Collaborating with families
Very often I get a referral to consult with a child and although I love engaging with children and learning from and with them, I see the child as part of a larger structure. This structure being the family unit. By working with the family it helps me to get to know the family dynamic better and in working in this way it also helps the family to gain better insight into the workings of their own unique family-structure.
Each family dynamic has evolved within a unique context and is informed by different beliefs, grounded in different cultural ideas and societal norms. The workings and beliefs of families are often informed by society and family-of-origin, and are taken on without questioning. It is only during times of crisis within the family that we stop and begin to question certain ideas and beliefs and ask how we can create ease within the family and for family members. These moments of upheaval are times to seek alternate perspectives and stories about the family or family members in a way that is respectful, hopeful and beneficial to all involved. Family units are unique and dynamic. Therefore, for me, it becomes very important to get to know what informs the family and therefore, how best to assist the family face the particular challenges that cause disharmony for the family. This may be in the form of behavioral struggles with a child, academic issues, mood, sibling rivalry or just general familial disharmony. This process usually evolves organically and as we collaborate together it may become apparent who and when it may be appropriate to work with an individual member or the parents on their own. Assisting family members to locate skills and strengths as well as to be able to identify patterns of responding can be profoundly empowering as well as healing.
I believe that modern society does not support the family structure. I do not mean this in a traditional sense of family structure, as families take many different shapes, sizes and forms, but a family is a group of people consisting of care-givers and dependents and the complexities that go along with all human relationships. I have found that it can be very helpful to approach a family-unit with curiosity and interest as we journey in discovering the unique workings of the family dynamic. This is never about naming and shaming, nor about guilt or judgement. It is about taking on the task of being explorer, to gain a different perspective, insight and move forward acknowledging things as they are and making choices to engage differently, guided by the family itself. I am informed by Narrative Practice when working with families, as well as the incredible work done by Dr. Gabor Mate, Dr. Gordon Nuefeld and Dr. John Arden.