Overview of family therapy
Family therapy can be a very effective solution for improving communication and resolving conflicts between family members. Although the general foundations of family therapy are similar to those of one-on-one therapy, there are a few key differences that are good to be aware of. Firstly, family therapy is typically designed to be short-term. Clients may begin therapeutic treatment with a specific goal in mind, or an issue that they would like to resolve. It is, therefore, the goal of therapy sessions to guide clients toward achieving their objectives in a timely and effective manner. Family therapy may or may not include all members of a family unit and it’s important to keep in mind that some individuals won’t feel comfortable attending therapy with their families. The rules for family therapy will naturally differ depending on the nature of treatment and the issue that is being treated, but some important aspects include staying impartial, fostering a safe environment, and ensuring every attending individual feels comfortable speaking.
Benefits of family therapy
You may be wondering why individuals choose to receive family therapy over other options, including one-on-one therapy, and there are many reasons why this is often the solution people decide. Family therapy is exceptionally effective at providing solutions for issues that are impacting more than just one person. In a family dynamic, this could refer to a problem with a child, or an issue between the relationship of the parents. Therapy provides a regulated and safe environment where these issues can be discussed, and the therapist is also professionally equipped with resources and tools to assist with these problems. Families that are experiencing grief, loss, financial difficulties, or other general conflicts will also greatly benefit from this type of group therapy.
In addition to these more communal issues, families that are being impacted by one individual’s mental health disorder or substance addiction may also choose to undergo family therapy. For example, if a family member has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, their family can use therapy in order to improve their own understanding and empathy, as well as enable them to develop effective coping skills. If this is the case, the individual with the mental illness disorder will likely be receiving other forms of treatment as well.
Ideas to run an effective family therapy session
The types of interventions and activities that are used in family therapy sessions will differ depending on what the main goal of treatment is, and whether the sessions are completed in person or using telehealth. Keeping this in mind, here are four popular family therapy ideas that can help to establish a safe environment and encourage clients to open up to each other.
The miracle question
The miracle question is a task used in many types of therapy, and its main aim is to encourage clients to visualize the future that they are working toward. There are variations of the miracle question, but it is often asked as follows:
“Imagine you go to sleep tonight, and while you are sleeping, a miracle occurs. When you awake in the morning, what are some of the things you immediately notice that indicate life has improved?”
The answers that your clients give to this will give you insight into what their goals and ideal outcomes are. It is also useful for showing family members what each of their visions of an improved life looks like.
The colored candy game
The colored candy game involves using colorful candy (like M&M’s) and distributing 7 to each family member. You assign a topic to each color, for example:
- Green: Words to describe your family
- Red: Favorite memories with your family
- Yellow: Things you worry about
The clients should separate their 7 candies into color categories. Each family member should respond to the prompts with the same number of answers as they have candies of that particular color. For example, if a client has 3 red candies, they should say 3 of their favorite memories.
This exercise is useful for beginning meaningful discussions, as well as providing each family member with the opportunity to share.
The emotions ball requires a reasonably large-sized ball and a marker. On the ball, write down a range of different emotions, for example, ‘happy’, ‘sad’, ‘lonely’, ‘confused’, and ‘excited’. The family members should stand in a circle and throw the ball to each other. When they catch it, they should describe a moment when they felt the emotion that they are looking at. This activity teaches people how to talk about their emotions, and encourages good listening skills.
The mirroring activity requires two clients to stand facing each other (around two feet apart). One of the clients should move their body in a certain way and instruct the other client to mirror them. The aim of the task is to have both clients directly mirror each other, so the movement should be slow enough that the other individual can predict what they are doing. This task encourages clients to be fully focused on each other, reading their body language and being attentive.
Family therapy worksheet examples
In addition to activities and tasks, using worksheets can be an extremely effective tool during family therapy. Worksheets allow clients to spend their own time responding to certain prompts, and reflecting on their goals and desired outcomes. Using completed worksheets in sessions can be a fantastic way to explore meaningful discussion topics, allowing clients to become more engaged in family therapy. Although family therapy worksheets can differ largely depending on the specific issue that is being treated and the nature of the treatment, they are usually designed to be completed by each individual client. This way, every family member has the opportunity to reflect on their own experiences, and the therapist can ensure they remain unbiased. To help therapists incorporate these useful tools into their family therapy, Carepatron has designed some intuitive PDF worksheets. These resources can be accessed from the link below, and the template can consequently be printed out or stored online for future use.
Take home message
Family therapy is an effective form of treatment that can help individuals strengthen their emotional connection with each other and overcome certain conflicts. While there is no one right way of managing family therapy, it can be particularly useful to include activities, tasks, and worksheets, which we have identified above. If you are interested in learning more about the logistics of family therapy, we have other useful resources (including more printable family therapy worksheets!) and an overview of whether insurance covers family therapy. Hopefully, however, this guide has pointed you in the direction of some helpful tools that you can implement into your family therapy sessions, helping to guide clients toward their desired clinical outcomes.