Family influence our lives; shape who we are, how we think about ourselves, and what we do. Because of this, the family is a robust system that can get stuck in roles and patterns that are difficult to break. Imagine driving in a large circle on semi-soft dirt over and over, multiple times. And each time you traverse the loop the grooves and the path get a little deeper. Family patterns develop similarly. Each participant responds and reacts to the other in a patterned way – a design that is not always useful but everyone in the family becomes accustomed and settles in even though that pattern is hurt-filled to one or more of its members. Family Therapy is a process by which we aim to get that truck off of the circular track and invite new ways of being and responding to the system.
For families with small children, traditional talk therapy transcends the child’s developmental capacity to sit and talk about what is going on. In Family Play Therapy, through directed exercises, the parents enter the child’s world through play and experiential activities that provide the opportunity to try something different and send that truck off its track. When families can see others in a different light, newer, healthier roles and patterns are free to emerge.
Multi-Family Therapy Groups
Multiple Family Group Therapy (MFGT) involves working with a collection of families, including the families identified patient, in a group setting. It combines the power of group process with the systems focus of family therapy. MFGT is ideally suited to working with families facing similar problems i.e. schizophrenia, chemical dependence, domestic violence, sexual abuse, having a child in out-of-home placement, etc.
Why Do It?
I – MFGT has more curative power and is more supportive and empowering than single family therapy
A multi-family group offers the following therapeutic factors usually not present, or not present as actively in single family therapy:
- Universality – in a group the family learns that they are not alone, other families have similar problems and concerns;
- Hope – the group can give families hope as they see other families learn, change and grow and as they receive support and encouragement from other families;
- Empowerment – as families find themselves able to care for and help other families, they increase their sense of competence and power;
- Support/acceptance – the group becomes a support network where families can feel accepted just as they are – flawed just like all families – and friendships develop between families that continue outside of and beyond the group;
- Imitation learning – families learn through identification with other families and through modeling behaviors observed in other families (more on this later);
- Experimentation – the group becomes a safe place to experiment with, practice and get feedback on new skills and ways of relating before using them in real life; and
- Increased commitment to change – by attending and involving themselves in group families are publicly committing themselves to change and exposing themselves to subtle social pressures and personal dissonance pressures that encourage change.
II – More Avenues for Learning With Less Resistance
Additionally, MFGT offers a family more avenues for learning and growth, with less resistance, than they would get in therapy by themselves. Families come into family therapy with their opposition to each other well established, and the resistance inherent in the therapist-client relationship. In MFGT family members can “see” themselves in other families and learn vicariously through observation and modeling without the resistance a direct approach often entails. Identification with members of other families who share the same family role or issues also takes place overtly through direct sharing and support. This arena allows for learning among peers as opposed to from the therapist which again involves less resistance and tends to be reciprocal and empowering to both. Also, family members often “hear” from someone else – usually a person sharing the same or opposite role in another family – something they can’t seem to hear from a person in their own family. And, again, this takes place on a peer to peer level with the benefits already noted. Finally, MFGT involves merely more people than single family therapy which translates into more points of view, more observations, more experiences, more opportunities for relationships and more opportunity for connecting with someone from whom you can learn or something you’re ready to learn.
III – Therapist Ease and Economy
MFGT, because of the shared experiences and boosted learning mentioned above, is also in many ways more accessible for the therapist than working with a single family. The group members do much of the therapeutic work. It is also more economical for the family and allows the therapist to see more families in less time.
IV – Smoother Transition to Self-Help and Other Support Groups
Finally, participation in MFGT is excellent preparation for and helps families or family members transition into involvement in ongoing self-help support groups such as Parents Without Partners, Tough Love, CHADD, Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Al-Ateen, Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, etc.
Parents are the ones that hold it all together. “Be strong for your kids.” Have you ever heard that one? As a parent, it can be difficult to know how to respond to behaviors or how to handle tough parenting situations. It can be helpful to have a place where parents can go to process struggles, learn parenting tools, and come up with a plan for how to respond to their children. The entire family benefits when parents feel supported, the whole family benefits.
Parenting support is offered via Multifamily Therapy or in educational seminars. In parent support sessions, I provide perspective, tools, support, and feedback. These courses can positively change the structure and dynamic of the family, which leads to healthy, responsible, emotionally intelligent children and peaceful households.