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November 14, 2012 1:05 PM   Subscribe

What has been your experience with family therapy? Are you a family therapist? Tell me ALL your anecdotes and experiences with family therapy, please.

I'm in my first year of an MSW graduate program with the intent of eventually becoming an LCSW with a focus in therapy. I'm just beginning to research various modalities and practices, and I'm interested to know about others' experiences with family therapy, either as professionals or as clients.

For instance, I imagine a family therapist would counsel those handling adoption, post-partum depression, blending families in second marriages, divorce counseling, parents with special needs children, the whole gamut. True? False?

I'm also curious to know the sorts of situations in which people found themselves seeking a family therapist. What was it like? Were you referred to a service or did you seek out a private practitioner?

I assume most professionals aren't just family therapists, but also practice marriage and individual counseling as well?

For any family therapists on MeFi, what are the challenges of your job? What are your most typical sessions? Do you have any resources you recommend - books, websites, NYC-based practices? I'm already researching the Akerman Institute for my second year internship and potential post-graduate training programs.

Thank you in advance!
posted by zoomorphic to Human Relations (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, my Dad is an MSW and he did family therapy for 40 years (give or take).

One part of his practice was community based through a non-profit that did Drug Education, a Crisis Ambulance, and therapy on the side. He had some really extreme cases, a person born with both male and female sex organs (formerly called a hermaphrodite, totally not sure what the PC term is for that now, as I don't think Transgendered covers it), families with a member who was an addict.

Then he ran a non-profit that had a shelter home, so he did therapy sessions for the kids in the shelter home (emergency housing for kids who were entering the foster care system). He also talked the folks who worked in the shelter home off the damn ledge.

He ran a methadone maintenance clinic, in-patient, so there were groups, individual therapy and administrivia.

Then he was in charge of counseling for a non-profit that kept families in tact in an hotelish setting while one of the parents struggled with addiction. They did group, individual and family therapy, all with an eye towards having the addict repair his or her family.

Then he worked at one of those Rehabs where you can take your kid who is acting out and doing drugs or drinking. He hated it because it was sketchy, got out before the year was up. (Committing kids merely for the fees, not because they had services to offer.)

Then he became a military contractor, then he got hired on by the DOD to do family counseling at military bases overseas.

One thing that happened was that a step-kid accused the step-dad of sexual abuse. (Crisis, on-call kind of thing.) He worked a lot with guys returning from War Zone who where transitioning back to family life. He did that for 10 years, and now he's retired.

Here are some things that stick out in my mind.

"You will see 90% of everything you will ever see in family therapy in your first year." What he meant by that is that most issues within families are pretty typical.

"These kids are so broken that even if you had spare parts of other kids, you still won't get a whole kid." This was something he told me about doing some counseling at a facility for kids convicted of sex crimes. Basically that their backgrounds were so horrific that sex crimes seemed normal to them and that rehabilitation may never be realistic.

"I swear to God, if I hear, 'but I LOVE him' one more time from some woman who's catching a regular beating from her husband, I'm going to scream!" I think that one is self-explanetory.

My dad is a behaviorist and specialized in helping kids with learning disabilities (which he theorized were filling up juvinille detention centers disproportionately.)

My sister and I were usually put to work wherever he was working so we're both pretty in the know about what a family therapist does.

Dad looks a lot like Santa these days, and he cruises around during the holidays wearing a Santa hat and winking at kids that he sees.

He's made a huge difference in this world and I admire the fuck out of him.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:27 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I went to a family therapist with my teenage son when he was running wild. We saw a private practitioner (MSW) that a friend recommended as being good with teens. Sometimes we saw him together, sometimes just my son and sometimes just me. What was it like? He asked us about our goals, and emphasized communication and attachment. It was an awesome experience.
At another time I went to a family therapist (LMFT) who I found through catholic charities. That's the thing that people don't always think of - that you can be in family therapy all by yourself. We worked on all kinds of family of origin issues, difficult childhood, how it affects me today... the approach was Irving Yalom meets Murray Bowen with a touch of CBT. Extremely helpful.
I also know that hospitals employ MSW who know family therapy to work with patients and families in crisis situations.
I would recommend reading Murray Bowen, Harriet Lerner, Salvador Minuchin and Carl Whitaker. There are alot of different ways to do family therapy (although I imagine you probably know that).
My advice is the same for any helping profession - Know your limits and boundaries and take care of yourself.
posted by SyraCarol at 4:43 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

For your internships, find sites that do family work. You may hate it, or (like me) it may turn out to be a great fit. I work in a psych hospital that does at least one family session for every patient; in some units, we do more than one (depends on diagnosis and length of stay). I'm primarily an addictions person, and the systems perspective is a big part of my approach.

The biggest thing I see is bad communication skills. It is the rare family in our culture that explicitly addresses communication; mostly, we bring the communication styles of our families of origin into our relationships, and a lot of the time there's not an overlap at all. I do a lot of work influenced by John Gottman, and my CEUs over the next few years will likely be put toward getting certified in his method before I go into private practice. Anything you study that's related to communication and family systems will help you; actually, it will help you whether you do family work or not. Everyone's from a system of some sort, even if it's a deeply dysfunctional one. MeMail me if you want more info; I'm a counselor, but I work with a lot of MSWs.

(Ruthless Bunny, the medical term you're looking for is intersex.)
posted by catlet at 6:41 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know this is a little late but as you only got a few answers I thought I may as well chime in.

I'm in the UK but am currently training to be a relationship therapist which means working with couples and families. I'll be doing a lot of the stuff you listed but also just helping families who are struggling with communication issues, particularly involving teens. Times of change put a lot of stress on all family members so any big shifts can push individuals or families towards seeking therapy.

I'm already working with couples but won't start seeing families for another year yet. I love the work I do, which is integrative of systemic and psychodynamic approaches. It helps people to understand their patterns of interaction but also to look under the surface at some of the unconscious stuff driving those interactions. The focus is on facilitating change. Helping people see things clearly and find their own solutions.

Don't know about the US but most family work in the UK is systemic on some level so you may want to start your research there.

I'm fairly near the beginning of this process but feel free to memail me if you have any more questions.
posted by Dorothia at 1:46 AM on November 16, 2012

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