Many of us are familiar with the image of the faces, and the vase that is visible between them. Family therapy has a slightly different focus than therapies that tend to focus on individuals (the faces). In family therapy, the therapist’s job is to look closely at the space between family members as they interact with each other. More specifically, they are looking at patterns of communication and interaction that have stabilized in family members’ significant relationships.
The assumption of some family therapists is that families have repertoires of patterns – some that support well-being, and some that don’t. The family therapist’s role is essentially to help shift the amount of time spent engaging in unhelpful patterns. A family therapist’s job is to help family members to better ‘see’ what is happening in their day-to-day interactions, and to help bring forth new ways of understanding and responding to each other.
This model of therapy is particularly useful in instances where children or adolescents are manifesting various problems that are impacting their well-being and development. Family therapy is helpful because children are less powerful in the family system. When parents bring children into therapy for individual counselling, it can help, but if something in the family’s day-to-day life is contributing to the problem and that part is not being addressed with the child’s parents or other family members, the tools, resources, and skills a child acquires in therapy can be less likely to stick. In this way, family therapy takes a balanced approach to working with an entire family “system.”