In the first family therapy session I take my time to connect with all the family members. I will go around and ask each person to introduce themselves and share their perspective on how come the family has come to see me. I will often say ‘I would like everyone to introduce themselves and tell me why they think the family is here today’
I then wait to see who starts off, this is valuable information in terms of who the leaders in the family are. During family therapy sessions I will notice if people interrupt each other, I will notice what happens when the children talk, I will notice how the couple communicate with one another. So in the first 15 minutes I already have some valuable information about how the family system operates.
We then go onto exploring the issues that have been raised. Sometimes different family members will give quite different versions of how they see the problem, sometimes what is reported is very similar. Time is spent talking with the family, listening, observing and sharing comments or insights as they arise. I take a break towards the end of the session to gather my thoughts. I will go to another room to think and jot down some quick notes. This also gives the family a break and an opportunity to relax for a while. Coming as a family can feel very daunting.
I then wrap up the session and give them a take home message. Depending on the size of the family, there may be several take home messages. There after we may decide to meet again as a family or I may want to meet with the parents alone at the next session if couples therapy is indicated.
The first family I ever saw, as a new therapist, was a family of 10, the mum and nine adult children. I provided family therapy for a year, as the issues were very serious. At the end of this time they were able to come together with love and a sense of acceptance about what had passed.