The Importance of Family Therapy

What is family? Depending on where you are and who you’re asking, the answer is likely to vary. In Hawai`i, family – “ohana” – embraces more than someone’s blood relatives. A person’s family might include close friends, work colleagues, or people who are a part of similar groups, such as a sports team or hobby. Family is revered as sacred and foundational to the people of Hawai`i. Family is at the center of all humans – whether we want to admit it or not – it has shaped us into who we are. We learn how to be a part of the world by watching parents or caregivers, how to solve problems, how to love, how to respect others, and our values and beliefs. 

When a family is supportive, stable, and nurturing, it is more likely the children will grow up to follow in the same footsteps. Unfortunately, in families filled with turbulence, unresolved generational trauma and conflict, and a lack of space for children to grow into who they are as individuals, many problems are prone to follow suit.  Family therapy or family counseling seeks to help families of all structures, cultures, and beliefs improve upon their relationships, establish harmony, and enable them to navigate disagreement without breaking it down. 

Even healthy families argue and have moments of chaos – it’s called being human. Conflict can be healthy and an opportunity for growth and deeper connection. Unfortunately, this is not always how it works out, and families may face hurt or dysfunction. Therapists and counselors in the Mindful Living Group ohana embrace the cultural values and beliefs of the land, individuals, and families. A counselor or therapist may facilitate family therapy by integrating various techniques from different models or following the outline of a specific sub-type of family therapy depending on the needs and goals of each unique family. At Mindful Living Group, incorporating mindfulness into treatment measures and daily life is a central component of many therapists’ and counselors’ methods. Mindfulness practices are beneficial when used in conjunction with other techniques in family therapy. 

Family Counseling And Therapy

Finding the right family therapist that fits the needs and comfort of your family is one of the most critical factors for success. Similar to other areas of psychological care, the relationship between the family and therapist or counselor should feel safe, trusting, confidential, and comfortable for all individuals involved. It’s essential to find a therapist who has specific training in treating families. Generally, their credentials are in marriage and family counseling or therapy (LMFT). Individual therapists and counselors are phenomenal in helping a person heal and navigate life for themself; however, family systems are much different, and additional education and training are essential in providing the quality care needed. 

Family therapy or counseling is not a place for putting the blame on a single person or shaming an individual for their behaviors. There is no judgment from the therapist, nor do they choose sides. The therapist or counselor has a position of neutrality and assists in mediating conversation, managing tensions from escalating, and guiding the family towards a better understanding of each other through various means. The primary focus of family therapy is improving the interfamilial interactions, enhancing practical communication skills, clarifying roles and the boundaries of each member, building or strengthening familial resilience to crisis, and establishing a safe and secure environment for each person to express themselves without fear of shame. 

The construct of many family therapy methods views the family as a whole or system. It is created of individual components that act together and influence the other members. When healthy and functioning at optimal levels, resilience is built and maintained. In contradiction to the stability of a functional family, chaos, conflict, and hurt occur when a family is dysfunctional and often creates a ripple, affecting each member in life outside of the family.

Types And Techniques of Family Therapy

(NOTE: This is not a complete list of the approaches a therapist or counselor may employ.) 

Family Systems Therapy

 This form stresses how a family is a system and a unit, and how behaviors, or events, of a single person or situation, affect everyone else in the system. You can read more about family systems therapy here

Functional Family Therapy

This brief, relatively structured method is often used among families with youth who are struggling with behavioral problems. Functional family therapy focuses on interactions between family members. Therapists help family members create solutions to problems while rebuilding respect and trust for each other. 

Narrative Family Therapy

Narrative family therapy is a popular modality that can be used in many areas of psychotherapy. The method centers around individuals reinterpreting their experiences and stories to allow them to view it from the “outside.” This creates new perspectives and helps to open individuals to new opinions, solutions, and detaching emotions from facts. 

Supportive Family Therapy

In some cases, it may not be necessary to deep-dive into the sources of problems. Instead, a family may only require guidance in solutions. Supportive family therapy refrains from exploring the past and helps members come together and find the best ways to support each other in times of need. 

