A Family Therapy Approach » myShrink

A Family Therapy Approach

Good family therapists - in my view - are hard to find. Lots of therapists do indivdual therapy or even couples work, but there are relatively few experienced family therapists. Basically it's because this kind of practice requires a level of training and sophistication that's hard to come by.


Table of Contents

Corinne approached me a while back asking if she could contribute to myShrink and I was delighted. And when I learned she did family therapy . . . well I jumped on that one pretty fast.

So what does a family therapy approach look like? What's a typical problem that's encountered in family therapy? These are questions this article attempts to answer.

And by the way, look for the "post a question" section at the end. Corinne has generously given her time to answer some questions.

How Family Therapy Works

By: Corinne Scholtz MFT
Reviewed by: Dr. Susan LaCombe

Here's a real live example that's typical for how a family therapist might approach a problem. All the names have been changed to protect confidentiality.

Case Description

A family with two young children, Sean age 5 and Alexandra, age 3, seeks therapy after noticing new and different behaviors by Sean.

Mom and Dad notice that lately he has shown a tendency to become angry with his little sister and to act out his frustrations by yelling, hitting, and sometimes biting. Sean’s schoolteacher reports that Sean acts very shy around his classmates except when he becomes bothered or frustrated – then he may hit the other child.

Mom and Dad are concerned and they argue over the best way to handle Sean’s behaviors. On a referral by a close friend, they decide to call a local and respected Family Therapist. Being curious about family therapy, these are some of the questions they ask during the initial phone call:

1. How long will the session be?

The typical session lasts fifty minutes.

2. Do you have experience in dealing with young children?

Depending on the practitioner, this could be answered in many ways. Make sure that your therapist is comfortable working with families with young children.

3. Do you need to meet with all of us at the same time?

Sometimes the therapist will meet with the entire family, and at other times will see the parents or the children alone. This will depend on the goals determined for treatment. A lot can be gained by meeting with the entire family for a few sessions.

4. How soon will the situation start to look better?

Among other things, this will depend on the kind of issues facing the family and the therapeutic goals they have agreed upon. For some people things begin to change with the first phone call!

5. How many sessions will be necessary?

Many family therapists are able to help their clients to substantially meet their goals in about twenty sessions.

Questions asked by the therapist during the first session:

To Mom and Dad separately:

1. How would you describe the problem?

From this the therapist learns that Dad feels Sean’s behavior is a response to Mom going back to work. Mom says that she thinks Dad is too rough when disciplining Sean and needs to go easier on him.

2. What effect do you see this having on the family?

Dad and Mom both state that they are tired and stressed and dislike the arguing that is taking place between them. Mom has started to feel guilty about her time away from the family and Dad is growing impatient with Sean.

Since Mom perceives Dad as being too rough, she tries to be more nurturing with Sean, but this causes more conflict with her husband, who thinks Sean is being babied.

3. When did these behaviors start to appear?

Sean’s behaviors started about 4 months ago when he began kindergarten.

4. What is different this time?

We learn that Sean used to spend every day with his mom and little sister. Once he started school, mom decided to go back to work and put Alexandra into daycare.

Over the course of therapy, Mom and Dad realize that the family's stress is related to mom returning to work, Sean beginning school, and Alexandra going to daycare.

Mom, Dad and the therapist eventually gain some insight into their predicament and come up with a strategy:

  • They realize that there are life cycle issues that occur in all families and that they must find a way to be flexible and to change.
  • They learn that they need to talk to each other instead of arguing about Sean’s behavior; they agree that from now on they'll handle the situation as a team. As a result of strengthening the parental unit, Sean escapes being in the middle of his parents arguments.
  • They learn that Sean acting nicely around his sister is as deserving of attention as when he is acting badly. They agree to set consistent consequences for Sean's inappropriate behavior but also to observe and acknowledge with positive feedback when Sean treats another nicely.
  • They acknowledge that validating Sean’s frustrations, recognizing his triggers and creating other options for dealing with times of anger is a possible goal for therapy as well.
  • They also agree to create time with each other that doesn’t revolve around daily tasks.

Do you have a question about family therapy?

Leave your question and Corinne Scholtz will answer it for you. Questions and replies will be posted below.

We'll let you know when your question gets answered in MyShrink UpDates. As a convenience, you will be automatically subscribed to MyShrink UpDates (if you're not already a subscriber).

​Readers Comments

Therapy Guru Avatar

Khalida

Finding The Right Therapist

I'm looking for the right therapist/counselor for my marital issues. The town I live in is not that big and in my search I find nothing but "M.A's" and "M.S.'s". With these being my choices how can I narrow down who can best assist me in my time of need? What kind of clues can I look for who would best suit me and my husband? I don't want to waist alot of time and money before I find the right one. Thank you. Where can I find you? LOL! You sound perfect!

