George Simonet – 24th September 2015

What do you feel when you hear the words ‘family therapy’? Curious? Intrigued? Anxious?

What picture does it conjure up for you? A calm scene – people listening to each other, attentive, interested? Or a war zone?

I have been working with Fegans for five years. I have worked with young children, teenagers, adults, couples and families. I have worked in the office in Tunbridge Wells and at local secondary schools navigating the seas of Student Welfare, Young Carers, Family Liaison and pupil premiums. But most recently I have been working alongside my colleague Wendy counselling family groups. Without going into detail about the theoretical assumptions underpinning Systemic Family Therapy (phew) I will tell you something about the work Wendy and I have been doing over the last two years.

We have worked with many different combinations of clients: couples; couples and their children; couples and stepchildren; parents, children and a grandparent;  parents, children and boyfriends… We have worked with an entire family with an individual family member  progressing to one to one counselling; individual clients have referred their family; we have done parenting work that has led to family therapy. So we work very flexibly in order to meet the individual need of any one family.

One to one counselling is sometimes exactly what is needed – bereavement, depression, anxiety (to name but a few) are some such cases. But there are times and situations when the root of difficulties is more likely to lie in the way family members think and interact.

It is tempting to think that it is one member of the family who causes all the problems ‘if it weren’t for Mum/Dad/little Johnny everything would be OK’. In many cases though this is not an accurate reflection of the reality. Family therapy instead reframes difficulties. The main way in which it does this is by a reallocation of responsibility. No one member is seen as ‘the problem’. Rather, it is the way in which family members react to events and to each other that causes difficulties. In counselling we explore thoughts and feelings around events and triggers. We identify patterns of behaviour, themes and vicious cycles. We do this by providing a calm, neutral forum. Everyone is encouraged to speak up. Everyone’s thoughts and feelings are heard and respected by us as therapists so that what are modelling are new ways of communicating and relating. Families begin to work more as a team.

I will not pretend that every family is transformed by the work we do together. I will not pretend people don’t storm out now and again. But the majority of families see a significant positive shift in understanding, acceptance and communication and in a relatively short space of time. Families are families. They are made up of people. Conflict is inevitable. But it becomes more manageable…less threatening…even healing