A strong relationship between family members is one of the most precious aspects of life. Most families build strong relationships during the early stages of their children's life. For some couples, the idea of starting a family can be daunting due to their personal family history. Sometimes, at the early stages of starting a family, issues will begin to appear that may pose a challenge to a couple's relationship. As children grow up and begin to think for themselves, more family issues will arise, and resolving them may require the help of a marriage and family counselor.
For these types of issues, marriage and family counseling may be the best course of action to take. Marriage and family counseling is a branch of psychiatric therapy that deals with families and couples to foster change and improvement in various intimate relationships. In marriage and family counseling, the interaction between couples and family members initiates positive and negative changes. This type of counseling emphasizes that the key to psychological health is excellent family relationships.
The field of family and marriage counseling has attracted a lot of attention in the modern era. Couples and families are experiencing a broad array of issues and problems. This may be due to external factors such as bad peer influences or internal factors like puberty or lack of familial affection. It is up to the therapists to work effectively and uniquely to address the independent issues troubling a couple or family. This is why establishing techniques in marriage and family counseling is a necessary task for any psychiatrist. Individual therapists have a different approach when counseling their clients and have established their own techniques in marriage and family counseling. This research paper shall aim to explain and analyze techniques in marriage and family counseling that psychiatrists use. Psychiatrists, couples, and families should not view the techniques of marriage and family counseling as a cure but rather as a system of mobilizing a family or a couple towards necessary change and improvement
Techniques in Marriage and Family Counseling
The techniques in marriage and family counseling that professional psychiatrists use depend on their level of expertise and personal choice. Each psychiatrist may apply different techniques to the same situation. Psychiatrists apply certain techniques such as building communication skills, setting special days, outings, and reviewing family photos, and reframing.
Building an Effective Communication System
Communication is essential for any relationship whether it be a personal or professional relationship. The particular way in which a family member or a partner acts towards other parties is the main contributor to a healthy family or marriage. Teaching better communication skills to couples and families are the most useful techniques in marriage and family counseling. A strong and well-built relationship is instituted on the elements of communication (Watts, 2000). Communication builds a strong foundation for a couple's or family's relationship.
During therapy sessions, detecting a flawed communication process or pattern between couples or families is evident. A flawed or faulty communication system within a family or marriage can be detected within the first couple of therapy sessions. This is quicker when compared to the five to ten sessions required before a psychiatrist can detect other sources of unhealthy relationships. Psychiatrists should note the level of a clients listening techniques, their expression of feelings, and feedbacks as this will reveal the strength and weaknesses of a marriage's or family's communication network (Watts, 2000).
A faulty or flawed communication system is the main cause of many marriage and family issues. Financial decisions, like a husband failing to tell his wife that he was going to spend a substantial amount of their savings to buy a new car, will create a conflict. Once the wife finds out about the big financial decision her husband kept from her, she may grow bitter and angry towards her husband. The wife's bitterness may develop into resentment and hate towards the husband. This would create a gap in their relationship and will result in faulty communication. Therapists should try and allow couples and family members to open up to one another and share the reasons behind their actions or decisions. This will be a gateway for the couples and families to listen to each other and build a pure and honest communication system.
Set Dates and Display Photos
Setting special days and outings is one useful technique in marriage and family counseling. Special days and outings for a family or a couple can help in solving family and marriage conflicts. Therapists have discovered that certain marriage and family problems are rooted in the lack of private time with each other (Watts, 2000). Picnics, camping, and other outdoor activities with family or a partner provide a fresh setting where lost love can be nurtured and family members can spend time with each other without any distractions.
Families and couples that rarely spend time together outside the home tend to feel unappreciated and taken for granted. This is why psychiatrists advise families and couples to set dates where they can take a short trip together. A simple family dinner in a restaurant can be enough to let the other family members feel appreciated. Families and couples who regularly spend time with each other outside their home feel closer to each other and can communicate more which leads to healthy relationships.
Marriage and family counselors also suggest taking photos of family outings and other special events that involve family members. Photos are a great tool for reminding couples and family members about their time spent together. Looking at photos may cause family members or couples to feel the emotions they had during the events in a photograph. Marriage and family counselors can also use these photos as visual aids during sessions to remind family members and couples about their relationships. Wedding photos can renew the feeling of love for couples and graduation photos can help family members feel proud of the achievements of one of their members.
