Family is defined as an interrelated spectrum of varied individuals who make up a unified community or group. This definition of family is based on bonds, not numbers. When viewed as a diverse and broad system, the family can be defined as a multifaceted construction made up of an interdependent collection of individuals who have a communal sense of history, experience a degree of emotional bonding, and develop strategies for meeting the needs of individualistic family associates and the family unit as a whole.
Families change in their structure, functions, and internal relationships in response to and in conjunction with changes in political, community, economic, educational, religious, and other environments. Those changes can cause a breakdown of the family unit, making it necessary to regroup and restructure the family dynamic. That is where family therapy comes into play.
Assessing the Family Dynamic
Improving a family’s communication techniques requires providers to observe and assess the existing family dynamic in the initial stages of treatment. Behavioral observations allow providers to monitor:
- How children interact with parents and siblings.
- How parents or intimate partners interact with each other.
- How parents interact with their children collectively and individually.
Observing familial behaviors and interactions gives providers insight into a family’s interactional dynamic, problem-solving abilities, and level of healthy functioning amongst the family as individuals and collectively. The information that is gathered during the observation stage can be one of the most useful tools a provider can have when working with families to improve communication and interactions.
Communication Techniques: A Prerequisite to Family Therapy
Oftentimes, families that struggle with communication have trouble retaining therapeutic techniques, no matter how effective interventions or providers are. Behaviors such as excessive criticism, providing too much advice, giving out too many orders, and minimizing the feelings of other family members directly contribute to the erosion of a family’s ability to interact healthily.
However, therapy equips families with communication strategies that allow them to convey their thoughts, express their needs, and identify goals for themselves as well as their families. Without healthy communication, families will find themselves in an endless cycle of misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and inaccurate assumptions. The therapeutic process is more effective when providers facilitate interventions that enhance interpersonal and intergroup skills by helping clients improve the quality, nature, and frequency of constructive communication within a family unit.
Effective Communication Techniques for Family Therapy
Oftentimes, families that have issues with communication have made a habit out of listening to respond, but not receive information. However, there are several techniques that providers can use to improve communication skills, most of them focused on establishing and engaging with one another using open lines of communication. They include:
#1. Active listening is a communication technique that encourages individuals to listen as each person expresses feelings. Active listening is best implemented when individuals express feelings of being ignored or misunderstood. It is the most effective as it relates to children and adolescents. It requires family members to learn how to refrain from interrupting others, reacting defensively, and rephrasing someone else’s statements.
#2. Collaborative problem solving seeks to find a win-win situation for the entire family unit. This technique identifies and adjusts the way family members relate to one another. This technique should be implemented during the latter part of the communication improvement process so the family can demonstrate to the provider and themselves that they are ready to transition into the next phase of therapy.
#3. Respectful communication allows family members to demonstrate their ability to comprehend and accept one another’s thoughts, needs, and wants. This technique is the most effective when the provider identifies a need for one or more family members to form a linkage to family members that present as angry, hostile, or hesitant about receiving treatment. Individuals that use respectful communication avoid:
- Speaking about another person who is present, rather than speaking directly to them.
- Speaking for others, instead of allowing them to speak for themselves
- Display nonverbal cues that may prevent or discourage another person from speaking
#4. Active constructive responding is a communication technique that encourages family members to use nurturing and affirming language, rather than destructive or aggressive language. With active constructive responding, interactions fall into one of four response types:
- Nurturing (active constructive)
- Cold (passive constructive)
- Ignorant (passive destructive)
- Hurtful (active destructive)
It is important to implement this technique immediately and consistently during the therapeutic process. Active constructive responding requires individuals to be enthusiastic, positive, and encouraging. This is especially helpful for family members who feel unimportant or neglected, especially children and adolescents.
The phrase “communication is key,” might seem cliche, but it is a testament to the power of language and the influence it has on individuals, both in and outside of a family unit. Family therapy is not only the most effective way of assisting families with developing a clear understanding of their role within the familial unit, but it is also the perfect opportunity to improve communication skills. Families that use healthy communication techniques are more likely to be successful in therapy and their everyday lives. Every family has to work collectively to establish coping techniques, develop practical communication skills, and build healthy, lasting relationships with loved ones. Casa Recovery believes that a cohesive family unit is a major component of mental and emotional wellness. We offer services that help families reconnect, rebuild, and rediscover the love that only family can provide. If you know a client or family that needs treatment, contact us at (888) 928-2272.