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In building trust, the therapist must look at resistance as a positive aspect of family security. In order to get to the more critical issues, the therapist must be willing to proceed at the clients’ pace, waiting for them to feel comfortable enough that destructive resistance falls away. As the comfort level with the therapist increases, the therapist expects that the family will be able to open up to one another more easily.
Therapists design interventions that provide feedback to family members so that they become aware of other family members’ reactions to their actions. Family members might be using indirect communication—for example, substituting angry behaviors to mask grief—that is understandably misinterpreted by others. The therapist sets up a safe environment for expressing true feelings and receiving appropriate feedback.
The therapist tries to establish a new pattern of behavior based upon the key elements of the healthy model, encouraging the family to approach all situations similarly.
A therapist with a diverse repertoire of strategies is more likely to find an appropriate solution to a family’s problems than is a therapist with a single approach. Family life is too complex to establish a simple causal chain in coming to terms with a particular series of problems, so the broad approach taken by most family therapists is most helpful.
The therapist looks at what conditions generate particular behaviors, hoping to explore what it is about these circumstances that is so provocative. The point is not to place blame, but to identify where communication breakdown occurs and causes others within the unit to act out.
In instances of circular causality, where each member of a group causes actions in others that then reinforce the actions in themselves, the therapist attempts to interrupt the dizzying chain of events with behavioral changes.
The therapist, in an effort to maintain a sense of hope, believes that at the core of each client is a good person.
The therapist looks for repetition in the way family members interact. As they pinpoint patterns of interaction, they can help families recognize and predict patterns of behavior.
Family therapists recognize that a lack of progress might be attributable to the influence of a third party. In identifying a third person’s influence on the interaction between two family members, the effects of the interference are decreased.
Originating in the structural school of Salvador Minuchin, this approach seeks to identify the “rules” that govern roles within the family, and the formation of alliances among family members. The therapist helps the family reorganize the family structure to promote healthy interactions.
Built on the work of Gregory Bateson’s Systems Theory, therapists work from the point of view that a change in any element of the family will have consequences on the entire unit. The first step is to uncover what particular change provoked the overall derailment of the family.
Some therapists actively discourage inter-family discussion until participants have successfully separated themselves from their more intense emotions. The therapist steers conversation towards the client’s unresolved family issues. For example, if a parent exhibits excessive anger at a child’s behavior, it may be because that behavior has triggered emotions tied to unresolved issues from the parent’s own childhood. The family of origin, might be one’s childhood family, one’s original family before divorce forced the formation of a blended family, or the extended family.