By Antonia May
“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family” (Anthony Brandt, Author)
The importance of family is becoming increasingly well known within the context of helping children therapeutically. Psychologists such as Winnicott have stressed how necessary families are, by going so far as to say that a child cannot exist without a group of people that they could call their family (Winnicott, 1960). Alongside providing a role model, and rules to guide a child’s transition into adulthood, families are the often believed to be key to providing support for children. Families are also vital for enhancing the work that therapists do and cementing it into every day living.
This raises the question, how can we include families within our interventions? There are well-known benefits of family therapy, including improving communication, strengthening relationships, building self-esteem, dealing with conflict within the family home and reducing problem behaviour (Klein, Alexander and Parsons, 1977). Despite the clear advantages which family therapy may provide, the majority of interventions still focus on the child alone. Whether this is due to practical issues, such as struggling to contact families and arranging locations for meetings, or because research supporting the role of families in interventions has not yet affected our practice, is unclear.
At One-Eighty, we are continually updating our approach and including even more of a family focus. Alongside providing family interventions, almost 1/4 of our child-interventions included a family-specific target this year. In addition to this, we aim to contact families each week of the intervention for regular ‘check-ins’ and help the family to understand the intervention and to supplement the work at home. Overall, even if specific family therapy cannot be carried out, there are steps that we as practitioners may be able to take, in order support the child more holistically.
This year we will publish our research on how we work with families as part of our Multi-Systemic Family Support approach. But for professionals working alongside parents, it is possible to introduce some small steps toward involving family members in the work you do.
- Asking parents and families’ advice before starting assessments, and seeing which aspects the family feels are important to the child
- Providing education to parents/carers about what the service provides, and any psychological theories which may help them understand their child’s behaviour
- Where appropriate, ask them to join sessions or see them separately
- Keeping in contact with parents throughout the intervention, in order to see the impact the work may be having at home
- Continue to check in with parents after interventions, to ensure that any progress is maintained
Therefore, if we can take the steps to involve families in our interventions, we may be on our way to more holistic, long-lasting results when working therapeutically with children.
Klein, N. C., Alexander, J. F., & Parsons, B. V. (1977). Impact of family systems intervention on recidivism and sibling delinquency: a model of primary prevention and program evaluation. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 45(3), 469.
Winnicott, D.W. (1960). The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 41:585-595.