A couple of years ago, my spouse and I had a realization that had been a long time coming. The two of us had both been attending various forms of therapy for the last 5 or 6 years. We both had individual therapists, we’d done marriage counseling in the past to get through some tough times and I regularly attend 12-step meetings as part of my ongoing recovery from substance abuse. Our oldest daughter was also in therapy, something we started after she was diagnosed with epilepsy and began struggling with both the trauma and reality of this new diagnosis.
The realization came after we had applauded ourselves for years on prioritizing our family’s mental health as much as our physical health…and then realizing that we were all working on ourselves in an isolated manner. I talked to my therapist, she talked to hers, our daughter talked to hers…and there were no “common goals” that we were all working toward as a family.
When my wife brought this up, my natural instinct was to quite simply say, “nah…we’re good, we’re doing enough. Definitely doing more than most.” The more I thought about it, the more it started to make sense though. We were all trying to be the best versions of ourselves and deal with our own individual issues, but we had no accountability to *each other* with regard to our progress and growth. So we decided to give family therapy a try.
Admittedly the next step was one of the hardest, finding a therapist that was a good fit for all of us. We didn’t get it right the first time. My wife’s counselor was also certified in family counseling so we gave it a shot first. The mistake we made here was that her counselor had several years-worth of “her perspective” on our family life that became obvious pretty quickly in a couple of sessions. Our next attempt wasn’t so great either. There wasn’t any one thing that I can pinpoint, but the therapist spent a lot of time asking our kids (9 and 7 at the time) open-ended questions that they had trouble answering or articulating, especially in front of their parents.
With our third attempt, we found a winner with a therapist that offered solution-focused therapy. This highlighted an important lesson that we always try to pass along to other parents – don’t be deterred if you try and don’t find a good fit the first time. Having a therapist is a lot like entering into a new relationship – the dynamic of trust and honesty needs to develop over time in the right environment. But when it clicks, we have found that our family therapy sessions can have a major positive impact on our lives together. We’re all a work in progress and probably get it wrong more than we get it right, but the focus on our mental and emotional health has helped us become better versions of ourselves, together.