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The Top 5 Reasons Your Family May Need Family Therapy

The iconic first line of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina reads as follows: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In a much more diverse world, the former part of that statement is up for debate. But the end is as true as ever. There are many types of dysfunctional families, each with their own histories, cultural bases, challenges, and narratives.

This leads a lot of people to ask the question: how will my family benefit from family therapy? Our issues are unlike those of anyone else we know!

The good news is that family therapy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. While there are certain guidelines and principles every therapist keeps in mind, great therapists adapt to the family before them. They don’t make assumptions, but rather listen to what is being said, read body language, and take note of what is not said as well.

With this in mind, we can begin to understand how family therapy can help no matter what is happening in and beyond your household. Here are the top 5 reasons your family may need family therapy and how you’ll benefit from it.

Family therapy session at a therapy clinic

1. Communication Has Broken Down

There are aspects that are common among all dysfunctional families. The most poignant example of this is communication breakdown. No matter where your particular struggle comes from or what specific challenges you face, a family that is struggling is always going to have trouble communicating.

Of course, this can look very different from one family to another. A therapist may see five families in a day, all of which have different communication issues. The members of one family may avoid talking to each other at all. Another family may speak all the time, but only about trivial matters or gossip about others. Yet another family’s conversations may devolve into screaming matches every single day.

If you and your family struggle to communicate about feelings and issues you have with one another, family therapy will teach you the skills you need to change this. This is nothing to be ashamed of. While communication seems like a simple matter, it is anything but, with no widespread education in how to do so effectively. Even the happiest families often struggle to vocalize the most difficult feelings.

2. Unresolved Conflicts Keep Coming Up

Consider whether the following scenario sounds familiar: you are arguing with a family member over a trivial subject. Maybe they neglected to wash the dishes or have a problem with the volume at which you enjoy watching TV. It quickly spirals into a more fundamental conflict, and suddenly you’re each bringing up times when the other did something they shouldn’t have.

This happens all the time in dysfunctional families and points to a common reality. There are unresolved conflicts, often dating back decades, that cause you to play out certain patterns. When the conflict is between a parent and a child, it may even date back to pre-speech times.

As long as these conflicts remain unresolved, they will inform every challenge your family faces. Upset over certain issues may seem to come out of nowhere when the person affected is triggered by a type of behavior. On the other hand, matters which are truly trivial can turn into power struggles, in which past problems are wielded as weapons.

Family therapy will help you face these unresolved conflicts head on, giving you the chance to discuss them in a safe space. Rather than individually going up against one another, you unite to find a solution that improves the relationship.

3. One or More Family Members Struggle with Addiction

Family therapy is a crucial part of the addiction recovery journey. So much so that the best rehabs include it as a pivotal part of the program. In fact, addiction is often referred to as a ‘family disease’.

The connection goes two ways. While in some cases, family dysfunction triggers the addiction for a member of the family, it is in every case that a struggle with addiction significantly impacts family dynamics.

One common way this presents is in the context of codependency. The addict finds an enabler in another family member, who begins to rely on what they do for the person for validation. Another common scenario is the breakdown of trust in a family in which an addicted member lies to or even steals from those closest to them.

In families with addiction issues, the underlying problems cannot be solved outside of a process of recovery – except in extreme cases where it is necessary for them to break contact with the addicted person. As such, family therapy becomes a crucial part of recovery, rather than a treatment in isolation.

4. Certain Family Members Face Neglect

This is another scenario that plays out in the families of someone struggling with addiction. Addiction is a disease that tends to subsume everything in its path. One family member takes all the attention as their problems seem particularly urgent, leading to the neglect of other family members who are struggling.

Mental health issues have a genetic component, so it is not uncommon for illness to run in the family. While everyone is concerned about the addicted loved one, a family member with depression, bipolar disorder, or an anxiety disorder may slip under the radar, potentially leading to catastrophic consequences.

Family therapy helps bring balance to families. A good therapist will never focus only on one member of the family. Even if that person dominates the discussion within a session, the therapist will note how the rest of the family is reacting, ensuring that every person’s issues are brought to light.

5. You Have Shared Trauma

Trauma has a massive impact on every individual who experiences it. When a family shares a trauma, dysfunction is a fairly common consequence. Consider a family that witnessed a sudden, traumatic death of a loved one. The circumstances surrounding the trauma become the proverbial elephant in the room. In some cases, no one speaks about it and its impacts are insidious. In other cases, it comes up all the time, seemingly out of nowhere, and the effects of the trauma are perpetuated.

Resolving the trauma individually is extremely difficult, when it is present in so many family interactions. Family therapy is an excellent space to process the trauma together and to learn how each family member has dealt with it differently. Rather than remaining a consistent reminder of the worst thing that has happened to the family, it can become a shared source of healing.

If any of the above 5 reasons resonate with you, consider broaching the idea of family therapy with your family. You might face resistance, but by avoiding the topic entirely, you ensure that certain issues will plague your relationship forever. There are professionals who can help discuss the benefits of family therapy with your family, giving every member an understanding of how much more you have to gain than to lose.

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