Jul 18, 2014

Could Your Family Benefit From Family Therapy? When to Think About Getting Professional Help

Family therapy is “a type of psychological counseling done to help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts.”

Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Alzheimer's Reading Room

The three Mackey children never got along well, and things got even worse when their father, Ralph, remarried after their mother died. His second wife, Becky, now finds herself functioning as the primary caregiver for Ralph, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago.

The children never liked Becky either, and now they like her even less. In fact, Brent, the oldest sibling, positively detests her. The children’s fights about how Becky should care for their father increase with every passing day.

Their conflicts with Becky are escalating lately, too. They never miss a chance to criticize or berate her – often in the presence of their father, who is simply bewildered by it all.

Family Conflict and Alzheimer’s: The Mackey family isn’t necessarily unusual. In a previous article, What to Do When Alzheimer’s Threatens to Tear Your Family Apart, I discussed the conflicts that can arise when a family member has Alzheimer’s.

I quoted Carole Larkin, who says that 30% of her family clients experience conflict. And she says that is doubled for blended families (like the Mackeys.)

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And, as with the Mackeys, most conflict centers around what type of care should be provided to the person with Alzheimer’s. Other arguments typically involve money and facility placement.

What Is Family Therapy? According to an article, Family Therapy,  on the Mayo Clinic website, family therapy is “a type of psychological counseling done to help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts.”

Family Therapy and Alzheimer’s: Unlike individual therapy and Alzheimer’s, not much has been written about family therapy and Alzheimer’s.
However, most of the information in the Mayo Clinic article applies to families affected by Alzheimer’s. The article states, “Family therapy can be useful in any family situation that causes stress, grief, anger or conflict.” Having a family member with Alzheimer’s usually causes all of those.

The article continues, “It can help you and your family members understand one another better and bring you closer together.”

The article describes this type of therapy further, stating that “Family therapy is often short term. It may include all family members or just those most able to participate. Family therapy sessions can teach you skills to deepen family connections and get through stressful times, even after you’re done going to therapy sessions.”

Does Your Family Really Need Professional Help? Conflict is to be expected even in the best of families, and this can increase if one member has a serious disease, such as Alzheimer’s, that requires extensive caregiving.

So how do you know if professional counseling could be needed for your family? I would suggest you consider it if at least one family member’s mental health and daily functioning are being seriously affected by the strife.

Another sign – and an important one - that outside help is needed would be if the constant bickering is negatively impacting the quality of care being provided to the person with Alzheimer’s.

What If Some Family Members Refuse to Participate?  Don’t be surprised if some family members flat out refuse to take part.

And don’t be surprised if it’s the one(s) considered by others to be the source of much of the conflict. You might try having their primary care provider, clergy person, or lawyer speak to them about it. Sometimes people pay more attention to someone outside the family. But you can’t force them to go.

If they still refuse, the other family members can go ahead without them. The therapy may still be helpful to the ones who do go, and it may help them better cope with the one who won’t attend the sessions.

How to Find a Family Therapist:  You can get a referral from a friend or other family member or from your primary care provider. The Mayo Clinic article lists several other sources of referral, such as your health insurance company, employee assistance program, clergy, or state or local mental health agencies.

Have any of you tried family therapy? If so, did it help? Or if not, do you think you should try it? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

Come Back Early Today
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book,
Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy.
Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer’s caregivers.
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