Family Centered Therapy
by Jason Savenelli, LPC, and Nan Sell-Parry, LCSW
Family centered therapy is a type of therapy that works with all family members to nurture and change development. It views change in terms of the systems of interaction between family members. It emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health. It avoids characterizing one particular family member as an identified “bad child.” There are many different types of family therapy, but they share a common idea that, involving the entire family in solutions to an identified problem, is often beneficial. In recent years, therapists have learned to identify families as broadly as possible, often including grandparents, other extended family, foster parents and sometimes even case managers and teachers as part of the larger system. This change has helped clinicians identify strengths and welcome positive change.
Because KidsPeace is always on the leading edge of trends in the mental health field, we anticipated this shift to Family Centered Treatment and directed our efforts toward reengineering our continuum of care to accommodate this change. In fact, we constructed a new building to house our community-based family therapy center, which opened in September 2010 in Bethlehem, PA. (To learn more about the KidsPeace Family Center in Bethlehem, PA, please visit our website at www.kidspeace.org/familycenter.aspx).
Because there are such strong connections among family members, if one person is sad or exhibiting negative behaviors or experiencing difficulty in school or at work, there is a negative impact on the entire family. Although every family is unique, in today’s world, there is constant juggling of work, school, recreation, extra-curricula activities, homework and family time, and most families experience times of struggle to keep up with all of their commitments.
There are many factors that can disrupt a well functioning family: children get sick, a parent loses his or her job, kids are bullied, separation or divorce causes a huge disruption, the family moves and money problems can alter the family’s lifestyle, while many other problems can beset a family at the same time. The problems of any one family member can turn a happy family into a dysfunctional group who no longer understand each other and are very stressed. This stress, in turn, can lead to a number of problems including unhealthy behaviors, depression, escalated disagreements, lack of communication, substance abuse and the need for counseling.
It is when stress begins to disrupt the entire family or decreases one family member’s ability to function that the KidsPeace Family Center’s outpatient services can be particularly helpful. We assist families with navigating the tough times and developing the skills they need to address and manage their problems.
Regardless of the issue or mental health disorder, Family Center Outpatient staff approach the problem within the context of the entire family. If the parents or siblings need counseling, it is provided by the Family Center. Group sessions with all family members are also arranged to work on family dynamics and to develop a strong support system for helping each other overcome individual problems.
In addition to traditional counseling and treatment, therapists use art, games and play, teaching and talking to build the skills needed to learn and heal. Psychiatrists are available to evaluate and diagnose clients and to prescribe medication if needed. The KidsPeace team of therapists, doctors, parents and children works together to make the family stronger and healthier.
Throughout the Continuum of Care at KidsPeace, our treatment approach integrates the family into the entire process so that the children and teens can continue to progress at home after a stay at our Psychiatric Hospital, Residential programs, Partial Hospitalization programs or Foster Care. Indeed, a stay in Foster Care may be extremely helpful while the child participates in individual and family therapy at our Family Center.
We teach families to get along, settle disputes without violence or verbal escalation, get help for substance abuse, stop arguing with each other, learn to spend time together and communicate effectively. As the family becomes more functional, so does the child who was initially referred to the program.
For example, a family recently brought their young son in for an assessment when the child behaved aggressively at home and at school. The child enjoyed coming to counseling and saw the psychiatrist for a low dose of medication. As the therapist got to know the family in family sessions, he discovered that the mother was experiencing sadness and hopelessness that had nothing to do with her son, but everything to do with her own struggling marriage. The situation was fueled by alcohol abuse and displays of temper between the parents that the children could see. The mother was not able to manage the household anymore, and finances were strained. The therapist set up an assessment for the mother and started to see her individually, adding marital therapy as well. The mother started to see the psychiatrist who prescribed an anti-depressant. Now, the family has stabilized, the child’s behavior has improved and the family has been successfully stepped down to monthly maintenance sessions.
Family centered treatment is a helpful way of treating identified children and their families by assisting the entire family system. In practice at KidsPeace, this treatment modality helps kids and families to change without needing to resort to higher, more intrusive levels of care such as hospitalization or in home treatment.|
Jason Savenelli, LPC, has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Lehigh University. He has 10 years’ therapy experience working with clients at the Inpatient, In Home and Outpatient levels. He currently manages three outpatient programs for KidsPeace in Pennsylvania.
Nan Sell-Parry, LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Marywood. She has 30 years’ experience working with clients in schools and the community. She currently supervises the outpatient program at the Family Center on Broadway in Bethlehem, PA.