Summer can be the perfect time to focus on positive mental health for your family. Particularly as the school year is ending, many families are reflecting on family dynamics from the past several months – as well as potentially shoring-up relationships and focusing on family bonding in preparation for the seasons ahead.
This month’s blog spotlights Family Counseling Services at The Women’s Center, based on a recent interview with Sandra Moncrief-Stuart. Along with serving in supervisory roles at The Women’s Center, Sandra is a licensed marriage and family therapist and plays a key role in leading The Center’s Family Counseling Services.
It’s officially summer! For many of us, this means sunnier days, fun outdoor activities, and potentially more time to relax. While, for some, summertime might bring some potential stressors, such as feeling overwhelmed by inconsistent schedules and increased activities, many people report experiencing improved mental health during the summer months. Therefore, summer presents an optimal time to reflect, set habits, and work on building stronger relationships with family.
Family Relationships – Tips
The people we live with and are related to are often expected to be our closest connections and our greatest sources of love and support. While that is often true, our interactions with family can be filled with just as much misunderstanding, conflict, and hardship as any other relationship. Even the closest families can go through challenging times. Families are made up of individuals with unique personalities, needs, and desires. Sometimes, these differences can lead to conflict and tension.
The foundational piece of advice that Sandra Moncrief-Stuart shares with families she works with is to listen without judgment and to always strive to understand the other person’s point of view. We often want to interject and try to explain to the other person why their viewpoint is incorrect. We tend to react to their perspective. Or we try to immediately solve their problems before hearing them out.
When someone is talking to you about their problem, try not to interrupt or judge them. Instead, give them your full attention, make eye contact, and simply listen to what they have to say. Let the person know that you care about them and that you are interested in what they have to say. When someone feels like they are being heard and understood, they often feel better. This is because they feel like they are not alone and that someone cares about them. When you listen without judgment, you show the person that we care about them and are willing to listen to them. This can help to build trust and rapport between you and the other person.
Another tip Sandra often gives families is to first try to practice what she calls a “loving intervention” – which is simply any positive action on your part that shows you care about your family member. If your child or family member is struggling with something, you might start by planning a loving intervention. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or even related to the issue – anything positive that shows love would constitute a loving intervention.
When working through family issues without outside help is not working, it might be time to consider engaging the services of a qualified professional family therapist. Family therapy can help you and your family better understand and overcome the roadblocks that are preventing your family from living a full and healthy life.
Family Counseling – Will it Help?
Family therapy is a form of group therapy that focuses on the improvement of inter-family relationships and behaviors. Family therapy can involve any combination of family members.
Many times, families seek out counseling when an acute conflict or change arises. Other times, families seek our counseling to address issues that have been building over time. Situational changes often drive the need for counseling (physical or mental health illness of a member of the family, financial stressors, marriage changes, etc.). Families sometimes seek counseling to help with facilitating parenting challenges, or when going through a significant change, such as blending two families together. In such scenarios, counseling can help children, parents, new partners, and ex-spouses communicate better, resolve conflict, and build stronger relationships. Finally, family therapy is often intertwined with couples/marriage counseling.
Counseling offers a professional environment where families can address their issues and work towards resolution. This form of support becomes particularly valuable when families find themselves unable to resolve their issues independently, or when their previous attempts have been ineffective or exacerbated the situation.
Family Counseling – What to Expect
As with all therapy, there are a variety of approaches and specializations within the field of family therapy, depending on particular needs and preferences.
However, referencing family therapy offered by The Women’s Center as an example, sessions usually start with an assessment phase. During this phase, the therapist’s goal is to gain a thorough understanding of the situation and the problem’s history by asking thoughtful questions. The next step involves the family working together with the therapist to establish objectives for what they hope to achieve through the sessions. For instance, the therapist might ask the family, “If you were to look back in three months, what outcomes would make you happy that you chose to pursue therapy?”
The prescriptive steps and outcomes can vary significantly. Sometimes families have a sudden breakthrough or an “ah-ha” moment, while others might require more time to work through things. Sometimes, therapy uncovers underlying issues that have to be addressed first such as substance abuse issues that lead to family conflict.
While each process is unique, the benefits of family therapy can include:
- Stronger understanding and communication between family members
- A safe and supportive environment to discuss highly emotional topics
- Expert guidance to navigate complex challenges
Family relationships are full of opportunities to grow. And continually working on building family relationships can result in a stronger family that is able to better communicate, resolve conflicts faster, and more skillfully navigate the ups and downs of life.
Family Counseling Services at The Women’s Center
The mission of The Women’s Center is to significantly improve the mental health and well-being of all members of the community through counseling, education, support, and advocacy. Family Counseling is one of the many services offered by The Center. Family Counseling is part of a continuum of services that include individual, couples/marital, and adolescent services.
If you find yourself in need of mental health support this summer (or any time), The Women’s Center is here to help.