The decision to see a therapist can be a difficult one, especially when your goal is to seek therapy with your partner or loved ones. There has long been a stigma attached to mental health care. In fact, the words "you need therapy" are almost always used as an insult. But the fact is that it takes an incredibly strong person to ask for help. You shouldn't allow outdated stereotypes to keep you from seeking mental health care, especially if you have begun to notice signs your family would benefit from therapy.
In an interview with Romper, child and family therapist Meghan Dahlin says there are many reasons why therapy may be beneficial to your family, but the main indication is how impaired your family is in day to day functioning. Similarly, psychologist Dr. Elyssa H. Barbash tells Romper that family therapy can help the individual family members, and the family unit as a whole, to resolve difficulties, improve communication, find common ground, gain knowledge, and increase support for one another. It can also lead to overall better mental health for all participants, along with decreasing stress, and increasing closeness.
Here are some signs that your own family may benefit from therapy.
1. Your Family Is Enmeshed
Family therapist Valerie Siegman tells Romper that one of the main signs your family could benefit from therapy is enmeshment. What does that mean? Counselor Chris Lewis of the Maria Droste Counseling Center in Colorado wrote on the website that in enmeshed families, children may be raised to conform to their parents’ expectations of who they are, what they believe, and how they think and feel, and they often don't go through the individuation necessary to becoming truly independent. Both family therapy and individual therapy can help families work through issues stemming from enmeshment.
2. You've Experienced A Trauma
A family that has experienced a trauma including, but not limited to, a death in the family, a life-changing injury, substance abuse, relocation, divorce, or other traumatic event should consider therapy. Dahlin suggests that family members who have experienced trauma may benefit from individual therapy as well as family therapy in order to cope and work through what happened.
3. There's An Unclear Hierarchy Between Parents & Children
Siegman explains that there should be a clear hierarchy between parents and children. When the boundaries are blurred, leaving others other ask, "Who is in charge here?" it could mean that it is time to consider family therapy. This is especially true when parents have a hard time having final say. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics parents are expected to be the leaders or executives of the family and children are expected to follow the leadership of their parents. As children get older, they will ask for, and should be allowed more autonomy, and their opinions should be considered. Parents, however, are the final authorities.
4. There Are Intergenerational Coalitions
You may not have heard the term, but you have probably seen or experienced intergenerational coalition. This is when a child and the "favored" parent ally against the other parent. It can also mean that a parent relies on the child, rather than their spouse or other adult friend, for emotional support. Siegman warns that this kind of coalition can leave other family members feeling unaccepted or left out. The concept is also known as triangulation, according to counselor Sharon Selby. She explained on her website that this is because the bond of two people is strengthened by pushing one person out.
Families who are dealing with intergenerational coalition/triangulation can benefit from therapy. Barbash suggests that therapy can help to create a sense of unity and closeness among the whole family.
4. You Have A Disengaged Family Member
Barbash recommends therapy as a means of support for a disengaged family member. This is when you have a family member who is emotionally detached, and may not participate in family events such dinners or going to family functions. Disengaged family members may be preoccupied with their own lives but as it relates to the family, they are emotionally distant.
5. You Have Communication Issues
All of the experts we spoke to agreed that the most common sign a family can benefit from therapy is problems with communication. According to Good Therapy, there are many reasons families can experience communication issues, such as:
- Childhood stress
- Physical and mental health issues
- Misinterpretation of another person's statements or motivation
- Failure to understand another person’s point of view
- Cultural barriers
- Linguistic differences
- Inaccurate assumptions and stereotypes
- Secrecy and deception
- Inflammatory remarks or behaviors
- Poor listening skills
Family and individual therapy can help break through some of the communication barriers causing a disconnect in your relationships.