received some comfort with this diagnosis, are more tired and torn than ever before—they just don’t know how to help her and to help themselves in the process.

After 25 years of marriage, his parents decide to divorce. Even though he lives on his own now and his parents seem happy with their mutual decision, he can’t help the tears that invade his eyes when he hears the news. He always pictured his parents growing old together and now that hope was shattered. He is at a loss for how to deal with these feelings.

She’s just reached her teenage years and feels the need, the urge to act out. She’s sick of her parents telling her what to do and reacts by doing the exact opposite. She doesn’t want to upset them, but she can’t help her desire to rebel. Her parents don’t know how to cope with the rebellion either. Every time they try to have an open conversation about it, she storms off.

The 411 on Family Therapy

The above anecdotes are examples of situations that could all benefit greatly from family therapy. Family therapy or family counseling is aimed at addressing specific issues that affect the overall psychological health of a family, from major life changes to mental health conditions. It can vary in duration, as some instances require as few as nine sessions while others demand a much greater number, but involves talking about and confronting the issues at hand. It is sometimes used as the primary treatment method, but also may be accompanied by other approaches.

Family therapy is designed to promote understanding and support among family members in order to solve the problems one or more individuals face. For example, divorcing parents can shake the entire family and lead to some major life adjustments, such as in the second example. This is likely to result in mixed feelings for everybody involved and it’s not always easy to talk openly about them. But therapy, a space just for sharing feelings, can help bring these to the surface and make someone feel more comfortable in doing so. The end result is better communication and an overall better support system.

Though family counseling can vary in psychological approaches—such as experiential, cognitive behavioral, or psychodynamic—its purpose is to help families improve coping skills and build a better connection with one another. Family is everything, after all. A shockwave doesn’t get sent through just one person, but instead affects and upsets each and every member. That’s why family therapy is so important and also so successful.

Let’s Be Clear…

Not everybody understands the power and the goals behind family therapy. Do you? See if you can separate the facts from the falsities:

True or false?

  1. Family therapy takes a long time.
  2. The whole family must always be present.
  3. Family therapy is administered by a licensed family therapist.
  4. It can be scary and uncomfortable.

How many did you get right?

  1. False. While the issue at hand typically determines how long the therapy should last, nobody is forced to commit more time to it than they want to or can.
  2. False. Therapists understand how difficult it can be to get every member of a family in one place at the same time. They’ll work with different individuals and dynamics. Additionally, sometimes the therapist will decide that an individual may benefit from a one-on-one session or from just talking with their father in the room, for example.
  3. True. Other mental health professionals, such as social workers, who have received formal training may incorporate these principles into their work as well.
  4. True. Of course this is true. It’s hard to talk about our problems, especially sometimes with those we love. But the outcome is well worth it.

An Irreplaceable Piece to the Puzzle

It sounds cliché, but without my family I don’t know who or where I would be. We have suffered through our share of hardships, but have also proven to come out stronger every time. Still, I know there are some days when family members just drive you up the wall, like annoying little brothers and pestering dads. So the next time your brother won’t stop pinching you or your parents won’t stop bothering you about the next time you’re coming home, remember how important they really are to you and just how much you love them. Stitch said it best in the Disney hit, Lilo and Stitch: “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.”