What are the advantages and disadvantages of family therapy?

This blog post will answer the questions about advantages and disadvantages of Family Therapy, and cover topics like what research says, the benefits of specific forms of family therapy, and which style might suit you the best. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of family therapy? 

Benefits of family therapy include:

  • Understanding each other’s needs.
  • Fostering empathetic understanding. 
  • Transitioning in a respectful and emotional way. 
  • Learning better ways to communicate with one another.
  • Resolving issues related to siblings. 
  • Clearing the roles and responsibilities of family members. 
  • Transitioning after loss next working through grief.
  • Coping with Marital conflicts and separation.
  • Dealing with Birth of a child and adoption.
  • Strengthening the family unit and building cohesion.
  • Learning about setting boundaries.
  • Addressing dysfunctional interactions.
  • Improving the family’s problem solving abilities.
  • Dealing with chronic illness in the family.
  • Dealing with a mental illness in the family.
  • Dealing with patchwork families.
  • Learning how to Co-Parent.
  • Learning how to improve parenting skills.
  • Working with Parent and child conflicts.

As good as family therapy sounds, there are also some risks related to this process. Family therapy can be very effective for the aspects of the problems being caused by the family dynamics. A family is a complex and powerful entity. Sometimes, changes in families through therapy can go awry and makes things more difficult. 

Some drawbacks of family therapy are:

  • Family therapy can oftentimes focus too much on the whole and forgo the unique individual causes of a person’s anguish. 
  • In some cases, members may disagree or dismiss therapy. In such a situation, it would create unequal motivation in therapy, disrupting the process. 
  • Families seek balance; a homeostasis. Every individual has a role to play in maintaining the structure of the family. When only some members benefit from therapy and others don’t, it makes it difficult for those who develop healthier strategies to stay motivated. 
  • Therapy tends to bring up difficult emotions to the surface. This space of vulnerability can be overwhelming and intense. It may make members feel emotionally drained and tired, if they don’t have a supportive structure.
  • Family issues can initially be highlighted through therapy making problems more apparent. 

What is Family Therapy? 

Family therapy, as the name suggests, involves therapy with all or some members of one’s family. Going through grief, trauma or relational difficulties are some common reasons why families seek out therapies. However, what does it mean to step into family therapy? And how is it helpful? 

These are some questions that we will be answering today. We will be looking at the holistic meaning of family therapy, how and why it is used, and also the advantages and disadvantages of specific forms of family therapy. 

Let’s begin by looking at the medical definition of family therapy. As operationalized by the American Psychological Association, Family therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the improvement of interfamilial relationships and behavioral patterns of the family unit as a whole, as well as among individual members and groupings, or subsystems, within the family. Family therapy includes a large number of treatment forms with diverse conceptual principles, processes and structures, and clinical foci. 

From this definition, it becomes clear that there are diverse processes and structures that are used to effectively administer therapy. Family therapy can also focus on specific issues that affect the psychological health of the family such as mental health conditions or major life changes. 

Most forms of family therapy are solution focused and short term, with as few as 9 sessions, on average. Sessions are led by a specialist called a family therapist. They could be a psychologist, social worker, or therapist who’s had extra training in family therapy.

In a nutshell, the goal of family therapy is to work together to heal any mental, emotional, or psychological problems tearing your family apart (Lee, 2010).

There are several ways in which a therapist helps families in moving towards a healthy lifestyle, this can look like exploring communication styles, understanding and equipping skills to deal with family problems and overall, creating a better functioning environment. 

Psychologists and counsellors aim to provide a controlled environment under supervision in which the family can discuss and talk through their issues, while understanding and gaining insight from other ends. A therapist is merely a facilitator who involves themselves when needed, to help build better communication and coping strategies. 

Let’s talk about the benefits of Family therapy

An overarching theme in most of these advantages is communication, expressing emotions, changing dysfunctional paternal and dealing with major life changes. Situations that sometimes break the family apart, but Family counselling us a feasible option that can help build it back up again. It can help bring back trust and love that may have been disrupted as well as teaching how to forgive, unlearn and understand other family members. Family Therapy is designed to restore balance within  the dynamics of a family. 

