When Your Family Member Decides to See a Therapist
When a family member begins therapy, it can be an “interesting” experience for everyone involved. Suddenly, your family member's therapist is peeking into everything that is going on inside your home. The person in therapy is totally free to - even encouraged to - share every “family secret” and annoying tendency anyone in the home has ever shared. The therapist is “sworn to secrecy” but it can feel pretty intrusive.
Offsetting this family intrusion is the help your family needs. No matter what is going on, somehow the family is being affected. Also, even if the family isn’t directly connected to what the person in therapy is going through, you care for the person who is struggling. You want them to be well and move on with their life. You want your family member's therapist to help them. You know that the way they are thinking and feeling about themselves and life isn’t working for them. Maybe what they are thinking about you is a part of what is holding them back, so let’s open it up, resolve it and move on!
Your Family Member's Therapist: What to Expect
You may have tried to talk things out with them. Likely, it didn’t go so well, or they wouldn’t now be entering therapy. Like any problem other groups of people may have, you have called in a “consultant”. A consultant will usually meet with “whoever is in charge” and tell them the structure they feel will work best to help. Sometimes a consultant will talk with everyone and report back to “the boss”. Sometimes a consultant will speak only to the person who seems most troubled and then provide the boss with a simple, “all’s clear”. A therapist will likely meet with whoever is the “family’s boss”, explain who they will talk to, who they won’t and who they will share information with. If all agree, then the therapy begins.
Of course, as things change and, if everyone agrees, the rules can change. If someone is in danger, then the therapist is obliged to let someone know. This adds a level of safety. Although nothing is perfect, everyone needs to be assured that the person in therapy and the family is safe. The way the person in therapy feels about other family members may change over time. They may try different strategies to improve communication. Sometimes this can come off as a bit odd, especially the first time they try it. If it works for you, go with it. If it doesn’t, politely let them know. They can go back to the therapist and refine the strategy.
How to Handle Potential Problems
Sometimes the person may come to the family and tell everyone, “My therapist decided that you need to quit your job, sell the house, let my friend live with us, etc.” This would be very unusual to say the least. Your family member's therapist would usually talk with others involved in any such recommendation to “get the rest of the story”, allow the family time to consider their options and then respectfully share their thoughts with those most affected.
When the person in therapy says something like this there are several ways to respond. First, you can simply say that you are open to talking with the therapist about this option. Second, you can wait a day or two and check in again with the person in therapy about what they think about the issue. Usually, the person in therapy will have had time to process what was said in therapy. Usually, things will make a lot more sense. If the person in therapy continues to insist that this is what the therapist said and now feels empowered to try to instruct others as to what they should do - then it’s time to send a communication to the therapist informing them of the situation.
Your family member's therapist may not get back to you but will be obliged to tell the person in therapy about the communication. They will discuss it further and hopefully you will notice a shift in their understanding or approach. If not, it’s time to communicate more directly with the therapist. There are many possibilities but using a therapist to tell others in the family what they should do without talking to them is not one of them.
These and many more interesting possibilities can be experienced when a member of your family is in therapy. There will be boundaries in the communications between the therapist and other family members. However, the therapist needs to know when therapy is being used in a way that is harmful to the person or to other family members. Therapists are interested in everyone’s safety and any quality therapist is also very open to a second opinion. Things can get confusing. No one is perfect and we know that. When your concerns reach this level, please feel free to simply ask for a second opinion. Likely, everyone will be glad you did!