Which Members of the Family Should Participate in Family Therapy?

If your family is beginning family therapy, it is important that the appropriate members attend. The concerns that brought your family to therapy may dictate who should be there. Here, therapists explain circumstances that require different family members for therapy to be successful:

Pierce-LuAnn
LuAnn Pierce, LCSW
: Ideally, everyone in the immediate family will participate in family therapy. In some cases, it might be helpful to include other family members if they are involved in the problems that need to be addressed.

For example, if a couple comes in and raises concerns that grandparents, aunts, or uncles are sabotaging their parenting efforts, it would be helpful to include these people in some of the sessions. The same would be true if one spouse is having problems with his/her in-laws. They may only need to attend a few sessions unless the focus of the therapy includes them.

In family therapy it is important to have everyone involved unless children are too young to understand the issues, or the issues are inappropriate for their age. There are some issues that need to be addressed by adults that children need not be burdened with. At times, there may be issues that involve older teens that are not appropriate for younger children.

The therapist will determine who needs to be present for sessions based on what issues are being addressed. If something comes up in a session that is inappropriate for younger children, the therapist will usually intervene, perhaps asking that the younger children leave the room or that the issue be tabled until another time.

Cooper-RuthRuth Hoffman Cooper, MFT: It depends a great deal on the family issues involved, and the ages of the family members. The therapist should discuss this question with you on the phone prior to the first session. Who attends sessions is an important therapeutic decision. Although it may be uncomfortable for you to think of including young children in a session, it may be very helpful in resolving the issues, so try to follow your therapist’s request for who should be present.

Family therapists know how to include everyone in an appropriate way and can adjust their language to suit younger children. However, if the primary issues are between two adults the children are likely to not be invited so the parents/step-parents can have a fully adult conversation and not be concerned about saying things that children are not ready to hear. If you disagree with your therapist’s recommendation of who should attend, feel free to share your concerns in advance, but do not just make a decision on your own. Your therapist has very good reasons and will be planning for the session. It may be difficult for him or her to recalibrate the plan if a different mix of people show up than he or she was expecting.

Mendonsa-AndrewAndrew Mendonsa, PsyD: Usually family members who are attached to the current crisis driving a particular component of a family crisis into therapy are involved. For example, what might appear to be an immediate family problem may actually be problems which are stemming from stress initiated by extended family members. Often, the therapist can help to identify which family members would be most beneficial in therapy. The use of the Genogram, for example, can help to identify patterns and other family members which might be helpful for family therapy success.

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  • Derek D.

    Derek D.

    July 14th, 2017 at 6:11 AM

    My cousin is taking his family in for their first therapy session soon but wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to bring the kids or not. I like that you mentioned how it’s important to consider the Therapists recommendations of who to bring because they plan their session around that. I don’t think their therapist made a recommendation, but I’ll be sure to recommend that he ask. Thanks for the help!

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