Family therapy can feel like a scary, threatening, nerve-racking thing to go through. Why? Family therapy threatens the status quo and families often feel a pressure to maintain the status quo because that feels safe and familiar, even if the status quo is unhealthy. If the status quo is exposed to be unhealthy, then change is required, and change, well, frankly is uncomfortable. It requires hard work, and taking responsibility for bad behavior. It also requires engaging with hurt and pain. A family may want to avoid that, but when a family avoids working through pain and hurt, they also avoid the opportunity for change and growth.
1. Trust the process:
Engage with your family’s hurt and allow it to motivate healing and growth. Sometimes you might feel worse before you feel better, but that’s okay. Growth happens when you stick with the process.
2. Don’t Play the Blame Game:
Successful family therapy is focused on relationships. It is very easy for families to blame one person or one event for all their problems. But this focus is a serious mistake if families truly want to see change and progress. It is far better when families look at what isn’t working with a relational focus. A relational focus is when a family looks at how each member’s behavior contributes to a problem. This is not done for the purpose of assigning blame, but for taking responsibility. When family members take responsibility for their personal contribution to the problem, it creates an environment where change is safe to do. Otherwise, it may feel too threatening to be vulnerable and try something new.
3. Respect Each Person’s Needs:
Not everyone is the same. Not everyone has the same needs. This may seem like an obvious truth, but all too often family members act in opposition to this idea. They believe that the other person has the same needs as them. So, when they try to fulfill the other person’s needs, they do so in a way that makes sense to themselves and not the other. Or, they believe that the family should know what their needs are and so fulfill them without explicitly stating their needs. Either way, this approach doesn’t work. It is incumbent on each member of the family to stop assuming, and to start learning. Some members of the family, for example, may need a lot of contact— others may need more distance. Some members of the family, for example, need a strong emotional connection— others may not. You must be open to learning about the needs of your family members— and they may be different than your own— and then commit to meeting those needs.
4. The Law of Reciprocation:
The exciting thing about discovering what your family member’s needs are— versus falsely assuming what their needs are— is that when you meet those needs, the other person is more likely to reciprocate. Meaning, when they feel fulfilled, they will be motivated to make sure you feel fulfilled. This is a positive feedback loop that builds strength the longer it goes. The more you feel loved by the other, the more likely you are to return that love to them.
5. Learn New Skills:
Successful families that get the most out of therapy walk away from the experience with a new set of skills that empower them to break toxic patterns of behavior and create new, healthy patterns of behavior. Therefore, be open to learning new skills. For some families, they believe they’ve tried everything and nothing will work. Well, that’s often not the case. There may be many strategies and skills that families are not aware of. Or, families may have tried new skills, but quickly bailed on them when things got challenging. So, be open to new ideas and to trying new things. Then, commit to practicing those skills consistently, even when it’s hard. Even when you feel like no one else is trying.
Change is more of a marathon than a sprint. So, be faithful to the process. We are not alone as we tackle transformation. We can be confident that God is with us. I always like to remind myself that even when everything around me is changing, and even when I need to change, there’s one thing I can count on:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8 (NIV)
Questions for Reflection:
Have you considered trying family therapy, but have been too afraid to try? I encourage you to contact His Heart Foundation (www.hisheartfoundtion.org) today. They will connect you to a counselor who specializes in your need.
What’s holding you back from making a family therapy appointment today? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Recommended Reading: When Parenting Backfires by Daniel Bates and David Simonson http://amzn.to/2wvWshK