Normal results vary, but in good circumstances, they include greater insight, increased differentiation of individual family members, improved communication within the family, loosening of previously automatic behavior patterns, and resolution of the problem that led the family to seek treatment.

Let’s talk about specific types of Family therapies and delve deeper into their advantages and disadvantages. 

STRUCTURAL FAMILY THERAPY 

SFT is a subset within family therapy that considers the family as an unit which then works together to create healthier, more effective behaviors, dynamics and hierarchies within families. 

This therapy has been developed by Salvador Minuchin. It focuses on five specific goals outlines by Friesen, there are:

  • Creating effective hierarchical structure in the family.
  • Helping parents compliment each other in their roles as parents in order to be an effective parental Subsystem.
  • Aiding the children to become a Subsystem of peers.
  • Increasing the frequency of interactions and nurturance, if the family is disengaged.
  • The differentiation of family members, if the family is enmeshed.

[ Hadfield, K.. “A structural family therapy approach to counselling families.” (2000).]

Some limitations of structural family therapy include:

  • The use of proactive strategies such as role playing, which requires active participation from each member. This may not work if some members are not interested in therapy. 
  • Restructuring a family unit is time consuming and requires constant commitment. 
  • Only focusing on the family as a unit may dismiss some personal experiences of the individuals in the family. 

STRATEGIC FAMILY THERAPY

Inspired by Milton Erikson and Don Jackson’s work came to light Strategic family therapy. Strategic family therapy came forth from other theories, most importantly systemic family therapy in the 1960’s and 1970’s. This therapy has been divided into 5 stages; namely, the brief therapy stage, the problem stage, the interactional stage, goal-setting stage, and finally the task-setting stage. 

Core concepts of strategic family therapy include: 

  • Family members’ behaviour can only be understood within the family context.
  • Feedback loops maintain the solution as the problem.
  • Symptoms are the result of misguided attempts at trying to change an existing difficulty.
  • Begin the process of change (First-order change and second-order change).
  • Conceptualise family symptoms that are unhelpful and unresolved.

Disadvantages of strategic family therapy: 

  • Focuses more on changing unhealthy behaviors rather than understanding the core of the issue. 
  • Tends to be a little more brief and can sometimes not fully settle in with the family. 
  • The counsellor is honest and direct. 
  • Family members must take an active role outside counselling sessions and engage in homework. 

SYSTEMIC FAMILY THERAPY 

Systemic family therapy focuses on an individual’s health diagnosis or disorder as the family’s “symptom”. It considers that the whole family behaves in a way that allows the symptom to grow and exist. It is believed that changing the family’s structure, interactions and communications as well as values can pave the way to healthier lives. It places emphasis on cohesion and cooperation of the entire family as a unit. 

Core benefits of systemic family therapy are: 

  • Systemic family therapy is a well researched approach with strong evidence of effectiveness and efficacy, in a wide range of situations. 
  • Systemic approach tries to look at the context of the issue; or in this case the individual and the family being the context. 
  • There are also some therapists that may look wider than just the nuclear family, meaning that their approach to context can also include relatives, society and community. 

Disadvantages of systemic family therapy:

  • There is an obvious chance that the individual who is considered the symptom, may find themselves othered and discriminated against. 
  • Family members may place blame on the person with unhealthy behaviours. 
  • The therapist’s approach is time consuming. 
  • Families might not be willing to take therapy outside the family unit, i.e., not wanting to involve relatives or extended family. 

Conclusion

Family counselling may be a good option to explore if you and your family are determined to learning more about how your personal behaviour affects others in your family system without blaming anyone.

When researching the benefits and drawbacks of family counselling, you may come across facts that surprises you. The majority of what you find, on the other hand, will gratify you. Most difficulties that cause families pain can be helped via family counselling. The time it takes to see effects varies depending on the family. However, if you find a dedicated professional therapist, you are almost certain to obtain the outcomes you desire.