Khalida,

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

I understand your concern about wasting time and money and if you keep these small clues in mind it may help you to find a 'good fit' sooner than later.

www.connectedliving-fl.com

https://www.facebook.com/ConnectedLivingFl#

Corinne


Therapy Guru Avatar

Corrine

How Systemic Therapy Has Shaped Me

Pursuing a marriage and family therapy degree has shaped my view of people and problems dramatically. I see interconnections now, where before I thought more linearly, a = b. But now b also = a, and when this cycle is understood the possibility for significant relationship change presents itself. Clients tend to pursue therapy because they believe something is wrong with them, that in some way they are flawed. Instead of ‘fixing’ the person, seeing the client within his/her environment changes what we think we see. It’s all about perception. A more traditional approach to counselling would probably be to pathologize the client - meaning the client would be diagnosed with a mental/emotional disorder in contrast to seeing the client and their problem in context of relationships and culture. When there is a shift from seeing the client as the 'problem' we are able to honor the client's strengths and efforts to resolve the dilemma. A systemic perspective also considers the relational space between people and investigates how the relationships 'holds' the problem between the two people.

I’m absolutely positive had I not pursued a marriage and family therapy degree, I would be a different person writing this today. We become what we think, and we think because of what we learn…my insights into communication and patterns have developed. This helps me to look at the interactional cycles in my own relationships and to see how I am affecting problems I may encounter. Through the course of my studies, I've also come to see that I tend to orient myself as a feminist, and I'm sure these beliefs influence how I make meaning of what I see. The key is being aware of this!

Spirituality has always been important to me as well as a holistic perspective on life. I feel that systemic learning has complemented how I thought before studying, as well as my values.

Corrine


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Marybola Oladimeji

Reader Inspiration!

I am looking into doing masters in FT and just stumbled into your article. It is very inspiring and i think that I'm blessed by reading it. I would like to keep in touch when I finally get started in 2013.

Marybola Oladimeji

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Thanks for taking the time to send your thoughts! Of course I would enjoy staying in touch and hearing about your journey. You may find my personal website helpful too, as there is a lot of information about family and marital therapy. It's www.connectedliving-fl.com. Congrats on your decision to attend graduate school - it was definitely one of the best times of my career!

Sincerely,

Corinne


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Matt

Early Marital Problems - Who To See?

I have been married for a short 7 months and am worried that my wife has lost interest in our relationship. She works late every day (and doesn't have to) and intimacy is gone already. If I try to talk things out with her she doesnt want to because she says she doesn't want to argue. What type of therapist do you think we should see?

Matt

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

It does sound as though your marriage is under stress and perhaps your wife doesn't want to argue out of fear it might make things worse. However, having those 'hard-to-talk' about conversations can happen without fighting...

Based only on what you share, it may be a pattern exists where the more worried you become, the more you want to talk about things. As you pursue your wife to talk, she seems to distance and disappears into work. This could be a classic pursuer-distancer relationship pattern that is common and occurs within all couples at different times. It's just one way of managing anxiety within the relationship.

That being said, I would recommend finding a therapist who is an expert in marriage and family therapy. You can search locally, or on websites such as Psychology Today. Take some time during the initial phone call to sense how the therapist makes you feel about their services. Ask about any concerns you may have. Even if you may have to attend sessions by yourself for some reason, a marriage therapist can counsel you as a couple.

Most of the time our struggles, challenges and obstacles in relationships can help to learn more about ourselves and who the other person is.

With Blessings,

Corinne


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Rebena

Referral to a Family Therapist

I was wondering what criteria an intake worker might use to refer families to a family therapist.

Rebena

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

A client may be presenting with any number of symptoms that would be appropriate for a referral to a family therapist. The criteria is not any different from other mental health professionals that you might refer to! To give you an idea on the types of services a family therapist provides, and to view a list of issues that we are trained to handle, pls. visit my website at www.connectedliving-fl.com. This way you can also pass along this information to your clients!

Sincerely,

Corinne


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Renee

Can a genogram determine whether a family is beyond help?

As a Bachelors student in Human Resources and Management Can a genogram determine whether a family is beyond help or not?

Renee

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Nope - a genogram reveals information such as family patterns, emotions, relationship triangles, alliances and coalitions, divorces, marriages, births...but it will never reveal information that can be interpreted as 'beyond help'. Think of it as one tool that allows a therapist to visualize the family relationships over several generations - that's all. It is not intended to be a diagnostic tool looking for signs of being 'beyond help'. Several other students have written questions about this in the past - I think that the answers to these posts may be interesting to you!

Corinne


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Leo

A Multigenerational Approach to Family Therapy

What is a multigenerational approach to family therapy?

Leo

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

A multigenerational approach is one way of understanding the relationships in a family. Typically a therapist using a multigenerational lens is considering the current family's functioning as influenced by the past. Often times stories, emotions, and ways of thinking will flow from one generation to the next without our conscious awareness. We then tend to make decisions, choose relationships, and see the world in a particular way due in part to growing up within this family. The power of using a multigenerational approach is discerning patterns from one generation to the next; unspoken emotional processes; timing of specific events; triangles, alliances and coalitions between family members; birth order...all of these variations of family relationships are explored using a multigenerational approach. Most often times this is made visual with the use of a genogram.

