Approaches to Family Therapy

To heal a family is to heal individuals and generations to come. Below are my approaches to family therapy and a glimpse of what you can expect in our work together. 

Attachment theory

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Our relationships throughout life are informed by the physical and emotional attachment between us and our caregivers when we were very young. This crucial physical and emotional attachment is the blueprint for our emotional safety and security throughout our lives. Thus, we will explore your families of origin and significant events in the lives of the family members or in the generations previous.

I believe that one of the main tasks of the therapist is to facilitate healing childhood attachment wounds from the ancient past and in the present moment.

Systems thinking

One way to imagine systems thinking for families is the analogy of a billiards table. The cue ball represents a trigger, stressor, transition or shift, trauma, or crisis in the life of the family. Once the cue ball is set in motion, the rest of the billiards will react accordingly.

In family systems, each person is reactive or responsive to the others in the system. Once an individual reacts or responds, then the rest of the family members will react accordingly. Thus, when families experience problems, we will take the view that this is a systemic issue and not just one individual's pathology.

The family therapist has a bird’s eye view of the table and can help the family gain insight into their unique system. From this place of greater awareness, the family can determine, with the help of the therapist, what they want to change and what they would like to retain.

Parts and Self-Energy

Just as there are individual members in one family, so there are individual parts in one person. For example, someone may have a father part, a supervisor part, a son part, a romantic part, a tough guy part, etc. Often parts show up when we are young and overwhelmed. These parts work to protect other parts from overwhelming our psychic system. In this example, the person may also have a part that works to numb any uncomfortable emotions by sitting in front of the television set every night. Or there may be a part that manages the daily schedule with rigidity and cannot tolerate the unexpected.

In family therapy, the work is to help individuals become aware of what parts are getting triggered, what those parts are protecting, and how to help the individual access self-energy. Self-energy is that place within each of us that is calm, clear, compassionate, curious, courageous, connected, confident, and creative. It is from the place of self-energy that individuals and families can work together to resolve difficult, long-standing issues.

As the family’s therapist, I am a “parts detector” and “hope merchant,” helping individuals identify what parts are showing up and how to work with those parts so they can be led by self-energy rather than by fear, anxiety, and overwhelm. This then allows the individuals to relate to one another from a place of compassion and curiosity. It is extraordinarily effective when we can get there.

Procedures and Interventions

So what will family therapy look like?

Inititally, I may meet with individuals first before meeting with the family as a whole. Individual sessions or sessions with some configuration of the family members may also be necessary as the therapy progresses.

We will define goals for the therapy as quickly as possible and then continue to fine tune them if need be.

Setting boundaries and group norms in the initial sessions are crucial in creating the strong therapeutic container needed to do the good work of family therapy.

I like to suggest videos, articles, and books.  I also like to suggest homework, such as journaling exercises, questions to reflect on, new communication techniques to try out, etc. In our sessions we will talk and listen a lot, practice new skills, review the time between sessions, assess progress, and work steadily to repair and strengthen relationships.

As evident from the name of this website The Shiftless Wanderer one of my core values is to move with intention and to create the space needed to address conflicts, crises, and long-standing patterns with depth, consideration, and mindfulness. The more chaotic and urgent the situation seems, the greater the necessity (most of the time) to slow down and make room to address it effectively.