Structural Family Therapy

The focus of structural family therapy is, you guessed it, the family’s structure. There is an emphasis on establishing clear, healthy boundaries and a respected hierarchy. 

Turning Dysfunctional Into Functional

The terms dysfunctional family and functional family are frequently used within this topic of discussion. What do they mean, and what constitutes a family as being functional or dysfunctional? Can a dysfunctional family be rekindled? 

Functional families are not to be thought of as “perfect” families. Every single family has its own set of problems and stresses. Within a functional family, members are allowed to have quarrels, times of unhappiness and distress, mental illnesses, etc. The primary difference between functional and dysfunctional families is found in how they “rebound” from inevitable aspects of life. A family’s level of resilience is rooted in how solid their foundation is. Concrete foundations are built on love, respect, boundaries, leadership, and effective communication. 

Respect can either make or break a family; it is required for all other factors to exist. A common source of conflict within a dysfunctional family is the absence of respect. Without respect, a family faces challenges in healthy boundaries, clashing roles or dynamics, and communication goes out the window. Mindfulness practices are a phenomenal way to begin building respect for one another and yourself, as both [mindfulness and respect] intersect each other at the place of awareness. 

When we are aware of other members in the family through a mindful lens, we can be more attentive to what they are saying – verbally and through body language. It is easy to miss the subtleties of what someone is telling us through their body when emotions and tensions are heightened. By engaging in mindfulness, therapists may provide family members an opportunity to de-escalate, or pause, so they may respond to the situation rather than react. 

As respect and communication improve, boundaries come into play. Healthy boundaries are paramount for the optimal functioning of a family. It is not uncommon for families to struggle with the dance of finding the perfect balance between boundaries that are too rigid or lacking. Little to no limits often become misunderstood as having a “close connection” between parents and children. The reality is the lack of boundaries creates an enmeshed environment with significant impacts on the mental health and stability of all members of the family. Children are unable to grow into a strong sense of self, and parents become reliant on the children to support them and maintain happiness. 

On the opposite end are boundaries that are too rigid. The parents or guardians generally lean towards an authoritarian style of parenting and demand absolute control over all members. While researchers have found children tend to be more well-behaved, it does more harm than good. Good behavior can stem from fear of their parent’s reactions or attempts to please parents with everything they do. Let’s be honest with ourselves; no one is perfect. The pressure for perfection has the potential to create mental health conditions, a low level of self-confidence, and dependence on rules, structure, and approval. Respecting boundaries helps solidify the form of a family system and each member’s roles. Many models present the parents, caregivers, or guardians sharing equal status as the home leaders. 

An Ancient Native Hawaiian Practice Can Benefit Your Family

Many families who attend family therapy have found themselves at the breaking point due to conflict and pandemonium in the home or among members. There is an abundance of techniques and skills a therapist or counselor can provide, but one, in particular, is growing in global popularity: ho`oponopono. This practice is not new by any means; its origins are found deep in the traditions of ancient Native Hawaiians. Ho`oponopono translates into English as “to make right, establish harmony, correct what is wrong, and restore order,” and continues to be practiced among many people in Hawai`i. The heart of this discipline is the repetition of the prayer/mantra “I’m sorry, forgive me, thank you, I love you.” This may seem too simplistic for many people, but these words hold immense power.

 By employing the philosophy and principles of ho`oponopono, repentance, forgiveness, gratitude, and love may emerge. It can cleanse an individual’s inner thoughts and give way for the ability to help others simultaneously. How does this help with conflict among family (and others)? Author Colin G. Smith writes a perfect metaphor to help answer this question. If you are to walk into a dark room, does it matter who turns on the light? No. If you reach for the switch and illuminate the room, you and everyone else reap the benefits. We are able to find compassion, deepened love, and gratitude for others and ourselves. Through the individual and familial adaptation of this powerful tradition, a place can be created for harmony to be restored. 

Is Family Therapy the Right Choice? 

The decision to begin family therapy often weighs heavier on one member or another. Members may have a swell of emotions – fear, anxiety, defeat, failure – around what to expect, what will be said, and much more. These emotions are undeniably valid. 

If you are questioning if family therapy is the right choice, contact Mindful Living Group for guidance on your family’s circumstances.