Deciding to start family therapy can be an exciting yet nerve-wracking time. It is normal to have questions or feel unsure, but being prepared and knowing what to expect can reduce some of these worries. While the exact format of therapy will vary according to the therapist and style of counselling, here are four tips for how to prepare for your first family counselling session:
1. Talk Together as a Family About the Purpose of Counselling
Discuss family counselling as an opportunity for the whole family to make positive changes.
Make sure any children know it is not their fault that the family is attending therapy. Children may blame themselves for family challenges, so explaining why the family is attending counselling and the hope for positive family changes is essential.
As a family, talk about mental health openly and without judgement
2. Discuss Family Expectations in the Therapy Room
Acknowledge that every family member’s opinion is valuable.
Everyone is encouraged to be an active participant in therapy, but it is okay to have a “pass” sometimes.
Having different viewpoints is okay! Being honest and respectful of each other is key.
Recognize that the therapist will not take sides but will support the whole family.
3. Talk About the First Session
As a family, make sure everyone knows that the first session will primarily be discussing why the family is attending therapy and building a relationship with the therapist.
In the first session, the therapist may ask about a variety of factors. Topics may include family relationships, family dynamics, communication patterns, roles within the family, and family resources. Taking the time to reflect on these topics before the first session can make the questions less intimidating.
Write down any questions that anyone may have. Questions could include asking the therapist what their approach to counselling is, what to expect in the sessions or anything else that comes to mind.
Discuss what each member hopes to get out of family counselling.
4. Know That the Family Comes First!
The therapist is there to offer non-judgmental support to the whole family.
It is okay to seek out a different family therapist for any reason. The therapist needs to be the right fit for the family.
Whatever the reason for attending family counselling is, know that change is possible, and your therapist is there to support you in the process!
Fear, J. M., Champion, J. E., Reeslund, K. L., Forehand, R., Colletti, C., Roberts, L., & Compas, B. E. (2009). Parental depression and interparental conflict: Children and adolescents’ self-blame and coping responses. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(5), 762-766. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016381