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What is Family Therapy and Why is it Beneficial?
Family systems therapy draws on systems thinking in its view of the family as an emotional unit. When systems thinking—which evaluates the parts of a system in relation to the whole—is applied to families, it suggests behavior is both often informed by and inseparable from the functioning of one’s family of origin. Families experiencing
conflict within the unit and seeking professional assistance to address it may
find family systems therapy a helpful approach.
Family systems therapy is based on Murray Bowen’s family systems theory,
which holds that individuals are inseparable from their network of
relationships. Like other psychoanalysts of his time, Murray Bowen
was interested in creating more scientific and objective treatment
processes as an alternative to conventional diagnostic frameworks and
pathological language. Bowen believed all therapists had experienced
challenges within their family of origin and that an awareness of this
could help therapists normalize human behavior for people in treatment.
Bowen’s theory suggests it is beneficial to address the structure and behavior of the broader relationship system, which he believed to play a part in the formation of character. According to Bowen, changes in behavior of one family member are likely to have an influence on the way the family functions over time. Family systems therapy has been used to treat many mental and behavioral health concerns. In general, it may be considered an effective approach for those concerns that appear to relate to or manifest within the family of origin. Family systems therapy has been shown to be effective with families, couples, and individuals. This approach may be helpful in addressing conditions such as schizophrenia, alcohol and substance dependency, bipolar, anxiety, personality issues, depression, and eating and food issues.
Family relationships can positively or negatively impact child development. This influence also occurs in the reverse manner: families influence the overall health of the child and the child influences the overall health of the family. This bidirectional influence is greater when the child has a psychiatric disorder. When treating children, family interventions and family therapy are commonly incorporated to a greater or lesser extent. In fact, child treatment has been referred to as de-facto family therapy. A qualified family therapist doing family therapy utilizes the connection that exists between child and family with the goal of improving the overall functioning of the family and communication.
When a family functions better, the child functions better. Family therapy is a form of psychotherapy that directly involves all family members in addition to the “identified patient”—and explicitly attends to the interactions among all family members. If the focus is on the set of relationships in which the person is intertwined, family work can be done regardless of who is initially involved. Family therapy focuses on the relational and communication processes of families in order to work through clinical problems, even though the child may be the only family member with overt psychiatric symptoms. This is because although one family member may be the “symptom bearer,” the whole family is in distress. Interventions in family therapy are geared toward the family as a unit with the perspective that some individual symptoms are products of relationship struggles within this unit. These individual symptoms are viewed as arising from and being complicated by the family system matrix.