This approach can be very useful in therapy because some clients seek to understand and bring into awareness the dynamics and functioning of their family.

Sincerely,

Corinne


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Erica

When Should A Family Seek Therapy?

My family is very solid and we usually get along well. But we tend to have communication problems. They are very new and have only been going on for about 2 months but they have effected our relationships. Is it smart to go into family counseling now or should we try to figure it out within the family before taking that step?

Erica

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

I'm so glad that you asked this question. I tend to see a huge difference between clients who seek therapy during the beginning of a potential problem versus clients who wait until the problem has hung around for a while. Normally clients who have waited come to therapy because they are in pain, and usually the way they have been trying to solve the problem hasn't worked. However, clients who arrive toward the beginning of a situation tend to be seeking solutions to prevent a problem from becoming more permanent. That being said, I think that you know your family best, and if you have the inclination that family therapy may be helpful, by all means try it out! You have little to lose and so much to gain. Perhaps instead of trying to fix something that's broke, you can gain the tools to prevent something from breaking in the first place. Make sense?

Corinne


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Janneke

Theory Question!

I am enrolled for my honor and the assignment asked two things: Is there a specific approach? The book refers to postmodern, psychodynamic, experiential, structural, and communication behavioral approaches. Does this mean that all of these approaches are different ways used by cybernetics 2nd order? And what about the health and pathology of each approach? I am struggling with the book on Family Therapy Becvar, and it is very confusing on this topic so I asked a friend of mine who did her Majors and not even she could help me.

Janneke

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Janneke, Very good and complex questions! It does take some time to begin to understand the different approaches in family therapy. Achieving 2nd order change occurs not because it 'uses' an approach. Rather, the outcome of using the approach can result in 2nd order change.

There are two main umbrellas of family therapy. You have postmodern on the right side, and modern on the left. When you are studying, remember that several major theories fall under each one. Then, think of it this way: each approach is a different lens to view the family. When you put on one lens, you'll see the pathology and path to health in a particular way. Now, you could put on another lens, look at the same family, and see an entirely different source of pathology and path to healthier behaviors. So, if you put on your postmodern lens (narrative therapy, solution-focused, etc.) you are going to focus on pattern, communication and relationships. If you put on a modern lens (structural lens, strategic, etc.), you are going to see boundaries, sub-systems, etc. See what I mean?

Then each intervention is designed differently for each approach. What works for me is to create columns on a piece of paper of each theory and it's perspective of dysfunction and the ideas about interventions. Then you can see the contrasts and similarities between each approach. When connecting any of these theories to 1st or 2nd order change, always remember that 1st order change is a change in a behavior while 2nd order change is a change in the meaning or rules of the family. 2nd order change can be achieved with any theory as long as the therapist is creating a change in perspective, meaning and relationships.

Hope this helps...and please follow up with other questions!

Corinne


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Jewels

Honors Psychology Class

I'm currently doing my honours in Psychology and one of my subjects is Family therapy. Could you please clarify the difference between first-and-second-order cybernetic approaches? Say for instance a family came for therapy because the teenage daughter is lying, how would the therapy be different from these two perspectives? Thank you.

Jewels

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Jewels,

First and second order cybernetic approaches - otherwise known as first and second order change - refer to the method for change the therapist might use. First order change is a change in behavior by assigning the client tasks, directives, and strategies for achieving the change they want. In this situation the therapist does not attend to the client's worldview or perspective. They simply intervene by introducing and practicing new skills. In second-order change the therapist seeks to alter the worldview and perceptions of the client. Let's say that we see lying as an attempt at gaining attention. Instead of giving the client and family skills to overcome lying, the therapist addresses the underlying relationships. Now, as a therapist you will rely on both first and second order change although second order change tends to create a shift in a family that can't be reversed. It becomes a new way of seeing things versus integrating a new set of skills. I hope this makes sense!

Corinne


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Betty

I like your site!

Hi Corinne, I just read through many of the questions asked and found one that pertained to one of my college courses. "Can you determine when a family is beyond help by family therapy? How? What then?" I have found so many different answers from my class mates! They range from being that a therapist is at fault if they give up on a family to the family just does not want the help. I like your site and have it saved to favorites. It is really neat to read through all the information you have given.

Thanks, Betty, for taking the time to share!


Therapy Guru Avatar

Linda

Family Therapy Behind A One-Way Mirror?

I have a son who is 10 and has always had difficulty regulating is anger. Increasingly this has become more destructive and he has been very abusive, violent with me. I am not with his dad though he is very much in his life. We have recently been offered family therapy and I was really glad about this because I feel that we do need help. However we have been told that as well as the therapist there will be a number of other therapist observing behind a mirror. I do not feel comfortable with this and I am not sure that my son will be. My question is if we do not except this does that mean that they would not be able to work with us?