Another effective technique in marriage and family counseling is reframing. Reframing is the process of changing the way an individual views a certain situation and causing them to react positively towards it (Watts, 2000) An example of this is when a daughter comes home from a date and her parents ask her how the date went. Family counselors may use reframing to make the daughter view the remark as a sign of care instead of a non-trusting parent. Reframing allows families and couples to view each other from a different perspective. Families and couples burdened with problems have built negative perceptions towards one another. Reframing provides a positive outlook on the family's and couple's relationships.
Another example of reframing is when one partner is complaining about feeling lonely or uncared for due to their partner working late hours. Marriage and family counselors can explain the situation in a way where the long late hours spent in the office is an effort for the working partner to provide a better life for them. Reframing is a technique that has built trust between couples and improved the overall standard of a relationship (Watts, 2000). Reframing is an effective tool since it allows family members and couples to see the positive side of the situations that often cause an issue or conflict.
Family Council Meetings
Incorporating a family council meeting is another technique in marriage and family counseling. Family council meetings are meetings that all family members should attend. They will act as council members and discuss important family matters. The meetings often have strict schedules, designed in a way that all members can attend. The family members may also set rules during the council meeting and provide necessary punishment to any members that break a rule.
Most marriage and family counselors do not practice this type of technique. This is due to the cold approach of the council meetings. The rules and meetings are compulsory which often feels like work or a task for certain family members. The authority figures within families may exclude younger family members from the council meetings due to their serious approach to tackling problems. The exclusion of the younger members may lead to more issues in the future.
Family council meetings often lead to hostile discussions. Family members may use the council meeting as an opportunity to attack and rebuke other family members. The discussion can often get out of hand and result in more disagreements and problems. Family council meetings may seem to be a good way to build good communication for couples and families, however, it often pulls the family apart due to the hostile environment it creates. This results in flawed communication furthering the symptoms of marriage and family problems.
A strategic alliance is another technique in marriage and family counseling that some psychiatrists find less helpful. This counseling technique involves meeting with a family member and advising them to attend therapy sessions to address issues. Psychiatrists who practice strategic alliance argue that a change in the behavior of one family member may result in a change to the entire family (Watts, 2000). Even though a strategic alliance may have some merit, it can also cause other issues for a couple's and family's relationships.
The strategic alliance technique may affect the egos and self-image of some family members. Members who are asked to attend therapy sessions may create a negative perception of themselves when compared to other family members. While members who have not been asked to attend any sessions may develop feelings of superiority and perceive themselves as always correct. The members who feel superior may begin to look down on other family members and treat them differently. This could result in deeper issues and more family conflicts.
Psychiatrists sometimes use conditioning techniques in marriage and family counseling. This involves exposing family members or couples to specific stimuli to produce the symptoms of their relationship issues. Psychiatrists use conditioning techniques to help couples and families take control of their issues. A good example of this is when a family member always feels anxious during large group meetings. A psychiatrist will expose the particular family member to large groups. The psychiatrist will attempt to help the family member overcome the feelings of anxiety while a large group surrounds the family member.
Depending on the skills and expertise of a psychiatrist, this technique may prove harmful to a client. Clients may develop a severe form of phobia due to regular exposure to stimuli. Panic attacks and other serious complications may also arise during a session if a psychiatrist fails to assess a client's personality type and mental health. The changes in behavior that results from conditioning techniques also take time to develop. If a psychiatrist needs to address more than one symptom, the process becomes cumbersome and would take a large amount of time.
There are many techniques in marriage and family counseling that psychiatrists use to address certain issues. Some of the techniques are straight forward while some are more process-oriented. The effectiveness of a technique depends not only on a client's compliance but also on the level of expertise of the psychiatrist. Different psychiatrists prefer different techniques in marriage and family counseling. To some, techniques like family counseling, strategic alliance, and conditioning are ineffective ways to resolve problems. While building a good communication system, spending time outside, and reframing are the go-to techniques to address marriage and family issues.
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Watts, R.E. (2000). Techniques in Marriage and Family Counseling, Volume One. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.