"When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves."- Viktor E. Frankl
The foundation of family therapy rests on the principle that everyone is taken seriously and each family member’s thoughts and feelings about family issues and family interactive dynamics are seen as equally significant and need to be understood.
As a family therapist I think about the dimensions of relational experiences within the family related to closeness, connectedness, caring, reciprocity, loyalty, guilt, fairness, accountability, maturity and trustworthiness within and between generations. Are basic needs of family members recognized and responded to with insight and empathy? How do family members manage their interconnection? Do children have the freedom to develop and exist as responsible family members with their own unique self without pressure to be a carbon copy of their parents or admired siblings?
In family therapy sessions I try to evoke a dialogue about how each member feels about the problem that has brought them in. I ask for everyone’s position about the problem, their point of view. I ask about absent members and the reason they are not there and how this is effecting the family session and family relationships. I want to know what the “problem carrier” or identified patient is thinking and feeling about what is being talked about in relationship to them and others.
For example, a family comes into therapy desiring to fix their son's isolation, self-destructive behaviors or outbursts and oppositional defiant behavior. I want to hear all sides of the story, any relevant medical facts and obtain a picture of the background facts and relational context to determine what is motivating the behavior. Does the behavior result from psychological processes gone awry, destructive entitlement resulting from real or perceived injustices, scapegoating, role reversals between children and parents? I am not simply interested in the “behavior” of the problem child, per se, but I am more interested in gaining a picture of the tapestry of the family to learn what is motivating the behavior. I am also interested in any issues requiring urgent attention (i.e. prevention of violence, etc.) to the most vulnerable members of the family.
Family therapy succeeds when there is a genuine dialogue of mutual accountability that reduces acting out and creates a path and hope for rebuilding relationships through a mutual acknowledgement of entitlements, obligations, attitude changes and the creation of trust demonstrated by caring behaviors that affirm the well being of family members.