Since family is so important to most of us, many psychotherapists focus their practice on the family.
This helps them treat depression and mental illness better — because mental problems are often connected to a person’s family situation. It is well known that when all the members of a family are involved in therapy, a person’s chances of positive change are better and everyone benefits.
But the big obstacle for therapists has long been how to determine the
family interactions. The client is often the only one that shows up for
therapy. So the therapist must interpret family dynamics through the often distorted lens of the client. This slowed down progress in therapy and made it more difficult for the client to make a full recovery.
Now, however, some therapists are using an almost shocking technique to overcome the difficulties of getting the whole family engaged.
A shocking approach that gets results
A brave, few pioneering marriage and family therapists go to their clients’ homes and stay there a couple of days as part of their family counseling services. These marriage and family therapists observe the family dynamics and their client’s real needs better. The client isn’t spilling the beans to the therapist. Instead, the true state of the client and his or her interactions with family members is right there for the therapist to observe.
Here are a few ways in which family therapists can help by such in-home observations. And here’s why you might want to find a therapist who works this way.
1. More help for parents of difficult children
Sometimes parents will feel their child needs professional counseling, but most counselors only get to work with the parents first. They try to find out the home situation and to teach them how trauma can affect the physical development of the brain. And how feelings of fear can make children uncontrollable and angry.
In-home observation helps the therapists more than just working with the parents. These visits allow therapists to see how the parents interact with the children.
The parents can still visit with the psychotherapist in his or her office, to talk about their own losses and pain first. Once the parents have talked things out, and the therapist has done in-home observation, the psychotherapy can progress. The parents can rapidly learn from the therapist’s observations. And the therapist can help the parents learn how to better respond to their children.
The family situation improves, thanks to in-home observation.
Some psychotherapists do in-home visits as a team
A family in Minneapolis invited a family-counseling team of a husband and wife to stay with them to help with what they felt was an attachment disorder in their adopted school-age son. This adopted child with attachment problems had been traumatized in a previous foster family.
Even after a few months with this adoptive family, the child was not bonding with anyone. He avoided eye contact, even his adoptive mother. But when the husband and wife psychotherapy team visited the house, he was curious about them. At first, despite his curiosity, he stayed in the room as the counselors talked with his parents.
Later he came out. He grew involved. He began to trust. And he willingly went to the psychotherapy attachment disorder office for regular counseling,
Again, in-home observation created a time saving shortcut to better life for the entire family.
2. Marriage counseling and improving communication in a relationship
Marriage and family counselors know that most couples seek help only when it is almost too late to save the relationship.
In-home observations can help, even at a point when a couple has broken down and feels little hope in their future as a couple. So long as both partners want to continue their relationship, marriage counseling can help them create a stronger marriage.
And in-home observation can help.
One of the first things counselors do in this situation is check for domestic violence. Once they are sure that both partners are physically safe, they move on to improving communication skills and trust. Because they can view the interactions for themselves, they are able to help the couple make improvements that would often take many months, in only a small number of sessions.
Sometimes having a husband-and-wife team of counselors who work together with client couple in-home speeds the process of reconciliation by allowing both partners to feel safe.
This happened with one couple who had not talked with each other for a few months. After in-home observation and a few sessions in the office, the couple were talking about their hurts and listening to each other. It was a major step towards recovery and a happy future together.
3. Healing from trauma using in-home observation
People who suffer trauma, especially abuse by parents, relatives or siblings, often come alone for counseling.
But family counselors can help even such people become more grounded and comfortable with their own selves, using in-home observation. The idea is to quickly ascertain the family dynamics. Then, the psychotherapist and the client can work together to help rid the person of their emotional baggage and help in their recovery.
The counselor may several methods to help heal the trauma: breathing techniques, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (a method of psychotherapy which uses eye movements to help a person mentally process and overcome past trauma), or the internal family systems model (an approach to counseling which uses the concept of sub-personalities or the multiplicity of the mind.)
These are all assisted with the in-home observation as a shortcut to helping the person recover from their trauma. One young person, abused physically, verbally, and emotionally at her home, finally left her family for a foster family where she was again abused.
As you can imagine, she was very traumatized. In fact, she attempted suicide several times before agreeing to enter therapy. A psychotherapist observed her in-home while she interacted normally with her foster family. The psychotherapist learned so much from this interaction and was able to quickly come up with a treatment plan.
This trauma treatment plan was a turning point – the girl could correct the message of low self-worth she had gotten from the years of abuse. In fact, she not only recovered mentally — she went on to earn a master’s degree and become a compassionate and peaceful person. Once again, in home observation succeeded in making therapy effective. Thanks to in-home observation, many people with mental illness, depression or trauma suffering are able to get better.