There is nothing more rewarding than helping families as a unit. I enjoy helping families communicate better, understand difficult patterns, and help them heal together from a major loss. I help family members recognize how important they are to each other, express what they need from each other and how to transition to new life stages (i.e. going off to college). I validate experiences and gently help people express themselves constructively. Many therapists shy away from family therapy because they fear the conflict or it is difficult for them to stay neutral. I have a natural ability to tolerate conflict and help manage it. Plus, I never over-identify with the child or with a parent. These are skills I have and I use them well. What is most rewarding is to observe a family come together and express their love for each other genuinely. As a therapist, I will only be in people's lives temporarily but families will be with each other long-term. Obviously, clients need to trust and feel comfortable with their therapist in order to heal. However, it is more therapeutic when people learn to connect better with the important people in their lives.
I remember working with a family, a grandmother and two adolescent children. The children were grieving the loss of their mom and the grandmother was grieving her daughter. I met the family a few months after her death from lung cancer. The grandmother suffered from depression and from physical ailments that prevented her from being mobile. In addition, the grandmother and the kids did not always get along well. I made home visits to this family and I worked with them individually and together around their grief and family issues. The week before the one-year anniversary of their mother's death, I brought the family together to discuss what each person's expectations were for the day. The son talked about his need for quiet and need for space. The daughter talked about her wish to look at old photographs together. They thought about visiting the grave together, something they hadn't done since the funeral a year ago. They also agreed they would like to do a ritual together to commemorate their mother's death, such as lighting a candle and saying a prayer. Each family member had different needs and expectations. With my help, they were able to talk about different options and come up with a compromise.
The following visit, two days after the anniversary, I checked in with the family about how their day went. They all said the day went well; they supported each other and gave each other the quiet and space they needed to mourn. They also followed through with all of their plans of lighting a candle and looking at photos. Also, they visited the grave, which was challenging due to the grandmother's mobility limitations, but it was important to all of them. Because they thought it through ahead of time, they got the necessary help and it went smoothly. They thanked me for helping them acknowledge the importance of that day and for assisting them to mourn together peacefully and supportively.