None of us is an island, living in isolation. I believe strongly in family therapy as a way of addressing problems in the system as a whole. What affects one member of a family impacts other members of the family. It’s the idea that throwing a stone into a puddle creates ripples throughout the pond. Families are made up of a series of relationships–the family as a whole and then between individual members with each other.
My first job after college was at a residential facility for adolescent girls. It was filled with girls who had gotten into trouble in a multitude of ways: gang activity, legal problems, school problems, running away, and more. It was a very structured environment and the girls received intensive individual and group therapy. Many of the girls made tremendous strides and turned things around dramatically. Often they worked toward getting jobs in the community and even community college classes. It was a rewarding experience to be a role model for these kids who hadn’t experienced healthy relationships previously and to have some part of the changes they made during their time there.
One of the hardest parts of working there, however, was that for many girls, they would leave the program doing very well only to end up in trouble again after their release. It’s one of the things that solidified my belief in family therapy. The program did a great job with the girls there on an individual basis, but it didn’t emphasize work with their families. The kids in this program were taken out of their family environments and made all kinds of changes while away, but nothing was done to intervene with the family or the environment they came from or would return to.
For many of the girls in that facility, there were problems in the family that led to or contributed to the problems the girls had prior to coming there. Without addressing those problems, these girls who had worked so hard to make changes returned to an environment that wasn’t conducive to maintaining those changes. For me, it solidified in my mind the need to work with the whole family on making changes so the change would be lasting.