Linda

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

I can certainly understand your hesitation about family therapy with numerous therapists. This arrangement can seem unusual and uncomfortable at first. However there are several advantages for you with this approach. I share these ideas from personal experience as for many years my training consisted of viewing therapy from behind a one-way mirror, as well as conducting therapy with other therapists viewing me from behind a one-way mirror. Believe me, it took some getting used to as the therapist too!

What I've come to recognize is that having a 'team' contribute to your therapy creates more possibilities and support. Each therapist will share ideas about how to best help you and your son. In some ways it's having a team work for the price of one!

Generally, you can request to meet the team of therapists that will be contributing to your sessions. Feel free to ask them questions. I promise that once your therapy gets under-way the less you will feel conscious of being watched from behind the mirror.

Since I don't know who is referring you to family therapy, or whether or not this is a learning clinic offered through a university, I can't be sure as to whether or not you can still be seen without a team. I would call and talk to the office coordinating the therapy. They may have other ideas to put you at ease, or offer you alternative options.

Hope this helps!

Corinne


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Alexis

Lost & Confused On Life

I find myself lost and confused on life, and it's becoming stressful to be around my family to the point where I just leave the house everyday just to get away. What is that about?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Alexis,

I think most of us have felt this way at some point or another - I know I have for sure! Usually feeling lost and confused is felt during times of transitions. Are you going through change in your life, relationships, schooling, work, loss? I know when I've had to make major life decisions uncertainty has played a role. Is there a specific situation presenting itself in your life?

I think that your strategy of leaving the house when you feel stressed is one way of coping. Where are you going most of the time? You have developed self-awareness to know when you need some distance and have created a -hopefully- safe way to find it. Sometimes we need silence and personal space in order to tune into ourselves and figure out what we need and want. Your feelings of being lost and confused can actually be a positive experience because they signal that something isn't working for you any more, and may help propel you toward change and growth.

This may sound very different, but give it a try. This is definitely not the last time you will feel confused in life. Instead of making confusion a problem, get to know your confusion. What I mean is, if your 'confusion' had a voice, what would it tell you? What type of conversation would the two of you have? When do you feel most confused? Do certain people, conversations, environments trigger this?

I firmly believe having a safe place and person to talk with is one of the best ways to find support for yourself. You don't have to figure it out alone...believe it or not, none of us ever do.

Please follow up at any time. It will be interesting to hear about what happens to the confusion in your life.

Corinne


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Anonymous

What Happens If It's the Parents Who Need Therapy?

What happens if the parents are the ones who need therapy, not their children?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

From a family therapist's point of view, it does happen that parental issues can create problems that affect the entire family. Sometimes parents become so caught up in a child's symptoms that it becomes easier to ignore any marital issues. One family therapist, in fact, believed that all child related symptoms were a direct result of dysfunction in the parental relationship. He thought that if you worked out the problems in the marriage, symptoms within the rest of the family would cease. He didn't come from a place of blaming the parents, but was intent on working with them to focus more on their relationship. Of course depending on the age of the child, his/her response to the family's problems can and should be addressed with therapy. For example, a teen would have a different role in the therapy when compared with a ten-year-old or younger.

Sometimes, though, the child is struggling with behavioral issues and challenges independent of the marital relationship. In this case, the parents could seek therapy for support and assistance in figuring out how to best handle this situation, and preserve a quality of life for all family members.

Thanks for writing,

Corinne


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Edith

How Systemic Counseling Shaped Me

How has systematic counselling shaped you as a counselor and on a personal level?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Edith,

Pursuing a marriage and family therapy degree has shaped my view of people and problems dramatically. I see interconnections now, where before I thought more linearly, a = b. But now b also = a, and when this cycle is understood the possibility for significant relationship change presents itself.

Clients tend to pursue therapy because they believe something is wrong with them, that in some way they are flawed. Instead of ‘fixing’ the person, seeing the client within his/her environment changes what we think we see. It’s all about perception. A more traditional approach to counselling would probably be to pathologize the client - meaning the client would be diagnosed with a mental/emotional disorder in contrast to seeing the client and their problem in context of relationships and culture. When there is a shift from seeing the client as the 'problem' we are able to honor the client's strengths and efforts to resolve the dilemma. A systemic perspective also considers the relational space between people and investigates how the relationships 'holds' the problem between the two people.

I’m absolutely positive had I not pursued a marriage and family therapy degree, I would be a different person writing this today. We become what we think, and we think because of what we learn…my insights into communication and patterns have developed. This helps me to look at the interactional cycles in my own relationships and to see how I am affecting problems I may encounter. Through the course of my studies, I've also come to see that I tend to orient myself as a feminist, and I'm sure these beliefs influence how I make meaning of what I see. The key is being aware of this!

