For most my life, my mom and I have had a turbulent relationship. Vague reassurances from others that “everyone has family problems” never helped with our nonsensical fighting or how I felt. I never knew what to do, but I knew it had to stop.
Family relationships are sometimes responsible for life’s biggest conflicts. They’re often complicated and can span decades. For many, it’s the steady drip of unresolved arguments and personality clashes that leave lasting feelings of resentment and bitterness. But there is a way to work through this. There is a hopeful course of action—it’s called family therapy.
Giving it a Chance
Family therapy is a collaborative and inclusive process which focuses on the family as a unit. Family therapists are skilled in dealing with a variety of conflicts whether it involves communication issues, estrangement, financial problems, divorce, a death in the family and more.
There might be a time before starting therapy when you won’t want to go. I certainly didn’t. My mom certainly didn’t. The pains of having to sift through years of battles wasn’t appealing. But without confronting the past, we are bound to repeat the same mistakes. Therapy may lead to the resolution you’ve been searching for. It’s important to give it a chance.
Finding the Right Therapist
I knew that the family therapist I chose was effective because within our first few sessions, I felt comfortable. I knew I would be able to open up to her. And I never dreaded talking in session. She also brought up Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Disorder in regards to my mother. This helped me to trust my therapist and her expertise even more, because she was able to spot that early on.
If you feel that a therapist is not effective, it’s okay to keep looking. In my experience, most therapists don’t take it personally. In fact, they encouraged my family to find the right fit for us. Your comfort level and ability to open up are essential in a therapeutic relationship.
Over time, your therapist will learn your family’s communication style. Some families are louder than others, while some fill the minutes with silence. Certain family members may be withdrawn at tense moments, while others might be aggressive. Your therapist will be see these differences and guide each of you accordingly.
How to Have Effective Therapy Sessions
A typical therapy session is 50 minutes, once a week. It’s a short amount of time to work through a lot of issues among multiple people. In order to best use your time with your therapist, here are a few tips to have effective sessions.
- Prepare prior to therapy. Each family member should jot down questions or issues they would like to discuss.
- If there is one family member you don’t get along with, carefully decide what you’ll say to them when you have your chance to speak.
- Remain strong and respectful.
- Speak calmly.
- Try not to argue.
You may feel as though your family will never resolve long-standing conflicts. But it is possible. With listening and restraint, your family can reaffirm its bond and clear up old disagreements and hurt. Or you may decide it’s time to move on. For me, the decision to lessen contact with my mother, while controversial to some, was the right choice. I am no longer consumed with guilt about not being able to get along. Without therapy, I know I would still have an extremely close and volatile relationship with her.
Because it was such a positive and powerful experience for me, I always recommend family therapy to others. Even the more exhausting and uncomfortable sessions were necessary. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to identify toxic patterns of behavior, understand my depression, or take control and realize what I needed to do in order to change my life.
There is nothing to fear about family therapy—it’s a safe place to work through negative feelings and move forward. Any decisions you make with your family will be based off careful discussion and thought. When I look back now, I know I wouldn’t have made the same choices without the support of my therapist.
Amanda C. Dacquel is a mental health writer and advocate. In 2014, she started TheCurrentCollective.com to share mental health experiences, resources and news. You can connect with her at AmandaDacquel.com.
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