Anorexia, drug addiction, school failure, psychological suffering, anxiety… A child’s suffering is sometimes symptomatic of dysfunctions in the family. Faced with certain difficulties, family therapy is a valuable aid in helping the young person and those around him. What to expect? When to consult? The point with our expert.
What is Family Therapy? And what is its purpose?
Family therapy is a kind of counseling which helps family members understand each other, resolve conflicts among them and modify their negative behaviors. Family therapy looks at the child or adolescent in his interactions with the different members of the family: father, mother, brother, sister, grandparents… She thus seeks to understand what his suffering may mean.
Indeed, in certain cases, the symptoms presented by a young patient can be considered as evocative of a dysfunction of the group in particular in the relations of parents/children, brothers/sisters. It can be paradoxical communications (which cancel or contradict each other), unspoken, false beliefs or mutual misunderstandings, resistance to change…
The objective of the therapy: to understand in which family context the symptom emerged and why it persists. “Take, for example, a child whose school results drop sharply. We realize that the parents argue frequently and get angry with the child for each bad grade instead of taking an interest in their own problem! And for good reason: the child’s symptom protects the family balance”, explains Eric Trapenniers, psychologist and family therapist, director of the Institutes of Family Studies in Toulouse and Lille.
Before undertaking family therapy, a first meeting with the therapist is necessary. It makes it possible to assess the situation and possibly motivate a family member who refuses to participate in the therapy. “The one who obstructs the work is often the one who has the most to lose!”, He notes.
Types of family therapy
There are different approaches in family therapy:
- Psychoanalysis (verbalization of affects…). “The psychoanalytical approach focuses on the meaning of the symptom”, explains Éric Trappeniers;
- Systemic: the work focuses more on the system of interactions between family members…;
- Behavioral: “the behavioral approach considers the symptom as such and proposes techniques to suppress the problematic behavior. Finally, the systemic approach, which I practice, is interested in the function of the symptom”.
What are the benefits of family therapy?
The therapy helps the families to find a certain relational flexibility , and new answers to the problems. She not only gives the children educational advice but brings out the solutions that all the members have found and approved together.
From the first session, it is very often the children who clearly point out, by their words or their behavior, what is wrong. It is a question of being attentive to the non-verbal, because many significant things pass through gestures, facial expressions (eyes raised to the sky) or bodily attitudes (agitation, nervousness).
Blockages are often due to very heavy emotional charges , sometimes transmitted over several generations. This is why grandparents are sometimes asked to participate.
The aim of the therapy is not only the unblocking of difficult situations, but also the development of a certain “knowing how to be together”.
When the Word Strengthens Family Ties?
Care must be taken not to leave everyone locked in their own world: work, school, TV, computer or walkman contribute to compartmentalizing family members. It does not settle hostile feelings but a little apathetic indifference to others. Really meeting and exchanging becomes a well thought-out organization, all the more difficult as it is not spontaneous.
And if yesterday restraint was in order, values have now been reversed, notably under the influence of theories linked to psychoanalysis. Talking therapy releases emotions, we tend to think that things left unsaid and secrets were harmful and that “telling everything” guaranteed good mental health and harmonious relationships.
Everyone is thus encouraged to express their moods, and those who are not inclined to outpourings are suspected of having relational difficulties or psychological blockages.
However, if silence is sometimes resentment, it is also modesty. Some families can feel in harmony without maintaining a constant dialogue . Michel, Lyne’s husband, admits that his upbringing does not bring him to great speeches, but he has understood that in his couple the lack of communication could be a source of misunderstandings.
So, talkative or silent families? What does it really matter? What counts is the true word or the silence full of understanding… at the right moment.
Indications: when to do family psychotherapy?
Family therapy is recommended when a child experiences a difficulty that has repercussions in the family. “The problems of the child then reveal a collective suffering”, underlines Eric Trappeniers. “Even if we initially consult for a child, family therapies allow each member of the family to question themselves”.
The main indications for family therapy are:
- Unexplained behavior in young children: risk-taking, sudden school failure…;
- Drug addiction, eating disorders, running away… can lead to questions about family ties, emotional intertwining, the said and the unsaid;
- Certain painful crises of adolescence which sometimes result in a break in all communication…;
- Depression and phobias are more a matter of personal therapy, but they are not without repercussions on relationships with family. Accompanying family therapy can also provide support.
Family therapy is also a good way to bring an adolescent in a situation of ill-being or withdrawal into himself who does not want to follow individual therapy.
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How to conduct family therapy? What is the process?
Sessions last an average of one hour. They bring together voluntary family members, once or twice a month, for an average of one year (or longer if the therapy is psychoanalytically inspired), around a therapist. The therapist will help highlight family patterns and issues while avoiding encouraging their reproduction. He then acts as a traffic policeman, freeing the communication circuits in the family.
The emphasis is on talking, but the work is also based on exercises and communication tools (role-playing, discussion around the genogram, etc.).
Divorced parents are obviously both concerned; the stepfather or the stepmother who lives with the child, half-brothers and sisters of a recomposed family can be invited… If the circumstances justify it, the grandparents can also be concerned… The sessions are very often filmed, with the agreement of the family, which allows the therapist to re-examine the session, to suggest lines of thought.
A few sessions are sometimes enough to solve a problem. In families with serious pathologies, co- therapy (with the intervention of two therapists) is often proposed.
How much does family therapy cost?
The price of a family therapy consultation varies depending on the therapist, but it is between 40 and 130 euros. Some therapies can be partially reimbursed by Social Security, especially if you consult a psychiatrist.
Family therapy near me: Therapist, psychotherapist, psychologist: who to contact?
Ask the psychiatrist or psychotherapist following the child if he finds this approach appropriate and if he can recommend a therapist specializing in family therapy near you.
French family therapy associations, centers and societies Otherwise, information can be obtained from:
- French Society for Family Therapy (SFTF);
- Family Study Center (CEFA);
- France Psychoanalytic Family Therapy Society;
- Toulouse Institute for Family Studies and Lille Institute for Family Studies;
- Center for Clinical Studies of Family Communications (CECCOF);
- Center for Studies and Research on the Systemic Approach (CERAS);
- Monceau Family Therapy Center;
- Center for Family Association Studies (CEFA);
- France Psychoanalytic Family Therapy Society.