Improving Communication and Resolving Conflict through Family Therapy

An old adage has it that a trouble shared is a trouble halved, and it is certainly true that it can be a great comfort to simply unburden oneself, rather than continuing to bottle up such concerns. Unfortunately, there are also many circumstances in which the troubles of an individual have consequences that adversely affect others and, in such cases, the others are not invited, but forced to share in them, and may even contribute to a problem or exacerbate it.

In practice, in situations where the harmony of a group is disturbed, it is seldom effective to counsel those affected purely as individuals. Instead, in the case of a family, for instance, therapy is found to be more effective when it addresses all of its members as an emotional unit.

To maintain a well-balance relationship within that unit, each member is required to assume a given role and to observe certain boundaries, interacting with and responding to one another as appropriate to their accepted roles. That said, a degree of flexibility is also important. So, if one member of the unit is unable to fulfil his or her role, perhaps due to illness, anxiety or depression, another member will take up the slack. It is, however, at this point that things often tend to go awry. Rather than stabilising the unit, resentment, jealousy, feelings of inadequacy and similar factors can combine to worsen relationships within the group, and will often lead to divisions and a realignment of relationships.

In such situations, the job of a psychotherapist is to encourage and to facilitate the members within a close relationship to help one another to resolve their problems. To be effective, treatment must conform to a number of important guidelines. First and foremost, it must be an inclusive process in which the needs of each member are considered and in this, as with all other aspects of counselling, it is important for the therapist to therapist to guide each member through the difficult patches.

Other responsibilities include determining the strengths and weaknesses of individual members, and capitalising on them or reinforcing them accordingly, as a means to enable them to talk both individually and within the group about sensitive or distressing issues in a constructive and supportive manner.

Family and systemic psychotherapy (to use its formal title) can be equally effective among groups that are not directly related other than by ties of friendship or as work colleagues. Treatment in such cases is very similar and the goal remains to turn a conflicted and dysfunctional group into a mutually-supportive one with the ability to communicate freely and constructively.

Marital problems, unemployment, debt and addictions are just a few of the contingencies that can destroy relationships, and that have created a society in which anxiety disorders are now the most prevalent form of mental illness. Fortunately, family therapy has proved to be a very effective means to avoid such escalations. Importantly, the cost of professional counselling need not preclude such help. Dr Tienie Maritz charges medical aid rates without up-front payments and even offers an easy instalment option for non-members.