During treatment, avoiding or covering up sensitive issues in a family system such as affairs, deaths, addictions, or traumas is likely to impede the healing process and perpetuate dysfunction. By making the covert overt, however, and re framing uncomfortable facts in a manner that makes them safer to discuss, a family systems therapist can help accelerate the healing process.
Since the family is a dynamic system comprised of deeply interdependent members, the more members who participate in treatment the better. In most cases this is true regardless of their past role in the family. Even those who in the past have been estranged or have had a disruptive role in the family can often add immensely to the therapeutic process. But there are exceptions.
In some cases, a family member may be temporarily excluded from the treatment process. An example may be an alcoholic father who is held off until the mother and daughter (a dyad, or two-person relationship) develop some skills and resiliencies to engage the father in new ways. Then the father may be reintroduced into the process for more systemic healing.
There are also rare cases in which a family member may be permanently excluded from the treatment process. Generally we make these exclusions in order to preserve the physical or emotional safety of other family members, such as in cases of past physical or sexual abuse when the perpetrator’s involvement would introduce a risk of retraumatization or revictimization.
For most families, however, the more members who participate in the therapeutic process the better. In family systems theory, which we practice at New Haven, the whole is always viewed as greater than the sum of its parts. This means that we can gain a much better understanding of the client’s behaviors and opportunities for healing if we have access to the whole family system to which she belongs.