Increasingly, we see family systems with many layers of complexity (blended families, non-traditional families, multiple divorces and remarriages, traumas, deaths, addiction, etc.) While these layers can complicate and extend the treatment process, they are also important elements to understanding how a family functions. We view these elements as enriching family therapy, not as things to shy away from or ignore.
So rather than avoiding the complications in a family system, we prefer to dive into them, making taboo or covert aspects of the family overt so that members can begin to talk about them, incorporate them, and heal. Sublimating or hiding issues such as affairs, deaths, or traumas is likely to impede the healing process and sustain dysfunction. By making the covert overt, however, and reframing uncomfortable facts in a manner that makes them more acceptable, the family is in a much better position to relax into a sustainable healing process.
Since the family is a dynamic system comprised of deeply interdependent members, the more members who participate in family therapy the better. In most cases this is true regardless of their past role in the family. But there are exceptions.
In some cases, a family member may be temporarily excluded from the treatment process. An example may be an alcoholic father who is held off until the mother and daughter (a dyad, or two-person relationship) develop some skills and resilience to engage the father in new ways. Then the father may be reintroduced into the process for more systemic healing. There are also rare cases in which a family member may be permanently excluded from the treatment process. Generally we make these exclusions in order to preserve the physical or emotional safety of other family members, such as in cases of past physical or sexual abuse when the perpetrator’s involvement would introduce a risk of re-traumatization or re-victimization.
For most families, however, the more members who participate in family therapy the better. In family systems theory, which we practice at Sunrise, the whole is always viewed as greater than the sum of its parts. This means that we can gain a much better understanding of the client’s behaviors and opportunities for healing if we have access to the whole family system to which she belongs.