Sometimes, couples and families encounter situations in which they need the guidance of a therapist. It might be a child whose behavior is destructive. It might be a couple who have lost the ability to communicate. Or perhaps a family is struggling to deal with a loss, like the death of a loved one.
No matter the circumstance, marriage and family therapists are trained to provide feedback, teach new skills, and help couples and families find positive ways to move forward. In many cases, visiting a marriage and family therapist can mean the difference between saving a marriage and keeping a family together or the whole thing falling apart.
Marriage and family therapists aren’t saviors, though. They rely on proven techniques to make your life better. Below is a list of some of the ways they can do just that.
One of the primary ways in which a marriage and family therapist can make your life better is by helping you improve your ability to communicate with your loved ones.
For example, simple misunderstandings might lead to major conflicts within the family. Those misunderstandings are often a result of poor communication between family members. So, by working on things like active listening and using I statements, a therapist can help reduce the likelihood that misunderstandings occur within the family.
What’s more, having better communication skills can improve other aspects of your life, such as your relationships with friends, members of your extended family, and colleagues at work.
Another common problem that causes dysfunction between family members is the lack of effective coping skills. A child, for example, that throws a temper tantrum when he doesn’t get his way can learn how to cope with his disappointment in a more productive way (e.g., using his words to communicate why he’s upset).
As another example, let’s say a husband gets angry when his wife takes too long to get ready in the morning. To help minimize his anger, he can engage in breathing exercises and meditation to center himself. He can also use the time to make a list of the things he most appreciates about his wife.
These are but two simple examples. There are many other strategies for coping with emotions and stress that one can learn in marriage and family therapy.
Over time, couples and families might sink into an ineffective dynamic. Communication might suffer. Family members might gang up on other family members. There might be negative feedback loops between members of the family as well.
A marriage and family therapist can help address this situation in a couple of ways. First, as an impartial observer, they can help couples and families identify the dynamics that aren’t working. And secondly, a therapist can provide instruction on how to alter those dynamics to be positive, healthy, and facilitate growth.
For example, a therapist might notice that the father and daughter in the family tend to gang up emotionally on the mother. The therapist can bring this to the family’s attention, help them unpack why this dynamic has formed, and help the father and daughter develop new skills that break the negative dynamic.
Though much of the time with a marriage and family therapist is spent as a couple or family, there is also an individual counseling component. This is critically important for helping each member of the couple or family recognize their part in the problem.
More than that, individual counseling is an opportunity for the therapist to help facilitate personal growth. They might discuss hopes, dreams, and goals with each member of the family. They might help each person recognize the unique strengths they bring to the table. In other words, the growth that’s experienced in therapy isn’t just as a family unit, but also occurs on an individual level.
Build Trust and Resilience
One of the most common issues that marriage and family therapists work on with their clients is a lack of trust. Lying and cheating are often the primary culprits of a lack of trust, but there are many other reasons why family members might not feel like they can open up to one another. A marriage and family therapist can help change that.
Part of being in therapy is being vulnerable and honest. Expressing one’s true feelings is a great way to identify where the breakdown in trust has occurred and can also provide a roadmap for bringing trust back into the family.
Likewise, marriage and family therapists can use their knowledge and skills to help family members build more resilience. Instead of breaking down and engaging in a screaming fight each time something doesn’t go right, families can learn how to remain calm, share ideas, and communicate with one another.
A final way that a marriage and family therapist can improve the lives of their clients is to work on reducing negative or ineffective patterns of interactions.
For example, a couple that’s struggling with communication might simply break down into giving one another the silent treatment when they have a disagreement. Doing so is obviously not an effective way of resolving the original problem. So, a marriage and family therapist can observe the couple’s interactions, help identify the ineffective patterns of communication, and offer feedback on how to break those patterns by teaching them effective communication skills.
It all sounds very simple, doesn’t it?! Being in therapy is a very tough task, for sure. But with a well-trained therapist, the time and energy you put into therapy can result in a much better life for you and your family.