People generally enter therapy due to experiencing some type of problem. It doesn’t take long in that first session before it becomes clear to me that they believe there must be something really wrong with them, or often, someone else in their family. After nearly a decade of treating clients with a wide range of problems I’ve come to see with my own eyes what some of the great researchers and therapists before me have concluded. Families are a naturally occurring system, complete with underlying processes that work together to contribute to the family’s current level of functioning (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).
So, essentially, I’m here to tell you that any family experiencing symptoms or difficulty, whether mild or severe, is normal. Now, since I’ve communicated this message hundreds of times to people in my office I’m aware that it evokes a response somewhere between relief and absolute terror. Some people seem to like the idea that they aren’t as bad off as they think, while others seem to fear that being normal means no relief from their current situation. The fact is, despite your family’s normalcy, you and they can do better. Each family can improve on their current level of normal.
This idea stated above regarding families being a “naturally occurring system” basically means that everyone interacts with one another in a way to keep things moving. Often these processes enhance the functioning of certain members while simultaneously decreasing functioning of other members, or often just one member. The family does a good job of maintaining the status quo by shutting down members when they start to complain or speak out against unfair treatment. This begins to happen much more as children reach adolescence and become bolder in their observations of their family’s normal behavior. It also happens all the time in marriages where both partners routinely use each other’s insecurities to get the other to back down when legitimate complaints are voiced.
So, what does this mean for you and how can therapy help? Well, since families are a naturally occurring system they will continue to evolve and improve from one generation to the next a little at a time (Kerr & Bowen, 1988). Just take a moment to look at how your family has improved over the generations. While you are thinking on this you are likely able to see that there are also patterns that continue to be passed down from one generation to the next that are problematic and painful. This is where therapy comes in. A therapist who is trained and capable of intervening in a systemic way can assist you and your family in improving functioning more quickly than in say three or four more generations. The catch is that therapists cannot take clients beyond their own level of functioning in therapy (Schnarch, 1991). This means that unless a therapist has truly worked at their own development they are not capable of first, seeing what is happening in your family, and second, intervening at level that can create lasting change and development.
So regardless of whether you are dealing with parenting problems, marital or sexual issues, or perhaps difficulty with depression and anxiety, all of these can be improved with the right therapist and a client who is willing to do the work.
Lacy Stump, LCMFT
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: an approach based on Bowen theory. New York u.a.: Norton.
Schnarch, D. (1991). Constructing the sexual crucible. An integration of sexual and marital therapy. New York, N.Y.: Norton.