Relationships between two people are complex enough; add in relationships between a group of several people and wow! If you were to draw a picture, it would look like a giant web. Family therapy takes all the pieces of the web and works with them in parts and as a whole to make it run more smoothly. You will soon notice how family therapy includes pieces of parent coaching as well as couples counseling.
Here is a story for you about one way family therapy can go. Keep in mind that every family is different; they are as unique as a fingerprint.
The Story of the Coffmans
Frederick and Laura have been married about 25 years. Laura has moved out of the house with their three children, Nick-19, Micah-18 and Madison-15. Frederick is very rough around the edges, but it was his idea to go to marriage counseling because his family is so important to him. Laura agreed to go. Just the fact that her husband is showing interest in making an effort is enough to entice her.
The First Session for the Coffmans
The couple show up at their first appointment. Frederick works long, hard hours at the office and comes home exhausted. They sit at opposite ends of the couch, avoiding contact with the other. Laura has had some employment difficulty as well, so money is tight. They believe in the investment they have to put into counseling because it would cost exponentially more to get a divorce and try to run two households instead of one. They do love each other, too; it’s just been hard.
In their first session, they decide to move back under the same roof. In their case, physical distance would create even more emotional distance; of upmost importance is learning how to talk to one another. They can practice better in the same house. Frederick usually explodes, getting controlling and angry. Laura is a functioning alcoholic who uses drinking to escape. They know that this pattern isn’t working for them. Slowly they learn new ways of relating.
“Should the kids come in as well?” Laura asks.
Madison, who is 15, has been struggling in school. She is overwhelmed, and the situation with her parents adds more stress. Her sister, Micah, who is 18, stays in her room, hardly speaking to anyone unless she is yelling or demanding something. Micah hasn’t been going to school and may have to repeat the year over again. Nick pretty much does his own thing. He will be off to college soon, but he is well aware of the condition of the family and is excited about participating in therapy for the good of his loved ones.
Learning the Individuals that Make Up the Coffmans?
Over the next two months, coming in one to two times a week, with a mix of individual and joint sessions various things are discovered.
First, the situation has morphed into family therapy. Although the couple, as the cornerstone of the family, needs help, this is a family affair. The whole system is maladaptive (doing things that don’t work) and is spiraling.
We all soon realize, with confirmation of a psychiatrist, that the youngest daughter is ADD. She overloads herself with work, and then she can’t keep up because she has trouble with self-esteem and motivation. She also struggles with something that goes along with ADD, depression. Her family system isn’t helping much either. No one knows how to relate, and she is easy to let slip to the side due to her quiet, sweet nature. Girls in her situation often are overlooked.
The eldest daughter, Micah, is suffering from severe depression. She will later go on to be diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Currently, she runs the household with her mood swings, outbursts and demands. One of her parents’ main struggles is how they interact with Micah. Mom wants to love her baby and doesn’t want Micah to feel alone. Dad feels like she needs strict discipline. Laura and Frederick are not working as a team to parent. Their kids are pretty much left to their own devices, as their parents basically yell and drink to cope.
Patterns in the Coffman Family
Patterns in counseling come out slowly. Two months ago if you asked Laura if drinking was a problem, she would have said no. Now, she agrees that it is and that she has never learned how to deal with negative emotions. Frederick doesn’t either.
Passing down ways of dealing with life for better or worse is what raising a family is about. Some things work; however, when a family finds themselves in a situation like the Coffmans, they are most certainly going to need help. It is impossible to tease these issues out when you are inside the system. Put this screen up to your face, try to read it. You can’t. The same goes for anything else in life.
Like the Coffman family, you may have no idea what you need; individual, couples or family counseling. Most people don’t, because it is hard to see your own patterns. With help, over a short amount of time in comparison to how long it took you to get to this point, the patterns will reveal themselves. We will then know what direction is best for you.
Pick up the phone and give me a call. We can start as an individual or wherever you feel is appropriate for your situation and build on that as needed. The growth path on which you are about to embark is work, but it is so much fun to look back as you grow. You will be so proud of yourself and your family.
If you decide to call, we will spend about 15-20 minutes on the phone to see if we would be a good fit. After that, we can set up our first appointment one or two weeks out, depending on our joint availability.
I look forward to meeting you!