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What Is Family Counseling?

It’s often the behavior of a single family member that brings a group into family counseling, but it is usually the case that many problems with the dynamics become unearthed in the process of dealing with the problems of the "identified patient." In fact, it is frequently the case that the identified patient is the healthiest member of the family unit, and it is that very fact that causes him or her to stand out, leading the rest of the family to seek help for that individual.

Family counseling is a type of counseling that involves the entire family, rather than an individual or a couple. It is usually the nuclear family, with a husband, a wife, and any children, rather than an extended family, but many different models can be seen in such counseling. The goal in family counseling is usually to help family members communicate better and teach them how to better resolve conflicts that arise within the family unit.

Who Can Benefit?

Nearly every family has some sort of dysfunction, and therefore nearly every family can benefit from family counseling. Even if there really is only one member who has a serious pathology, all members can benefit from counseling to learn how to best support this individual. However it is much more common that most or all family members have some issues they need to work out or faulty coping mechanisms they need to correct, and only discover these things because of the desire to treat a single member. Non-traditional families, such as single parent families, families with adopted or foster children, blended families or families involving same sex couples, can all benefit from family counseling.

How Does Family Counseling Work?

The family counselor pays careful attention to how the members interact. This means observing as much of the content of the interactions as the styles of interaction and conflict resolution. Family counselors are also careful to observe which members interact with which others. In some cases, a single individual is the focus of all the conflict. In others, one or two family members may stay away from the fray while others engage in conflict resolution.

Once the family counselor has observed all of this, he or she will usually want to explore how each family member feels about their interactions, but also about the interactions that they observed and were not a direct part of. Once this phase is complete, the counselor will help each family member learn effective communication and conflict resolution skills. Along with this goes the understanding of how each member has learned to react the way they do, and how they can help themselves and their fellow family members break out of negative cycles that lead to more conflict.

Many families are surprised by how much they are helped by family counseling, and can go on to be more supportive of one another and happier together after the counseling experience.