Spirituality has always been important to me as well as a holistic perspective on life. I feel that systemic learning has complemented how I thought before studying, as well as my values, making the choice to study marriage and family therapy a more natural fit.

I appreciate your question Edith!

Corinne


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Deb

Court-Ordered Family Therapy

In my divorce I received court ordered family counseling based on my husband's alienation of my 15 year old son from me who will not speak to me. However now that the date for counseling is coming my son is refusing to go. He said to send him to juve before he would attend counseling. How do I get my son to attend with my husband and I?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Deb,

Divorce and parental alienation situations tend to be very emotional for all involved. Unfortunately the situation you describe is all too common and many children end up caught in the middle and are sometimes reluctant to re-establish contact with the alienated parent. Without knowing more about your personal situation, it's hard for me to address your question. There are so many factors: your son's age, the length of time you have been alienated from him, the relationship with your husband, your therapist and guardian ad litem's role...

Sometimes it is the therapist who puts pressure on all members of the family to attend counseling. Perhaps your son would feel differently if he knew you could be in contempt of court without following court orders.

I'm curious about your husband's influence on your son - from what you have shared, he would have considerable impact on your son's thoughts and feelings.

I wish I could help you further. This is a tremendously difficult time for all.

Many Blessings,

Corinne


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Deborah

Using CBT with family therapy

How can problems develop in a family from a CBT perspective?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Deborah,

CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, is another way of viewing the family and it's members interactions. CBT assumes that how one thinks determines how one feels and behaves. Problems develop when thinking is faulty or irrational. We all have these thoughts to some degree…think about when you tell yourself you ‘should’ be doing something, or using words like ‘always’, or ‘never’. If ‘this’ or ‘that’ happened, we might think the world would be over!! Well, is that really true?

Challenging faulty and irrational thinking will influence interactions and possibly change perspective of each other. In my understanding, CBT has traditionally been used as an individual therapy for issues such as depression or anxiety.

However, a family therapist can and will use cognitive behavioral tools, often in coordination with other family therapy approaches. A change in one person’s behavior or thinking will influence all other members of the family. So, in this way, working with an individual is also working with the entire family.

Corinne


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Anonymous

Is family therapy a technique or a theory?

Is the family therapy one of the theory of counselling or it's just a technique?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

You know what? This is a common question and one that is really important to talk about. Family therapy is a theory of counseling – much like cognitive-behavioral, rational emotive therapy and so on. Family therapy differs from other approaches because of its particular way of looking at family systems and the way problems are held in place. The foundation and roots of family therapy are unique to this field although sometimes other therapists will rely on information from this field to complement their therapy sessions.

Corinne


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Arlene

Marriage counseling before family therapy

I have been seeing a family therapist because my daughter was experiencing a lot of aggressive outbursts, and my husband and I were angry with each other, our therapist suggested we take a break and work on our marriage with a marriage counselor, but I have not heard back from our first counselor, who helped us a lot. Should I be expecting to hear back from him or do I initiate a phone call back to start sessions again. Is is common for a counselor to suggest taking a break to work on something else. I would appreciate your thoughts. I would really like to work with him again but I would like it to be mutual.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Arlene,

It’s not so uncommon for a family therapist to suggest working on your marriage and then revisiting family therapy with your daughter. The idea behind couples therapy in this situation is that resolving the challenges you and your husband are facing will in turn affect your daughter. I don’t know the specifics of your situation, but I do know that anger tends to be a feeling that covers up other emotions such as sadness and fear.

Sometimes working through anger, hurt, and sadness in any relationship creates more intimacy and understanding of yourself and partner. Instead of seeing anger as purely a bad thing, it may be a catalyst to strengthen your marriage and provide growth.

I suggest definitely calling your counselor, especially since you found those sessions so helpful before. Don’t let this opportunity slip by and remember we don’t really know why he hasn’t contacted you. I sense that you might be feeling a little rejected because you haven’t heard from him, but there could be a thousand other reasons you haven’t spoken with him. Call again and then if you still don’t hear from him, ask your family therapist for a referral to someone they trust. I would be extremely disappointed if he neglected to call you back, but maybe that’s a sign that he isn’t the right therapist for you to work with again.

Corinne


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Jackie

Boyfriend won't go to therapy with me

My boyfriend and I have been together now for 6 and a half years. I feel as if he is pushing me away over the last few months. He is talking to MY ex, addicted to games on facebook, and fights with my 9 yr old son and blames me for it all. He won’t go to family counseling either so what should I do? My son is resenting his presence in out lives now. My son has ADHD and ODD and is medicated for his symptoms but I don’t know how much more we can handle as a family. I cry daily now and am wanting to leave.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Jackie,

I feel your worry and frustration and can understand your desire to leave this situation. It sounds tremendously difficult to manage your relationship with your boyfriend right now and especially over the last few months. I want you to consider attending therapy by yourself, and-or with your son. It’s not uncommon for one member of a couple to be interested in therapy more than the other. But, you can still work on your relationship and have ‘family therapy’ when you are the only one in therapy. In fact, the only person’s behavior we have control over is our own and I think seeking therapy for your family is brave. You will not be judged as the one with the ‘problem’, you will be seen as a client seeking solutions because how your family has been coping isn’t working so well anymore.

