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AN INTEGRATED FAMILY APPROACH TO THERAPY ARTICLE BY DR. HILL

Parker Collins Family Mental Health is a small and growing group of diverse therapists. We have men and women from different cultural backgrounds and we come with diverse types of training including psychologist, social worker, and marriage and family trained clinicians. A few of our specialty areas include working with kids and teens, patients with traumatic experiences, and families struggling with harmful relationship patterns. Many of our child and teen patients come to us with very negative descriptions of their behavior. Some appear to take their negative behaviors to quite impressive levels of “badness.” Our behaviors do not normally spring forth in a vacuum. Rather, they are strongly affected by our environment and the relationship interactions with those we are close to. Sometimes individual therapy is not enough.

Children depend on their parents to meet their needs for safety and to gain the love and nurturance we all need, as described by the attachment relationship. When we see a child in therapy, we often (not always) see parents struggling to care for that child. We frequently see other troubled relationships or challenging family situations that appear to interact with the child’s “bad” behavior. It should also be noted that there is strong research evidence showing that a parent (primary attachment figure) who has unresolved trauma and mental health issues is a predictor of child mental health conditions. For these reasons, we often recommend various family groupings for therapy.

We often recommend, for example, co-parenting family therapy for divorced couples who are not yet in agreement on how to raise the children in separate households. Or we may recommend a parent/child combination if there are issues between them. We will recommend a parent for individual sessions if he/she appears to have unresolved issues of their own. These are just examples and we often recommend simultaneous sessions in order to better manage negative interactions between the child patient and other family issues in play.

We have found that there are particular advantages when other family members, or combinations of family members, engage in simultaneous therapy. We see much improved communication between therapists and we can address issues that seem to bounce back and forth. We have described this approach at our clinic as “shuttle diplomacy” therapy. With effective communication between therapists, our recommendations and client’s needs can safely be communicated to other family members. When communicated by a therapist, the needs can be presented in a therapeutic manner that helps clients and families heal and grow. In many cases, when therapists work through family conflicts in consultation with each other and take the results back to their patients, the families start to make progress in ways they did not think possible.