Too often, parents and educators who are frustrated by a child’s persistent problems with behavior or emotional regulation will conclude that the child in question has a particular disorder when a more effective more wholesome solution may be achievable through a careful examination of family dynamics.
Therapy that looks at family dynamics recognizes that family members know one another in ways that therapists never can; a parent will forever be a greater expert on their children than the most keenly perceptive therapist. This means that our role in therapies concerned with family dynamics is to help the individual members learn by looking at their lives from a dispassionate, holistic perspective.
In traditional therapy work, the ‘identified patient’ becomes the primary focus; a depressive parent or a rebellious child is analyzed in isolation, and proposed solutions begin and end with that single person’s struggles or behaviors. For all it can accomplish, this perspective has limitations, and occasionally another perspective is necessary. In considering family dynamics, we think of symptoms as serving a function in a larger family system.
For example, most people understand that it is not unusual for a child whose parents are divorcing to act out in class. Looking only at the child, a therapist might conclude that a they are simply reacting to stresses, or may have ADHD. When a professional takes family dynamics into account, a very different picture may come to light.
If a child feels unconsciously that their parents come together and cooperate so rarely that it takes a meeting with a teacher or a school administrator, then it may be that this child is expressing a need for calm and affection within their family by acting out. They may be in trouble, but at least their mother and father are not fighting and focusing on them. Far from being a ‘problematic kid,’ this is a child struggling to adjust to the new structure of their family life, only now their parents have a better understanding of their needs and an opportunity to help.
At The Essential Learning Group (ELG), we serve as consultants when we look at family dynamics. It is not useful to say, ‘You are doing wrong, so change,’ so instead we offer a holistic view, identifying areas of strength as well as areas of concern, enabling families to build upon their strengths and feel a collective sense of capability and momentum.