Does your family have differences that you just can’t seem to work out? It might be the time to give some different family therapy techniques a try. However, some feel that jumping into family therapy help can be a bit overwhelming. Well, there’s no need to fret any longer. Metro Parent chatted with Dr. Tracey Stulberg, the director of Birmingham Family Therapy Clinic Inc., to get the details on how to find out how therapy can help families, how to choose the right therapist and family therapy session ideas.
Accept the need for family therapy
There are tons of reasons that a family could feel the need to go to therapy – from infidelity to anger management to money and even parenting issues, but there are just as many reasons many are weary of it, too.
“Most people think that if they go to therapy that they will be on a couch forever, but family therapy doesn’t have to be long-term,” Stulberg says.
In fact, many of Stulberg’s patients finish in about 10 sessions and walk away with family therapy techniques to help them solve their own problems later down the road.
Still, 25 years of practice has taught the doctor to not expect overnight change for every issue.
“I don’t believe in fast change,” she explains. “Small consistent change is what we are looking for.”
Get the family on board
After one member admits that there is a problem within the family unit, it is important to get the entire family to come to therapy, Stulberg explains.
“Family therapy is a systems therapy,” she says. “It’s a circle. You have anger, which leads to a cause and then an effect, which becomes a cause for the next effect, and you have to work with the entire system. Sometimes, people think ‘I will come in and I will fix my marriage even when my spouse won’t come in,’ and it’s not that simple.”
The entire family, including kids who can talk, need to be at the sessions so the therapist can get an whole picture of what is really happening at home and provide the best family therapy techniques.
Find the right therapist
Just like the perfect pair of shoes, you have to shop around for the therapist that fits your family – and shares your family’s therapy goals and objectives.
“Most people don’t have the time, energy or the money to do long-term work,” Stulberg says. “You have to decide how much work you are willing to do and if you want the problem solved.”
Once you have the hard questions answered, Stulberg recommends that you Google around a bit and find a therapist certified through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
She also suggests your therapist be someone that is open with you about what they will talk about with other members of the family, someone that your entire family can trust.
“A good therapist knows exactly how to not keep secrets,” she says. “The worst thing you can do is create a problem that doesn’t exist. As a shrink, doing that makes your job harder and will make it so your patients will not trust you.”
During and in-between your sessions
Expect your sessions to be at least 45 minutes to an hour and a half long. Stulberg explains that this is the optimal length per session to get the best results, but no family should be rushed in and out.
“After 45 minutes, you’ve really gotten people to talk about their emotions and they’ve really had it,” she explains. “We don’t cut it off, but we make it as speedy and effective as possible.”
Apart from offering an open ear and sound advice, family therapists, like Stulberg, offer tons of tools or “homework” for families to use in between sessions, or after their therapy is complete to help the family work through differences on their own.
“You can’t solve a problem with avoidance,” she says. “You have to figure out a way so they don’t have landmines all over their living room and help them work through it.”
To work through your issues, and not hurt the ones you love, you must learn family therapy techniques – and how to take a step back and collect yourself before saying what you don’t mean.
“The 24-hour rule is a good one,” she says.
This rule allows a person to take a step back from the situation to collect their thoughts and feelings. After the 24 hours are up, they come back and are able to talk through their differences.
“Saying that you can’t argue is dumb, but what we don’t want to do is hurt,” Stulberg explains. “Being able to be the one that steps away but come back helps.”
In addition, Stulberg suggests these final ideas for family therapy. Families should have a safety net for when something does or doesn’t happen. Families should communicate when something is wrong and seek out the help if they need it, because not all families will.
This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly.