There are many types of family therapy, dating back to the 1940s. The two most common types of modern therapy — In-Home Family Therapy and Family Wilderness Therapy — are designed to help the family members as individuals by focusing on the family as a whole. They use the family’s strengths to provide strength for the individual.
Each of these types of therapy has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The most important factor to consider when choosing between the two types of therapy is the intensity of the treatment. Because it’s so immersive, Wilderness Therapy tends to be a much more intense experience for most families. Time is also an important factor to consider when choosing family therapy — some families can’t afford to drop everything and spend three or four nights working on their problems in the wilderness — some can’t afford not to.
In-Home Family Therapy
In-Home Family Therapy takes place in the family home. Typically, this involves weekly sessions where a therapist holds a safe space for each family member to share his or her concerns, personal and relational struggles, emotions, and needs. Families learn effective communication techniques in order to better understand and support each other (Gurman, 2014). These techniques prove to be most valuable during the inevitable family conflicts. This approach is very interactive, and teenagers are typically more willing to allow themselves to become vulnerable when they see that their parents are also willing to be vulnerable. The therapist’s job is to tap into your family’s strengths and use them as a foundation upon which to build and support the areas of growth. While the family system as a whole is addressed, the goal is to increase the wellness of each individual family member. The number of sessions typically varies with the needs of each family.
Family Wilderness Therapy
While In-Home Therapy can be extremely effective in some cases, families often need more intensive therapy to get the whole family working together and to work on the wellness of each family member. Studies specifically examining family involvement in therapeutic wilderness interventions for adolescents have indicated increases in family function. With all family members together and away from distractions, this experiential approach provides an environment that naturally enhances the development of trust and attachment between family members. A family retreat is often used in conjunction with adolescent wilderness therapy programs, because this is also an effective treatment for teens who struggle with low self-esteem or high risk behaviors (Martinez, 2002). However, multi-day therapeutic expeditions are also available to families who need a “system-restart” or who don’t necessarily want to enroll their teen in a longer therapeutic program.
Whether it’s office visits or the great outdoors — if you feel that your relationship with your teenager has room for improvement, a family-based intervention is an appropriate form of therapy to help your teen and your family get on track. If you’ve found your teen to be unwilling or unable to connect with you and make shifts toward healthier behaviors, an experiential family therapy approach will likely be life-changing for the whole family.