With regard to your son, living with a child who is medicated for ADHD and ODD can be difficult for any family, and there are therapists who can work directly with you and your son concerning behavioral and social issues. Your therapist can also introduce some skills for parenting your son that could influence the relationship he has with your boyfriend. Try to think about the situation from his point of view, i.e. feeling resentful, and that your son needs to be protected from your boyfriend if the fighting turns aggressive or emotionally abusive.

Your romantic relationship can be seen as situation separate from your parenting role. This too can be addressed in therapy even if you are the only one attending. A good therapist can help you to think through the different choices you have and support you during this time.

I hope this provides you with some ideas that are helpful!

Blessings,

Corinne


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TJ

Daughter in law problems

I met my husband in 2000. He has been married before and has a daughter. She was 4 years old when we met. They had joint custody which we had her 3 days one week, four days the next. Over the years she has been calling me names and been horrible to me and my husband didn't really do anything, so we argued all the time.

On February 2010 she left to live with her mom full-time so we didn't see her for a year which was very nice because we stopped arguing over her. In March 2011 she had to come back and live with us full-time as her mom had been arrested. The first few weeks were okay, we all got on, but then she got her boyfriend to call me on my phone and started swearing at me. I contacted my husband and all he said was how do you know it was her? So he contacted her and she said it was a prack call. My husband left it like that, not saying anything, which made me look like the nasty one.

After that she kept swearing at me when he wasn't there and been nasty. When I tell him, he tells met o stop causing trouble so we just argue all the time. On the 30th of July we had a big argument and he walked out lieaving me with our son who is 10 and misses his dad, which he sees twice a week. My son tells his dad that his daughter caused all the break-up which I also think that. I just don't know what to do.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Tracy,

My heart goes out to you because this sounds like a really stressful and emotional event. Your 10 year old son also sounds as though he is caught in the middle. What I sense from your email is resentment and anger, as well as despair. There are many re-married families where a father is lost trying to navigate the relationship between his new wife and his daughter. As he avoids the conflict, the tension only rises between the two women. It can then become a competition to see who he will side with, who he will show his loyalty toward. For over ten years, it sounds as though you have been wanting him to show support for you and to set boundaries with his daughter that it is not okay to treat you poorly.

You don't mention divorce, so you may want to use the current separation to explore how you would like to move forward. What I know is that the three of you are in a triangle with a distinct pattern and until the pattern is changed, it will be hard for your marital relationship to change. As a family, you will need to stop participating in behaviors that keep getting the situation to this point.

Sometimes in distress, parents unintentionally aren't as there for their children as they normally would be. I want you to remain emotionally connected with your son, to be present, and to encourage a positive relationship with his father as best you can. The problems you and your husband share have nothing to do with your son. It is best for him to express his hurt and anger and to stay in continual communication with you both. Research states the children do best when they continue to have each parent in their life. How you and your husband handle this situation will impact your son's understandings about relationships and conflict far into the future. I hope this helps and please write if you have more to share.

Blessings,

Corinne


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Pema

I want to be a family therapist

I am a Tibetan. I am very much interested in becoming a couple or family therapist. But I was raised in an institution. So, my question is do you think I can become a very good couple or family therapist?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Pema,

When I read your question, I am left wondering about how you see the effect of being raised in an institution on your decision to become a therapist. In other words, you seem to imply limitations because of your background. I don't want to make any assumptions about your experience, so I can't comment specifically on your situation. I can say that there are people from all walks of life that become great therapists. There is no one 'type' of person that will be the 'best' therapist. Therapists come from all different cultures and backgrounds! So, do not limit yourself by beliefs about your background. I would love to know more about you and would be very interested in hearing about your life experience!

Sincerely,

Corinne


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Trell

Telling my parents about my abuse

How would you tell a parent you were sexually assaulted in the past?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Trell,

This is a really sensitive question. There are no ‘one-size-fit’ all ways of communicating about this experience. So, I can’t really answer this in detail without knowing more about the situation and the relationship between you and your parent.

If you are struggling to find the best way for you to speak with your family, you may want to work with a therapist, or, even learn about different options for having this sort of conversation from books published by therapists with expertise in this area.

Corinne


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 Monica

My family desperately needs therapy

Hi Corinne. My name is Monica and I'm 15 years old. My family had been in family therapy for about 4 months, when our therapist had to move away. The facility we were going to set us up with an appointment with a new therapist, who would be giving us a call to confirm our appointment in a few weeks. When the new therapist called, my mom ignored it. The new therapist kept calling and sending letters, but my mom still ignored it. She said she didn't think we need to go anymore. However, I certainly think we do.

