There’s been conflict in your family for some time now, and you’re ready to finally get some professional help with it. Strong personalities within a family can make it very hard to change the system without some objective input from the outside. Family therapy can be a really helpful venue for making the changes everyone would like to see – peaceful interactions, rebuilding connections – in a word, family.
As you probably are aware, a therapist is not a magician – we’re not going to wave a wand and make everything better. You will all have to be part of the work ahead. And there are 5 characteristics you can bring with you to ensure the best results.
This is going to take a while, folks. Most likely the problem in your family didn’t come up in a week, and it’s not going away in a week either. The good news is that it probably won’t take as long to resolve as it did to develop – family problems often start small early on and grow slowly over many years, until the point where things really aren’t manageable anymore.
Reversing that process won’t take years, but it will probably take longer than you want it to. So be prepared to hang in there as we work at things. We’ll need to listen to input from everyone involved and make sure we’re attending to everyone’s concerns and pain. The more family members we’re dealing with, the bigger an undertaking this is. But not to worry – there’s a process here that works and that we’re prepared to take you through. It’s just not a quick fix. Patience will be key, and it will pay off in the long run.
Hand in hand with patience is commitment. This journey we’re about to embark on is probably not going to be comfortable or easy. It will be unpleasant and painful at times. It will take a lot out of you. And there may be good incentive to call it quits. So the only way you’re going to make it through to the other side is if you are prepared to push through the swamp despite the difficulty, in order to come out the other side.
If you believe that your family is something important, something worth fighting for, then you’ll need to keep that priority front and center as we go through this process. I hope our journey won’t be horrible and agonizing; in fact, it may go quite smoothly most of the time. But you have to be prepared for the fact that there may be tough times, and ready to keep on driving forward despite them. Bring your commitment to the work and there’s good reason to be optimistic.
In case you missed the message, family therapy is going to be work. Like we said, a therapist is not a magician. If you are hoping you can walk into a therapist’s office and have the therapist fix everyone up, you are likely to be rather disappointed. A therapist is a guide and will point you in the right direction, but you’re going to have to make the hike yourself. That means coming to sessions regularly (and on time), trying out assignments you may receive from the therapist, and bringing your best self to the therapy room.
It may also mean trying out new ways to communicating, behaving, and even thinking that may be foreign to you. You may be called upon to interact with others in ways you find uncomfortable or unusual (though you should absolutely bring that up to the therapist – you should not be forced to do something you are uncomfortable with; at the same time, being uncomfortable is not in itself a bad thing and is not necessarily an indication that what you are being asked to do is no good). And certainly you will have to work on managing your own unhelpful responses, such as rage, criticalness, sarcasm, shutting down, etc.
Per the above, it is likely that you will be asked in family therapy to try new ways of interacting and communicating that are outside your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll need to try speaking up where in the past you stuffed your emotions; or perhaps you’ll have to consider toning down the intensity when confronting someone about a problem that’s bothering you.
It will be important to consider whether other people’s points of view and ways of doing things might not also be valid. You like to hash things out on the spot; they like to chew on things and come back to them later. One way is not better than another – they’re just different. If you can allow for people to have multiple ways of doing things, you will see far more success. If you spend your time trying to convince others that your way is the best or only way to do things, you may have a tough time climbing out of family conflict.
Finally, it will be critical for everyone participating in family therapy to acknowledge that you may actually not be perfect. Your children may have a point. Your spouse may be right. You could be wrong. It’s possible you just have different perspectives, but it’s also possible that your rage, indifference, or meanspirited comments are simply flawed behavior on your part. Acknowledging your mistakes and being prepared to do something about them can be powerful contributions to family healing.
If you can’t bear to accept your own failings, you will likely put a lot of time and effort into convincing others of theirs. That does not make for good family relationships. Allowing for the possibility that you have not lived up to your own values takes humility, and it takes courage – and it can be a significant catalyst in the process of change.
Family therapy can be a challenging process, but it is also full of possibility and potential. Every family has some degree of conflict. But if you’re thinking about family therapy, you’ve probably had enough of the conflict in yours. If you’re ready to bring these five things into the therapy room, there’s every reason to believe that things can be different in your family. We’d love to be a part of the journey.
Learn more about our family therapy services here.