Family therapy is a fantastic way to get parents and children to communicate better with each other. For families struggling with teenaged children, therapy offers unique insight into what causes disruption and behavior problems. However, many families who enter therapy either drop out early or during the middle of therapy. It has been suggested that in order to be considered a full course of treatment, families should attend at least 12 sessions of therapy. Understanding what factors cause families to initiate dropout could help clinicians tailor treatment to address those factors early on, thus resulting in higher completion rates.
Few studies have examined the process that occurs during family therapy, especially the process of communication between the therapist and the family members. Daria M. Marchionda of the Human Development and Family Science Department at Ohio State University sought to look at how therapist and client communication differed among early dropout families, middle dropout families, and completers in a recent exploratory study. Marchionda looked at how communication patterns determined outcome in 18 families comprised of an adolescent runaway with a history of substance use, and at least one willing parent.
She found that although the topics discussed ranged from negative to positive, the parents who communicated more, regardless of the tone of the discussion, were more likely to stay in therapy with their children than those who communicated less. This was especially true of the families who had communicated heavily early on in the therapy process. Marchionda also found that although therapists engaged the teens and the parents, the therapists who directed their conversations with the teens more than the parents had more families drop out early on. She believes that perhaps parents who do not feel they are being included or encouraged to participate may view therapy as an unproductive use of their time and may become disillusioned. By contrast, those who are encouraged to openly communicate their concerns may feel validated and begin to feel that they are an active agent in the therapeutic process. “Therefore,” said Marchionda, “Therapists seeking to increase retention should consider making special efforts to engage less talkative parents into the conversation.”
Daria, M. Marchionda, and Natasha Slesnick. Family therapy retention: An observation of first-session communication. Journal of marital and family therapy 39.1 (2013): 87-97. ProQuest Family Health; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
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