I have been in and out of the hospital too many times to count for the past 2 years, and its been really hard on the whole family. My father is drinking a lot (7, 8, sometimes 9 beers, EVERYDAY), my mom has completely stop talking, and I find her crying often. My 14 year old brother has withdrawn himself from our family, and life all together, and has been engaging in risky sexual activity as his way of coping with our family's problems.

My parent don't talk to each other, and even if they do, my father is screaming and cursing at my mother, and my mothers is crying and screaming back. I have numerous medical conditions, and that is why I am always in the hospital. I feel like my problems is tearing my family apart. I think my family desperately needs to go back to therapy, but whenever I try to approach the subject, somebody changes that topic all together to avoid the conversation.

How do I tell them that we NEED to go to therapy? Am I suppose to just take it upon myself to get a counselor involved? I don't know what to do and I am so scared.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Dear Monica,

It sounds as though you worry and care for your family terribly. I can really sense your fear that if your family doesn’t return to therapy, things could stay the same as they are now or become worse. And that is really scary.

From what you shared, it sounds as though everyone has stopped talking, except for you. Instead of talking with each other, it seems that mom is yelling and crying her feelings, dad is yelling and drinking his feelings, and your brother is withdrawing and possibly sexualizing his feelings. I have a feeling that you are a very smart and strong young woman and I am so impressed that you are talking about how you feel.

You wrote that you feel your medical problems are tearing your family apart. An illness of any kind creates extreme times on stress on any family. I don’t know the medical situation you are in, but I know one of the toughest things for any patient to experience is watching the struggle other family members go through. On top of focusing on your recovery, it can become easy to carry feelings of guilt about the pressure these medical conditions put on the family.

Each of us acts differently when under this type of stress, so please know that you are not responsible for the ways in which your family chooses to react! You may feel responsible when mom cries, and you may feel badly for her, but really mom is responsible for handling her sadness. You may feel responsible when dad drinks 8 or 9 drinks every day, but really it’s dad who needs to be responsible for his drinking and coping strategies.

Mom and Dad have their own marriage and relationship to handle outside that of being parents to you and your brother. It’s pretty hard to know what happens between them behind closed doors.

The only person you really have power over and who needs you the most…is you. It’s frustrating that you feel unheard when you bring the topic of therapy up with your family.

That being said, if you feel that your family is disengaged from family therapy at this time, I would suggest this. I am assuming that you are attending high school on campus, rather than being home-schooled. When you are in school, you have access to guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists. You need to talk with them. This is one way to reach out to get the support that you need. They can meet with you during the school day. Sometimes either all or some of these people can invite your family in for a meeting at the school. They could help you communicate your concerns to your family. Sometimes they can refer you to an agency that offers in-home therapy. I also wonder if there is someone who referred you to family therapy the first time? Is it possible to connect with this person again and explain what’s happened? Is there a doctor, nurse or family member you trust to talk to about this?

We can’t go back in time but I really wish that your therapist handled the transition differently. What happens most of the time is that the old therapist and new therapist meet with the family together once or a few times so it doesn’t feel as though you are starting all over again with someone new. In the future know this is something you can request.

I admire your insight and love for your family. Maybe your mom could read this and try to put herself in your shoes.

Love
Corinne


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Anonymous

Beginning Students at UMASS

Hi, I'm an Assistant Professor at UMASS Boston. I came across your site and found it really helpful for beginning students who are trying to understand our field. I'll be talking about your website/content in class and directing them to you your site! Thanks!

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Wow! Thanks for sharing! Hope to hear back from you and the students in the future! I would welcome their questions.

Sincerely,
Corinne


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Anonymous

Does family therapy take long?

Does a family therapy approach require a high degree of investment in time and money?

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

A family therapy approach does not require a higher degree of investment in time or money than any other therapeutic approach. However, a good thing to do is to ask your therapist about his/her costs per session, average number of sessions, familiarity with your problem. You can do this during the first phone call and it may even be wise to contact several different therapists to get an idea of what is available in your community.

Sincerely,
Corinne


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Willing Facilitator

Individual to family therapy

I am a pastor, working with mainly Korean Americans. I have been working with single mom and daughter (19yrs) for 3 months now and we feel like a family session is necessary now. It has been individual sessions as of yet. I sense the two in one room with me facilitating has potential for growth/healing, as well as volatility. Are there any general guidelines that you can provide? Thank you.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Hi Willing Facilitator!

I apologize for the delay in my response. Not only have I recently graduated, but my computer crashed and I lost all material that hadn't yet been backed up. Your response was one that I lost. In the meantime, I'm thinking that your sessions have moved forward and I am really interested in hearing about any family session(s).

Some general thoughts: I would consider the goals for bringing the mother and daughter together. Is everyone on the same page? What are the mom's goals, the daughter's goals, and your goals?

Have you discussed your role in maintaining confidentiality from individual sessions with each woman? There may be information shared in these sessions that is not appropriate to share within the family session. What is, and what is not, off-limits? You will want to be aware of becoming triangulated into the relationship.

