Monday, June 11, 2012

Nuts and Bolts Series: The Common Sense in Family Therapy

There is an old saying that "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree". When you really think about that, it makes a lot of sense that who we ARE largely depends on those who raised us, for better or worse.  As a psychologist, I am often surprised at how many people try to change themselves, or their children, without taking that one fact into account: We are a product of both our genetics and our environment (Nature vs. nurture).  You can't change who your family is, but you can certainly improve those strained family relationships and create a more peaceful and harmonious environment in the home. 

This blog will briefly outline the nuts and bolts of family therapy and explain what you can expect when you schedule your first appointment with the psychologist.

I have experienced many intakes where parents have the same request:  "Fix my kid".  But what most adults fail to realize, is that "fixing" a child is a much more monumental task than simply having their child in the office, or setting up a star chart on the wall. Insomuch as the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, there is another, equally important premise, that "it takes a village to raise a child".

Each member of the family plays an important and influential role in the development of the child, and the interplay between family members is often the most telling benchmark of the functioning of the entire family.   I have often found that after months of therapy I can have just one family session and learn more about that person and the situation in the ONE SESSION with other family members.

Family therapy, is a very powerful, and often complex, form of counseling that includes all members of the family in the session to view the issue that's brought them in for treatment, from many completely different angles.  The first task of the psychologist is to understand each of these viewpoints, and work to help each member of the family come to a place of better understanding, improved communication, and increased tolerance.

Families seek help from a psychologist for many reasons - a traumatic event such as a family loss or illness, addiction issues within a specific family member, behavioral challenges or even simple communication difficulties. No matter the type or size of the problem, family strife and conflict is both stressful and anxiety-provoking. Here are some quick facts about family therapy to help you get started:

1.  Family therapy is often short term. Most treatments last less than six months.

2. Family therapy is often focused on family relationships or communication patterns within the family. Poor communication is like faulty wiring in your wall.  At best, it can cause crossed signals, at worst it can cause a blow up or fire. Therapy can help sort out these patterns and improve communication habits in the family.

3. At times, individual family members will participate in their own therapy to address concerns specific to them.

4. Family therapy sessions can last around 60 to 90 minutes, depending upon your family's specific situation and issues presented to the psychologist.

5.  The family will set goals and learn to meet specific challenges through this experience. Your family will learn new ways to interact and understand each other to overcome unhealthy or damaging patterns of relating to each other.

6.  Family therapy will focus on finding the family's strengths to build a strong foundation for addressing problems and crisis situations.

7. The psychologist will create a safe environment in which family members can express their feelings and work out issues. Ground rules will be set from the first session.

It's important to realize that therapy should not be entered into lightly. It's hard work, but well worth the effort. All therapy involves an honest exploration of yourself, and family therapy is no exception. If you are struggling with family concerns, or believe that your family could benefit from therapy, ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!

Michelle Herrigel is a licensed psychologists in Northeast PA, serving adolescents, adults and families with a variety of concerns. She currently practices therapy in her Mountainhome, PA office. For more info, or to schedule an appointment, please see her contact info by viewing her profile or contact her at


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