How do I know if my family needs family counselling?
This is a good question. You may be wondering, ‘but don’t all families have strife and problems?’
That can be the case, but it doesn’t need to be. Still, some cases can warrant more attention than others. Take special note when you find that your child ‘acts out’ more with you, while behaving regularly in school and other settings. This may be a sign that your relationship needs some extra support to work through.
I am providing some examples of circumstances below that you may want to pay attention to. Many of them indicate attachment disruptions or difficulties, relationship wounds, traumas, transitioning difficulties, and grief of losses.
If any of these examples below sound familiar to your family situation, it may be worth having a call with me, at least. We can spend a short 20 minutes discussing whether family therapy or Filial Play Therapy is right for you.
Is your family divorced?
With parenting agreements? Do your children find it hard to tolerate transitions between their time with each parent? Do your children express resentment towards a particular parent? What about jealousy among siblings? Or, have your children ever blamed themselves for your divorce?
Does your family live in separate homes most of the year?
Have your children been isolated for periods of time without the care of their parents or loved ones to fill that role for them? For example, at boarding school, or at a relative’s house? Or with foster parents? Or is the family living apart for practical reasons, such as job opportunities in another city requiring one parent to be away most of the time? In these cases, watch for symptoms of abandonment and isolation, such as avoiding closeness with you, picking fights, being defiant, or feeling withdrawn or anxious.
Is your family a ‘blended’ family?
Meaning, a combined family with children from prior relationships, and possibly mixed with children from your current partnership? Have you witnessed self-isolation, constant sibling rivalry, jealousy among peers, or feelings of not being important to one parent or another? Is there animosity towards the stepparent of a child? Or an assertion that they have the right to ignore, or rebel against that stepparent?
Does your family have a child or parent with a medical condition or disability?
Sometimes, the needs of a particular child or family member are so intensive, they can use up all your resources as a parent. This can cause children to feel neglected, among other things. In situations like this, have you noticed feelings of not being as important as another sibling? What about feelings of guilt, or needing to take on a role or responsibility a child usually shouldn’t take on? Do you sense a resentment towards the sibling with the medical condition or disability?
A note about newborns and older siblings:
As a side note, sometimes when a newborn comes into a family, an older sibling may begin acting outlandishly (i.e. hitting a younger sibling, taking away toys, throwing tantrums easily, etc.). This problem behaviour could last a couple years. It could be a sign that family therapy and play therapy would be helpful. The introduction of a new family member taking away all of mom and dad’s attention can be impactful to a young child in the same way as their sibling needing medical attention.
Has your family experienced the recent death of someone close?
It could be a mother, father or sibling, or even a relative or close family friend. Have you noticed signs of depression and anxiety setting in? Have your children or family members lost their joy for activities they used to love? Does anyone in the household spend more time in bed than usual, or experience nightmares or sleepless nights? Has anyone blamed the death on any person(s) in the home?
Has your family witnessed abuse?
This can be either physical, sexual or emotional abuse, and directed at either adults or children. In any such scenario, the emotional stability of all family members can be affected – even those who did not experience the abuse themselves. It is not easy to have been hurt by someone you trust, or to witness a loved one going through such pain. This can cause relationship breakdowns and certainly long-term trust issues as your children develop into adults. Collective healing is an important part of the recovery process of abuse, whether or not you may realize it at the moment. I encourage you to get in touch if this is your family’s situation, or has been in the past.
A note about substance abuse:
Substance abuse can also fall under this category, and is certainly something that could be helped with therapy. If you or a family member have been a user for some time, but have already recovered, you may be ready to take your entire family through family therapy. During recovery, however, it may be best to ensure that there is full focus on healing, and dealing with the substance abuse issue itself.
Symptoms of children and families being impacted by substance abuse are real. Do you sense that your children feel ‘rejected’ by a parent? This can happen when a parent has been disconnected from reality for so long, that they are no longer emotionally available for their children. Also, do you feel your children have had an inconsistent experience with parental love or anger? Where sometimes there is violence and lashing out, and at other times, for inexplicable reasons to them, unexpected love and caring? These behaviours can create traumas, feelings of helplessness, instability and other factors that would affect a child’s ability to function socially and at school. Signs of these symptoms should be addressed as early as possible by a caregiver who is able to take action towards getting help for the child. Even if family therapy is not the answer at this point, there may be other avenues of treatment for the benefit of those affected by substance abuse.