Family therapy

Hate your whole family? Or maybe just one of them? If you’re always arguing and don’t see how things could ever get better, family therapy could help you all reconnect.

Why would I need to go to family therapy anyway?

All families have their ups and downs, and it’s usual to slam your door sometimes and scream, “I NEVER ASKED TO BE BORN.” But if the downs in your family relationship are massively outweighing the ups then you can get professional help. Family therapy is one way to get the balance right again.

Common reasons young people go to family therapy include:

  • If you hate your parent’s new boyfriend or girlfriend,
  • If you can’t stop rowing with your parents,
  • If your family are struggling with your mental health problems, including eating disorders, self harm or depression,
  • You’ve come out to your parents and it’s not gone well,
  • Your parents are getting divorced.

Caroline Dalal, is a ‘systemic’ family therapist. She explains: “Sometimes problems and rows can dominate a family relationship so much that you can’t think about, or even acknowledge, the strengths of each other. People can get stuck in certain patterns, like rowing and shouting at each other. Systemic family therapy aims to get people a bit unstuck.”

What’s a session like?

Family therapy can conjure images of you all sitting around in a circle like the Brady Bunch, passing a ‘talking rock’. But it’s not like that at all.

Often family therapy is just about creating a comfortable space, outside the home, which allows everyone to talk a bit differently about what’s going on. “Just having someone sitting in a room with them immediately affects the pattern of a family’s communication,” says Caroline.

Sessions usually last between 50-90 minutes, wherein everyone there getting a chance to have their say if they want to. The therapist is there to ensure no-one feels victimised or upset.

Can I go to family therapy by myself?

Your therapist will happily chat to you alone for the first few sessions if that’s what you want. It gives you both a chance to work out who’d be best to come along to the group sessions. So, for example, if you hate your mum’s new boyfriend, talking this through with a therapist beforehand may lead you to decide you only want group sessions with your mum.

Scared to go all by yourself? You can bring a friend or wider family member with you, if you wish.

Will the therapist gang up on me?

If you’ve been told off and yelled at continuously for months, it’s no surprise you’re worried the therapist will just be yet another grown-up telling you you’re being an arse. But that really isn’t the case.

“It’s a very common concern that family therapy gives parents more of a stage to yell at them,” says Caroline. “But this process isn’t about anything being wrong with anybody. It’s never about blame.”

On the flipside though, if you’re hoping to go so the therapist can point a big waggly finger at your dad and say: “You are a shite parent, it’s all your fault,” then that’s going to happen either.

But I hate my parents, why would I want to learn to get on with them?

You may have good reason to dislike your family. You may have over 20 years of good reason. But, healing things with people you share blood with can help you make peace with all different aspects of your life.

“Obviously you can never force someone to go to family therapy,” says Caroline. “But I’ll always say it’s worth giving it a try to see what happens. I’m not saying every awful situation can be fixed, but relationships can be happier and more productive.”

I think my family needs therapy, how do I get them to go?

It’s a big step, deciding you need help, and it can be tough if your family don’t agree with the idea. But Caroline says, usually, if you calm your parents’ fears, they’ll be more open to going.

“Sometimes parents are reluctant to go as they’re scared there’s something wrong with them as a parent,” she says. “But nobody is going to be blamed or bullied.”

If you try and find a time in your house when everyone’s calm, and explain how much you think therapy would help all of you, that may be more persuasive than bringing it up mid-row.

“Usually parents want the best for their children, no matter how difficult,” says Caroline.

How do I get family therapy?

Going to talk to your GP is a good place to start, especially if you feel all your family rowing is hurting your mental health. Or, if you’re already in touch with a social worker or housing officer, you can try asking them. Annoyingly, it’s not easy getting family therapy on the NHS but it’s always worth a try.

Relate offer family counselling and in some cases might offer cheaper counselling than private therapists.

If your family has enough money to get help privately, you can find a list of fully-qualified and registered therapists on the AFT (Association of Family and Systematic Therapy) website and search for local ones using your postcode.

Next Steps

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015