There exist several different psychological and psychiatric interventions for children. Each of these can successfully treat specific child issues. However, the one therapy that is able to provide longer term relief from almost all child problems is conjoint family therapy.
Defining Family Therapy
Family therapy is used to classify psychological treatments for families. There are different approaches to family therapy, and not all involve the entire family. In fact, some family therapies focus on particular individuals and relationships within the family.
Conjoint family therapy (CFT), however, treats the entire family simultaneously. The purists who practice this therapy will only treat the family if all members are present. Sessions with missing members are typically rescheduled until everyone is there.
The premise of CFT is that the client is the family. It is believed that the family will heal when problematic relationships are corrected. For the therapist to understand and treat troubled family patterns, the relationships must be in the room with the therapist—they must be visible and accessible.
Longer Term Success for Children
There are several reasons CFT is effective for children.
- When young children display what appear to be psychological problems, this is more often than not a reaction to a troubled environment. The most important environment and relationships in a child’s life are those within the family. So, often it is the family that requires healing when a child manifests a problem.
- Young children are often inarticulate and cognitively limited in how much they can understand about themselves, the world, and a therapist. Therapy that focuses directly on the child may be intimidating, overwhelming, and limited in value. It also tends to send the child the message that something is wrong with them, when in fact, they are probably just acting out in response to a difficult situation or environment.
- Children’s primary environment is home. Whatever a therapist can accomplish with a child can be undone if parents do not support the therapist’s teaching or fail to make certain changes in the home and interactions with the child. A child cannot become functional in a dysfunctional environment or in one that does not support their growth.
Even if the child is not displaying problems stemming from a troubled family situation (marital discord, divorce, etc.), CFT is the most expedient way to correct family issues simultaneously. Sometimes all that is required is improved parenting skills or communication skills. In such cases, CFT morphs into conjoint marital therapy to aid the troubled child who no longer attends sessions.
Limitations of Non-Conjoint Therapies
Non-conjoint forms of family therapy or a series of one-on-one therapies for children and parents can ultimately accomplish long-term healing. However, this approach is either more sequential and, consequently, lengthier, or it is more diversified but fails to get at parent-child or sibling relationships.
Non-conjoint therapies also often involve different therapists who, despite competency, may not have the same understanding of the problem. Because everyone has their own understanding of a situation, different family members relate different experiences, leading different therapists to different conclusions. This muddiness is avoided with CFT, where the therapist can get the closest to discovering the nature of the problem.
Although there is no one right path to psychological healing, CFT is one of the best options for troubled children. Multiple issues can be tackled together, several relationships can be improved, and parents can get greater parenting insights. The family struggling with any or all of these can be smoothly transitioned to a more functional life that supports the mental health of all members, especially children.