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Author: Shelby Robbins
Date: June 30, 2022

6 ways to improve your family therapy sessions

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When a teen is struggling, family resilience becomes even more essential. When differences and conflicts arise, families need to come together, work as a team, and overcome their challenges. However, too often, family relationships instead become strained beyond the members' capacity to respond. When this happens, family therapy can help to bridge the communication gaps and bring the broken family system back into harmony.

Family therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps families strengthen their relationships, develop healthier communication skills, and resolve conflicts. Above all, this modality emphasizes and strengthens the love and bond between family members for the purpose of healthier relationships. The goal is a more functional home life. It can be used as a standalone treatment or, we use it as an integral part of our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP).

Whether you are receiving family therapy from Antelope Recovery, are worried about trying it, or curious to learn more... here's how to turn your family therapy into a success.

1. Approach family therapy with an open mind

The often painful process of sifting through family relationships can feel daunting, however, we believe that by confronting our pain honestly and directly, we open doors to improving the future. To reap the full benefits of family therapy, you'll need to start each family therapy session with an open mind and a willingness to change. If you're not open to the ideas and perspectives of other members of the family, it can be difficult to see all the factors that contribute to conflicts or to come up with effective solutions.

Family involvement is a critical component of the healing process, especially for families struggling to interact with a member who has behavioral problems or mental health challenges. Family therapists have years of experience navigating family conflicts, from teen depression to grief and financial problems. As experienced mental health experts, they have the expertise needed to help family members discuss specific issues such as divorce or separation, resolve conflicts between parents and children, or navigate the impact of mental health conditions on the entire family.

A family therapist will not always agree with the parents and is not there to pick sides. At every point in family therapy, a family member may be called to listen to challenging feedback or hear the ways they have impacted others in the family.

Even though it can bring up difficult emotions, there's nothing to fear about family therapy. It's a supportive space designed to help you move forward together.

2. Take time to find the right family therapist.

Finding the right family therapist can make all the difference in the therapeutic process. Research shows that the relationship between you and your therapist can have long-lasting impacts on your growth, even after therapy ends. Before committing to a family therapist, it's important to do your research, ask the right questions, and pay attention to your comfort level.

If you're new to therapy, matching with a family therapist that feels like a good fit might be a time-consuming, overwhelming process, but it doesn't have to be. Once you've found a few potential matches from provider directories, or referrals, research their credentials, licensing, and experience.

While any type of mental health professional can seek specialized training in family therapy, not all providers have family systems therapy experience or training (which is a specialized and highly effective type of family therapy). It's also worth considering whether providers have experience with the specific challenges you're seeking help for. For example, if your son is struggling with his sexual orientation, make sure potential therapists have LGBTQIA+ experience.

After confirming that the therapist has experience with family therapy, it's time to schedule an initial consultation. If possible, try setting up a group call or meeting in person. The whole family should feel comfortable with the therapist, and nobody should feel like the therapist sides with a specific family member.

You might need to meet with multiple mental health professionals until you find the best fit for your family and that's completely normal. Know that you will find the right fit if you keep going!

3. Prepare for your therapy sessions in advance.

In general, most family sessions last an hour, and happen once a week. However, the frequency of your therapy sessions and the number of sessions you'll need will depend on your family's unique needs.

With that said, an hour is a short amount of time to work through issues among multiple family members, and you might feel a lot of pressure to get certain issues off your chest in the given time. To make the most of your therapy sessions, take the time to prepare beforehand by making a list of issues, writing down questions you have, or any behavior patterns you have noticed, and encourage your family members to do the same.

4. Set clear goals for family therapy.

Family problems can feel daunting, however this can be helped by setting clear, tangible goals for family therapy. It's helpful to tell your therapist you would like a clear structure (especially if you're feeling overwhelmed) for each session and ask for ideas on how to track your progress. Each family member can have their own goals, however larger family goals should also be agreed upon.

5. Complement your sessions with individual therapy.

Even if you don't have a diagnosable mental health condition, individual therapy can help you make the most of your family therapy sessions. Individual psychotherapy offers countless benefits, - it is a private outlet for self-expression free from fear of judgment from family members. Working through very charged emotions in individual therapy can help you come to family therapy ready to collaborate, express honestly and responsibly, and to come together.

6. Practice your new skills outside of therapy.

To reap the full benefits of family therapy, you'll need to commit to practicing your new skills from inside therapy sessions outside of therapy sessions as well. For example, if your teenager learns how to vocalize their feelings of hopelessness in a therapy session, family members should then try to create a plan for helping them vocalize these feelings at home.

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