Clients tend to mirror behaviors that work for them in other settings. Therefore, how the pair interact during the session is likely to be an indication of how they interact at home. Conflict in session can be positive as you have an opportunity to observe the pattern of relating between the two. Often what we say we do and how we act are two different things! Perhaps the challenges bringing them into therapy can not change, but the way of talking about them can.

Going slowly is the best way to ensure that both mom and daughter will continue to feel protected and safe within the family sessions.

Finally, you mention that you are a pastor. How does religion and/or spirituality influence the sessions? There are thoughts about pain, spirituality and growth. Learning to manage painful events within important relationships often leads to personal emotional growth. Turmoil can be reframed in numerous ways to provide meaning.

I do hope this contributes material for your sessions. I would love to continue the conversation with you.

Best,
Corinne


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Anonymous

Doing a research proposal is complicated!

I'm doing a Research Proposal for class. I am looking for case studies on 14/16 year old males with Conduct Disorders. How can I locate? Also, do you have any suggestions on how to get a teenager and/or their family to participate in my research? You are the experts. Hopefully, you can give some direction. Thank you.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Your research proposal sounds interesting, and they tend to be a lot of work! I have always used Proquest, for example, to locate material. I will assume because you are a student you have access to online library services at your school. Journals are available in full-text for free through multiple sites. You just put in your search criteria and let it do the work for you. Contact your librarian to assist you with this…it will make the process quicker.

Once you gain approval from your program to move forward with your proposal, you must have consent and assent forms for each teenager and/or family to sign.

You are going to invite teenagers and their parents to join the study. This is a very important part of conducting ethical research. Consent forms are for adult participants, and assent forms are used for teenagers and children. These tend to be extensive and protect the clients rights, such as confidentiality, instances you would break confidentiality, explanation of how their answers will be used, if you are intending to video or audio tape…all of these things must be clearly outlined, especially for assent forms. You must rely that you are going to protect the clients rights throughout the entire study.

These forms must be written in a language that is clear and relevant for the population, as well as age appropriate. Because this is a time-consuming undertaking, I would start consulting with your supervisor. Most research graduate programs will require you to submit this information to an IRB, or Internal Review Board. This Board will review your material. This tends to take several weeks because they only meet once a month, though it might be different at your school.

There are additional requirements that must be attended to, and the best plan is to discuss your intentions with your supervisor/professor, etc. They should really provide you with accurate guidelines.

This should get you started. Good luck…I'm sure you will be learning a lot!

Corinne


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Trin

Dealing with his ex-wife

My husbands ex-wife manipulates his children against him and I. I am constantly made out to be this bad person and his children are allowed to stay away from us because of me. I am a "mean" person because I make them do chores and expect them to pick up after themselves.

The mother feeds in their mind that I do not have the right to tell them to clean up and agrees with them when they say I am mean. She acts as their "savior" and creates problems bigger than what they should be. She texts me telling me what I should do and not do and how I need handle certain situations. SHe trys to control me and the things I own and how I live in my own house.

I am so tired of being made out to be the bad guy because of her own downfalls as a mother. I love my husband very much but after 10 years, I am feeling very discouraged.

How do I handle her and the children when they flat out lie about how I treat them?

Please help.

Brain image like a light bulb.

Corinne

Hi Trin,

I hear that this is a common situation that can arise in divorced and remarried families with children. The situation you describe would most definitely invite feelings of frustration and discouragement, especially since you have been coping with this for 10 years.

Of course there have been a series of events leading up to this point and a history that you have all been creating together. Some mom’s can be very loyal to their children and their ideas about how best to raise them. Sometimes the idea of another woman having an influence of their children will trigger a sense of vulnerability, leading to an urge to try to hold on and control the situation as much as possible. Whenever there is such anger between people there tends to also be some fear and sadness underneath.

That being said, where is your husband in all of this? He is the person you mention the least in your email.

What does your partnership look like? Most importantly, are you a team or is the emotion of the situation coming between you? Do you spend most of your energy dealing with his ex-wife or focusing on building a strong relationship together? What has been his reaction to his ex-wife and their relationship? How would you describe his relationship with his children?

There are many possible reasons for the lack of boundaries between you and his ex-wife. I would be interested to know if you and your husband talked about what your role would be with his children after you were married. Is he also a disciplinarian or do you take on that job? Do you each agree on common rules for your home? Sometimes step-parents choose to take on the role of being a friend to the children, leaving the discipline up to the parents, but this is also dependent on the age of the children. There are many possibilities for your relationship with his kids. Think about the fun you could be having!

As an experiment, if you were to take a step back from managing the situation for a period of time, what do you think would happen? I would guess that your husband and his ex-wife would finally have to communicate and sort out their own parenting issues without putting you in the middle.

Thanks for writing. I’m positive your question will help other step-mom’s out there who are in a similar situation.

Corinne


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