Why we all need a little Family Therapy

The Family Therapy Association of Ireland (FTAI), which is the professional body of systemic therapy, has just launched a new website so anyone who needs a therapist can find one in their local area.

Therapists are listed in various specialities and can be found on the website by looking in the pull-down menu on the home page. The launch of the website last Saturday was timely because family therapy was never needed as much as it is today.

Family therapists have found that more people with more problems need more help than ever before. This is not surprising. The stresses on families are enormous.

Supports are fewer, life is harder, money is tighter, fears are greater and even those who are surviving don’t know if that will last, how long it will last and how they will cope if one more anxiety, expense, threat, strain or stress is added to their lives. This is why family therapists in Ireland decided to reach out to families so people can get help early, before they are in crisis: before they have lost hope.

Relationships are complex. Couples’ relationships are especially complicated. When they go wrong, they go very wrong. When they get bad, they get worse – couples get lost, lose sight of each other, of their capacity to share, to encourage, to help each other or even to remember how they worked together before.

It is sad when marriages fail for the want of a bit of support, for the want of reassurance. It is sad when couples split up for the want of a chance to stop and remember the good things that first brought them together, the reasons they chose each other, the important things they shared, the love they had which can be revived.

Couples in conflict may argue about money. The transition to parenthood can alarm them because so many adjustments are needed when children arrive. Couples can grow apart. Intimate life can fade. Alcohol addiction can spoil everything. Internet addiction can make life intolerable for the other person and this is a growing problem in relationships today.

Sometimes couples lose all interest in each other, and don’t want to be together any more.

Family therapists work with couples on these issues, on intimacy issues, on lack of desire, the effects of rape or abuse suffered by one partner in childhood. Family therapists work with whatever problems a couple bring to them.

Family relationships are important. Family therapists work with families. It is tough when children are stressed, when adolescents can’t cope, when young adults are anxious, when older adults cannot enjoy important  years and when older people feel they are a burden to everyone.

The tragedy is that so much can be sorted by so little if people get the support they need in time. Because the sooner people get help, the greater their chance of resolving family conflict no matter what that the conflict is and regardless of how difficult the problem seems to be.

Family therapists also provide individual psychotherapy, working with a range of concerns such as self- esteem, negative self-talk, poor body image, grief and loss, stress and anxiety. They do so in a brief, practical and client-focused manner.

Family therapy is useful for children, for understanding adolescents, for supporting families in times of transition and recognising the stresses of these lifecycle changes.

It is useful for coping with chronic illness in a family member, in understanding how each family member copes with that. It is helpful with family distress when a family member dies.

Life brings challenges and change. It brings a need to talk about what is important and it is important to conduct that conversation in a way that brings people together in order for them to understand each other better. Family therapists are especially skilled at that.

This article by clinical psychologist Marie Murray, Director of Student Counselling Services in UCD first appeared in The Irish Times Health Supplement on Tuesday, 31st May 2011.