Family life can be a source of comfort, love and security. Being part of a stable and happy family can foster a fulfilling sense of belonging in adults, adolescents and children. The Australian Bureau of Statistic’s 2010 survey of overall life satisfaction showed that people who had regular contact with family members reported the greatest level of life satisfaction (78%) compared to those who had little to no recent contact (33%). Research shows that healthy family relationships can improve our general outlook on life, sense of wellbeing and physiological resilience.
Yet family life can also be challenging. A family is a group of individuals with different personalities, opinions and attitudes, and conflicts often arise. Family interactions can cause pain and misunderstanding if family members are struggling to communicate and support each other effectively. Families frequently find themselves in entrenched patterns of destructive behaviour or negative interaction, and may have difficulty identifying how to make changes – or even lose faith that the potential for positive change exists.
Families can change
Support when it feels like your family is falling apart under pressure. Family counselling is designed to help your family members build a sense of interpersonal trust, openness and mutual respect. Family counselling is a complex area of therapy, yet research evidence shows that family counselling, in all its variations, is one of the most effective forms of therapeutic intervention available today.
Traditionally, a family usually consisted of parents and children. These days, a family can take many forms, including:
- Blended family
- Extended family
- Families tied by blood, marriage and defacto relationships
- Foster and adoptive families
- Same-sex parented family
- Separated parent family
- Single parent family
- Step family
Common family issues
Families may be adversely affected by many different major life transitions and events. These are some of the most prevalent reasons our clients seek family counselling:
- Blended and step family issues
- Cultural differences
- Death of a family member
- Emotional and behavioural issues: children and adolescents
- Family member substance misuse
- Family disputes and conflict
- Family violence
- Financial stress
- Illness and disability within the family
- Parenting concerns
- Separation and divorce
- Trauma resolution
Bear in mind that these are simply some of the most common presentations for family counselling. If your family is struggling to cope with an issue not listed above, we can still help you. The reasons people attend family counselling are as varied as the types of families we support, and every Family counsellor has training that enables them to address a multitude of family-related concerns. No matter the issue affecting your family, we can help you to work through it and move forward.
Family counselling goals
The family counselling process usually involves two or more family members working with a specialist to better understand each other’s viewpoint and concerns. Family counselling acknowledges that each person contributes to the family group from their own set of values and perspectives, using their unique personality and interactional style. As such, there are always multiple experiences of reality at play within the family system. The goal of family counselling is to reconcile all those versions of events and relationships in a way that creates trustful co-operation, whilst minimising conflict.
Counsellors and psychologists can help family members to:
- Genuinely hear each other
- Gain meaningful insight into each other’s perspectives
- Effectively and respectfully negotiate relationship needs
- Learn to take responsibility for their own actions and reactions within the family context
Identifying ways to communicate more effectively and deal with conflict proactively are at the core of family counselling. These interpersonal tools are essential to creating and maintaining a healthy, harmonious family unit.
Types of family counselling
Family counselling is a multi-component service, that often utilises a combination of evidence-based techniques. Family counselling enables family members to safely express themselves to each other, identify and explore issues, and agree upon achievable goals together. Below are three of the most effective techniques used in contemporary family counselling:
Cognitive Behavioural Family Therapy (CBFT) helps families to identify and examine beliefs, behaviours and interactions that are both positive and maladaptive. CBFT aims to reinforce desired family behaviours whilst reducing unhealthy patterns of behaviour and social exchange.
Experiential Family Therapy (ECT) examines the underlying discord in family conflict. By exploring each family member’s experience of themselves, other members, and the family as a unit, ECT can yield important insights about dysfunction within the family system. By communicating honestly and creating new interpersonal boundaries together, families can establish deeper levels of cooperation and intimacy.
Strategic Family Therapy (SFT) looks at healthy and harmful patterns of interaction between family members. The aim of SFT is to identify negative cycles of family conflict, and replace habitual ways of relating with new behavioural responses to family problems. By disrupting the loop of dysfunctional conflict, lasting positive change within the family dynamics can occur.
What happens in a family counselling session?
It is common for one or two family members to initiate the counselling process, with other family members joining in if and when they are ready. We also provide individual family counselling if you need a nonjudgmental, confidential space to explore and address your own family issues.
Family counselling is suitable for both small and larger family groups– there are no prerequisites that the entire family needs to be present. In fact, family counselling can be incredibly effective even if certain family members choose not to participate.
Your family counsellor or psychologist will collaborate with your family to build on relational strengths and encourage change and interpersonal growth opportunities.
Counselling helps families to:
- Clearly identify issues affecting each family member
- Foster inclusiveness and consideration of every family member’s needs
- Develop clear family goals (e.g. reducing the frequency of conflict)
- Practice safe, effective ways to address family challenges and grievances
- Cease engaging in blaming behaviour, by taking responsibility for the family’s welfare as a group
- Use effective, respectful communication when discussing distressing or challenging issues
- Break the cycle of family conflict by encouraging new ways of relating
- Recognise setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning
- Focus on and celebrate the family’s unique strengths
- Review progress and maintain improvements