When we think of someone in therapy, we usually imagine an individual session in which a person interacts with the psychologist. Maybe we also design the possibility of a group session, With different people having the same type of problem.
But there is also a type of therapy that applies to a family group, the so-called family therapy, Which deals with conflicting aspects between members of the same family. In this article, we tell you what it is and what it is for.
What is this type of psychological intervention?
Family therapy is understood as that modality of therapy centered on the family as an object of intervention. The aim is to strengthen and provide resources to the family so that they can act collaboratively through this settle disputes and conflicts that they may have between themselves or problems peculiar to a single individual.
The family is understood as a basic element in the development of the human being, because it represents the fundamental element which allows the child to acquire a model of how to see, act, relate and relate to others. to communicate with the world. It is an essential element when learning emotional and relational aspects, with a great influence on development.
This is why in this type of treatment he tries to involve two or more members of the same family in order to observe and, if necessary, modify the patterns of interaction between family members.
It is conceivable that the internal problem of an individual is preceded by the presence of interpersonal conflicts which, once internalized, can cause symptoms. The pathological is linked to the non-acceptance of new roles in one of the individuals, roles and communication being the basis of the existence of many mental and social problems.
Family therapy and a systems perspective
One of the main currents and the one most related to this type of therapy is the systemic current. From this point of view the family is conceived as a system, set of elements whose sum generates a result greater than the simple addition of each of them, resulting from its interaction of new elements, properties and characteristics.
For the systems perspective, the behavior and condition of any component of the family cannot be understood separately from the system, influencing each individual’s system and vice versa. The family would be an open system, receiving information from the environment, being affected by the environment and exchanging information with it in order to adapt and survive. Each member is therefore affected by the environment.
Changing behavioral dynamics
From the systemic model it is not intended to directly modify problematic behaviorBut to change the family dynamic and the model that causes it, facilitate it or give it a usefulness or meaning. A more indirect way is sought to achieve the same goal, while causing an improvement and empowerment of positive family dynamics and the strengths of the system and each of its components.
Some of the key aspects of systemic family therapy are the communication processes (in which incongruous communication styles are worked on at the analog or digital level, affectivity and emotion expressed or the presence of rigidity), role assignment and the need for these, the clear or diffuse structure of the family and the boundaries between people that can allow or inhibit the process of creating an own and autonomous identity, negotiating in conflicts or establishing relationships of power among family members.
they exist multitude of schools and techniques even from a single perspective. The Milan school, the Minuchin structuralist school or the Palo Alto school are examples of different perspectives within the systemic current. In terms of specific techniques, we use task prescription, imbalance (temporarily allying with one of the components of the system to change family boundaries), dramatization, redefining symptoms in a positive way, paradoxical intention or instigation.
System properties of the family
In the system, different properties occur:
1. Circular causality
The behavior of one member of the system is influenced by that of others, As well as the same influences the rest of the system. If a call to the remainder will have a reaction, at the same time the reaction will generate a response in the first.
The system generates its own responses due to the interaction, being more than the simple sum of the parts.
Different people can get to the same point by different routes. In this way two people they can lead to anxiety (For example) from different stimuli.
The opposite of equifinality. The same starting point can lead to different conclusions. Thus, an event will be experienced differently by different people.
The system tends to try to find a state of equilibrium. This leads to the need for profound changes in order to maintain them in time, otherwise they could return to their original state. On the other hand, if a consistent change is made and built into the system, it can be sustained over time.
Family therapy from other angles
When we talk about family therapy, we usually associate it with a type of treatment related to the systemic current. However, and although the development of family therapy is closely linked to this line of thought, throughout history multiple theoretical perspectives have worked with this type of therapy. In this sense, we can see that in addition to the systemic perspective, this form of therapy has been worked, among others, from the two that you can see below.
Certain currents of psychoanalysis have also applied aspects of family therapy, in particular the adherents of the theory of object relations. From this point of view, a patient’s symptom is considered to be a sign of a failure in resolving the developmental sequence of one or both parents.
Existing conflicts they make the child’s emotion repressed, Which, on the one hand, causes the father in conflict to remember and revise his lack of developmental resolution and, on the other hand, to reflect their conflicts in the treatment of their child. Therapy focuses on visualization and working with transference and countertransference relationships to help the whole family resolve their developmental sequences.
From this perspective, therapy focuses on the direct resolution of a specific problem presented by the family or one of its members, the goal being very specific.
Couple therapy, parenting training or psychoeducation are some modalities which have been treated in this perspective. In some cases, the family can be employed as a co-therapist if the goal is to change the behavior of one of the members. But it can also serve to correct dysfunctional aspects of the family itself.
Applications of this type of therapy
Family therapy has been used since its inception to help solve various types of problems. Among them are the following.
1. Family crises
The existence of intra-family problems which cannot be solved by traditional means has often been a reason for consultation for family therapy. A difficult situation, aspects related to the life cycle such as the birth of children or the arrival of their emancipation, a death whose mourning has not been resolved or a latent conflict between its members are valid examples.
2. Couple therapy
Couples therapy is one of the subtypes of family therapy. Overcome problems in the couple such as lack of communication, exhaustion, infidelity or incompatibility in some aspect of life are some of the most common reasons for counseling.
3. Behavioral problems or mental disorders in one of the limbs
Especially when the subject in question is one of the children, it is not uncommon for parents to decide to try to fix it. In many cases, parents or loved ones can be employed as co-therapists who can facilitate the maintenance of changes and the follow-up of programs established by the therapist.
Likewise, in other cases, the problems presented may be strongly influenced by communication models families (for example, unstructured households or couples who continually argue can contribute to emotional and behavioral problems).
4. Treatment of addictions and other disorders
In the treatment of various addictions and even other psychological disorders, it can be very useful to include the closest relatives, so that they can help the subject to stay away from stimuli. that elicit consumer response. They can also participate in making the subject perceive the need for continued treatment and the benefits of stopping use, as well as reinforcing behaviors that promote recovery.
Psychoeducation with families can be crucial in helping to understand in a person’s environment their situation, what to expect, what they can do to help, or what actions they need to take.
6. Parent training
Parent training is a great benefit for parents who have children with behavioral problems or who do not know how to deal with specific situations experienced throughout their development. It teaches how to deal with inappropriate behavior thanks to the molding and the positive stimulation that allows the child to adapt.
The therapist’s position
Within family therapy, the therapist plays a special role. Although this depends on the perspective from which family therapy is applied, as a general rule, the professional should stay in an equidistant position among all family members present at therapy, without siding with any of its members. It must ensure that all members have their say and that it is heard and appreciated by the other participants.
Depending on the case and the type of family therapy, he may sometimes form temporary alliances with one of the members in order to focus the group’s attention on certain aspects, but he must subsequently return to a neutral and / o position.
In some cases, it will have to remain as an external and cold element that it is limited to emphasizing family functioning patterns, while in other cases it may be necessary for it to represent the role of one more parent in order to introduce a new element into therapy and to help show different points of view.
Ametller, MT (2012). Psychotherapies. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
Minuchin, S. (1974). Family and family therapy. Gedisa: Mexico.
Ochoa, I. (1995). Approaches to systemic family therapy. Breeder: Barcelona.