Family /ˈfamɪli,ˈfam(ə)li/

Family; we all know what it is and how it can feel to be part of a family, yet it’s difficult to define it. Even in psychology, the first thing you learn about family therapy is how family works rather than what it is. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “A family is a group of two or more people (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together.” Family can be seen and dissected through different strata. In other words, a family can be interpreted according to psychological, social, biological, and cultural factors. However, the common denominator of all these factors is that they work as a system (i.e., everything works out if it works in unison). 

In family therapy, the aim is to change the pattern of interactions to create healthy relationships which will help the system work functionally. So, why do families feel hesitant to go through therapy? The answer is simple. Because when you change one person you change the system and how other members interact with that person and vice versa. Considering that the family works as a system, it is hard for the family members to realize when the family is leaning towards dysfunctionality because of homeostasis. Systems are resistant to change. Therefore, you may notice that all family systems find a way to work, but it does not mean that their way is functional or healthy; hence, it is not a matter of whether it works or not because all systems are designed to work,  but rather a matter of how it works. 

Depending on the psychologist’s method and the nature of the family dynamics, the focus of the treatment plan can be different. For example, some approaches define dysfunctionality in a family as a result of suppressing emotions or being stuck into strategic loops. However, these approaches do not show the level of a family’s dysfunctionality. Functionality is measured on a scale. In other words, it’s not black or white, there’re different shades in between which can be fleshed out by the cultural system you belong in. The importance of culture in the family system is salient when you compare individualism to collectivism. 

In collectivistic societies, people tend to prioritize family, and usually, members of the family are aware of their role in the family and their actions may be based on how their consequences will impact their family. The family structure is based on strict rules and develops a combination of rigid and enmeshed boundaries. A common example of this is when a child has rigid boundaries with his/her dad (i.e., does not express his/her needs and feelings, but rather obeys whatever the dad orders) and enmeshed boundaries with his/her mom (i.e., expresses too personal information, treats her as a friend rather than a caregiver). Due to the fact that people in collectivistic societies tend to normalize the institution of family, they associate having a family with being successful and happy. Logically, there’s a false assumption that their family system is functional. 

Here it is important to examine the stages of development that a family goes through. In other words, how the unattached young adult who is in search of his/her identity moves on to the stage of joining a family (typically getting married), jumps to having a family with young children (i.e., becoming a parent), then launching the children, (i.e., helping the children to develop their own individual identities) and ending up in a family in later life. As you can realize, one of the potential problems is that the unattached young adult may have not had the opportunity to fully develop his/her identity and had to move on to the next stage by adapting to his/her other role, as a parent and a partner.     

Undeniably, there are different approaches to the topic of family. I chose this one because it challenges each one of us to reconsider our role in our family. By being aware of the dynamics of the group, you automatically have the power of choice to alter and modify your role, as much as you can. A healthy family system can give you space to safely, discover parts of your identity as well as provide a model to help you create your own family.