To practice family therapy, therapists need to get multiple family members in the same room at the same time. It sounds simple—and yet! The challenge of initially engaging family members is so central to the work, and so rife with potential minefields, that pioneering family therapist Salvador Minuchin wrote whole books on helping families take the first step of deciding to talk together about their problems.
We asked three family therapists how they initiate family therapy and get buy-in from family members.
Almost always, one person calls to set up a therapy appointment, not both partners in a couple or multiple members of a family. During the first conversation, when listening to the caller describe why they’re seeking therapy, it’s important for the therapist to have a systemic frame. In integrative systemic therapy, there’s a precept that you always begin with the larger system, because you can always get to a smaller system, whereas it’s much harder to expand to a larger system once you’re in a small one. So, as I listen to someone describe their problem, I think, How might other people be involved in this? Who else might be helpful in solving this problem? I may decide later that a client could benefit from individual therapy, but I’m always working from the principle that it’s better to start with more people.
A classic example is someone calling to set up therapy…