Raising a family isn’t easy. Conflicts arise inside and outside of our control every day, from who forgot to load the dishwasher, to substance abuse, to a child acting out in school for (seemingly) no good reason. There are plenty of scenarios that can cause conflict on any given day, so how does one know when to seek professional help for the whole family? Here are three significant signs it’s time to seek counseling for families.
1. Unresolved fights or patterns.
Every family goes through periods where an argument seems to be brought up repeatedly with no resolution. But when handling disagreements in such a way becomes the norm, it may begin to disrupt other areas of the family. A few examples of this are:
- It is one thing to agree to stay away from a particular topic you don’t agree on, but if your family’s communication dives as a whole, it may be time to get to the root of the problem through counseling.
- Substance abuse.
- Substance abuse doesn’t just affect the user. When one person is abusing a substance, whether it be alcohol, drugs, sex, etc., it can wreak havoc on the rest of the family. Seeking professional help can help the entire family cope with the issue by building up a support system.
- Family Trauma.
- Everyone deals with trauma differently. While one person may cry to sleep every night after the death of a loved one, someone else may throw themselves into their job, school, or video games in an attempt to distract themselves. These different coping mechanisms can be hard for each family member to understand. Your counselor will be able to help each of you express what you’re feeling and teach you the best ways to support each other through difficult times.
2. Unhealthy family roles.
Unfortunately, unhealthy family roles can be hard to spot at a glance. Still, because counseling for families focuses on the whole family, your counselor will be able to spot these issues and help resolve them.
Most likely, these roles have been a part of your family’s life since the very beginning, perhaps starting with your parents, grandparents, or even further back in your ancestry. Because of this, you may think these roles are normal and “just a part of life,” but many of these can cause real damage and are important to look out for. Below are just three of the many roles that can surface.
- The Scapegoat.
- The scapegoat is someone (usually a child) that the family blames their troubles on. In her video about family roles, Ramani, an expert on narcissism and its effects, describes this child as someone who “gets it.” This child or person sees through the family’s problems and is picked on or made fun of for it.
- The Caregiver.
- This role often shows itself in families where the parent figures are absent, whether physically or emotionally. The caregiver tends to be a parentified child trying their best to keep the family together by resolving conflicts, often at their own expense.
- The Addict or Identified Patient (IP).
- If a family is struggling with dysfunction, one person may turn to drugs, alcohol, or any number of addictions, out of desperation. When this happens, the rest of the family may begin to ignore their problems in favor of focusing on the “bigger issue.” Being a target for the family in this manner causes more conflict and frustration for the addict or IP, making it even more difficult for them to seek out help and heal their traumas.
3. Signs of deeper issues or abuse in children.
Now that we’ve discussed a bit about when to seek help for the family, let’s look at three signs to look out for in children in particular.
- This can be from friends, family, or activities. Withdrawal can mean many things, such as depression, anxiety, or something else entirely. If your child loses interest in several things they used to enjoy all at once, it may be time to check in on them.
- Reluctance to go home or attempts at running away.
- These can be a major red flag. Most children, especially younger ones, don’t want to be told when to go home. But if your child seems fearful or the odd behavior starts suddenly, it could be a sign of deeper trouble. Ask your child if someone has hurt them or if something else is going on.
Please note that children do not understand abuse.
If your child (especially the younger they are) says nothing is happening, that does not mean nothing is happening for sure. Abuse, especially sexual, is confusing, and, in many cases, the abuser will threaten the child to keep them quiet. If you suspect something may be happening, keep a close eye on your child and take them to counseling.
- Self-harm or attempts at suicide.
- This is highly alarming. Please don’t try to handle this on your own. Seek a counselor both you and your child are comfortable with immediately.
Remember, these are just some of the signs. It doesn’t mean abuse or deeper issues for sure, but they are good to keep in mind. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Broaching the topic of counseling for families.
The best thing you can do is let your child or family know why you are going and that any questions they have can be brought up to the therapist or counselor. The best thing you can do is make sure they feel heard.
Let them know you recognize that you may be in the wrong, too (should that be the case). Owning up to your faults will help lower walls and strengthen trust.
Remember that your counselor is a professional. They are there to help you and your family and have your best interest at heart. When attending family counseling, you are no longer on your own.
These are just a few of the signs to look out for when considering family or child counseling. Listen to your intuition. If something is telling you to seek professional help, listen to it!
Here at Health for Life Counseling, we want to help you, your child, and your family feel as comfortable and safe as possible, which is why we offer free 15-minute phone consultations.
We can’t wait to hear from you!