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What is Family Therapy?

“Our therapeutic aim is to create a path towards a healthier, happier and more fulfilled existence for the young adult and the family system as a whole. “ - Jayne Gottschalk
Family Therapy with a Young Person
As a family therapist I see lots of family groups in my practice. Usually family systems therapy begins with a parent calling expressing worries about their child/young adult who is expressing “acting out” behaviors. The issues that present in family therapy are countless and all are concerning to a parent. Common behaviors that prompt parents to seek family therapy include:
  • Significant anxiety/worry or depressive symptoms
  • Angry outbursts/inability or unwillingness to follow rules
  • School performance/academic pressures/truancy
  • Substance abuse/addictions
  • Eating disorders/body image issues
  • Low confidence/lack of self esteem
  • Self injury/cutting behaviors
  • Passive suicidal ideation
  • Internet/video game addiction
  • Isolation/few friends/social awkwardness
  • Bullying behaviors
My Personalized Approach to Family Counseling
Therapy may take many forms and courses, but I usually begin therapy with a young person by meeting with the parent(s) alone. I take a full history and try to understand the presenting problem through their eyes. I attempt to trace back the acting out behavior to a possible precipitating event.

Sometimes there is an ongoing separation and divorce or a recent loss or trauma. Sometimes there are underlying identity issues. Oftentimes there is significant anxiety over school pressures, problems with friend groups, etc.

Following the initial meeting with the parent(s), I meet with the parent(s) and young person together, and the story thickens with details. Therapy will then take its specific course depending on the situation. I will usually try to meet with the young person alone – especially if we are dealing with teenagers. Not much truth will come out in the company of the parent. Then, depending on the specific situation I may continue to meet with the young person alone and have the parents come in monthly, or do family therapy with the entire family present. Whichever therapeutic dynamic works best for the child and the family is what forges the ongoing sessions.
Coping Mechanisms and Acting Out: External Influences and Internal Family Influences
Oftentimes in therapy it is discovered that children’s acting out behavior is a cry for help and attention. The child may be trying to bring attention to him/herself to save his/her parents relationship/marriage. The young person will accumulate symptoms to take the focus from the parent relationship onto him/herself in an attempt to bring the parents together. I have seen this sort of behavior happen in situations ranging from parents just fighting to parents contemplating separation, from parents in mid-divorce, to parents years after divorce.

I have seen young people take on symptoms because they feel uncared for or neglected. For instance, this can happen when both parents are so busy working that the focus is totally off the child, and the child’s needs are not being adequately fulfilled.
External Triggers
Then of course there are times where the young person’s behaviors are troubling because of the negative or seemingly unmanageable influences around him or her. These triggers can include:
  • Overwhelming academic pressures
  • Unrealistic personal expectations or perceived parent demands
  • Perfectionism
  • Social pressures that result in engagement in destructive behaviors such as illicit drug and alcohol usage
  • Hyper sexuality
  • The development of severe eating disorders.

All these behaviors are concerning and all are the result of the culture and the mindset that the young person finds him/herself in. Therapy provides a safe environment to uncover and explore the young person’s fear. By providing new perspectives and coping mechanisms, therapy is geared to help manage anxiety around trigger issues.

Our therapeutic aim is to create a path towards a healthier, happier and more fulfilled existence for the young adult and the family system as a whole.
To contact Jayne to set up an initial meeting regarding your family or child’s issue, click here.
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