by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
When parents and teens are having stresses conflicts and fundamental disagreements, I often (not always) recommend parent-teen sessions rather than making the teen the identified patient and, 'putting the teen in therapy.' Working with members of a family together can help improve communication and a sense of belonging, not someone being singled out as the problem. Being heard, valued and connected strengthens the family system for everyone.
What happens in a family therapy session?
Usually the most talkative person starts first. (Haha!) Normally I ask each person about the problem from their point of view. Each person gets a chance to talk without being interrupted or disrespected. When people come to a session for the first time, some are a little nervous, others are ready to start talking right away. So it can be helpful to let the person who is most comfortable, tell about the problems first. This may often be the parent. But sometimes teens need to be listened to, and they may want to talk first.
We May Adopt a Three Part Process for Brief Therapy:
1. Knowledge - We have to know and understand what the other person is thinking and feeling; what they want and why. Of course, we have to know what we ourselves honestly want and need. We may have to work through a few layers to gain this knowledge about what is going on from everyone's perspective. We may also have to learn about developmental tasks and stages and life span development of the family.
2. Strategy - Once we know what's going on, we need to develop a strategy for helping each other get what they need and feel good in the process. This usually involves communication and relational skills practice, scripting, appreciation, affirmative focus and possible implementation of behavioral reinforcement techniques.
3. Execution - We have to put a loose plan into action. This need not be an onerous assignment, but we may have to start exercising a certain amount of self-discipline or re-direction if things have gotten out of control in our relatinohips. We may need to stop calling people names. We may need to learn to come in contact with the truth and learn to tell the truth more often. We will have to put into practice strategies about what we learn.
Returning to the first session again, while one person is talking, the other people in the session are practicing a few things. How to practice active, reflective listening and how not to become defensive and start engaging in the normal attack-counter attack scenario. We are going to have to re-learn certain communication habits in order to improve relationships, and therefore the overall well-being of family members.
We will also practice other techniques such as reflecting content and feeling. Also how not to become abusive or disrespectful and what to do if that happens. Parents and teens will learn to express disagreement constructively and negotiate changing roles having to do with the process of the teen's individuation into adulthood.
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