At the Ülemiste Psychiatric Centre in the Ülemiste Health House, a family therapist can help if you are feeling discord in your relationships:
A form of therapy that heals through close relationships, if you are feeling unhappy with your life and maybe don’t even know what exactly is out of order or missing, family therapy is where you can get help. Hedy Laidre, a psychologist and family therapist at the Ülemiste Psychiatric Centre, explains how to better understand that it’s time to come to family therapy.
According to Hedy, the most common indicator is discord in close relationships. This includes fights, tensions between partners as well as between a child and a parent, and the desire for a closer relationship. “In addition to relationship problems, other common reasons for referral include behavioural problems in young children, adolescent mental health problems, and various illnesses and symptoms in adults themselves,” says the report. she says. Family therapy is widely used around the world, and fortunately, according to Hedy, the term has started to attract more and more attention in Estonia. “The people who run it, the Estonian Association for Family Therapy and the Estonian School of Family Therapy, also have an important role to play,” she says. They have done a great deal of work in Estonia to bring family therapy knowledge and experience closer to the people”.
The family as a system
Family psychotherapy emerged in the second half of the 20th century when research and treatment of schizophrenia patients and their families began. “At that point it was noticed that schizophrenia patients were getting good results in hospital, when they were sent back home, the symptoms became exacerbated again. Initially it was thought to be influenced by the relationship between the patient and their mother, later the father was added to the mix, until finally it was felt that the intergenerational relationship needed to be looked at,” says Hedy, adding that looking at family relationships is crucial. “A family is a system where all the family members are interconnected and a change in one member of the family brings about a change in the whole system and vice versa.” Hedy stresses that it is never her job to find the culprit, but to look at how this problematic situation has developed and what each family member can do to change the situation.
Family therapy takes place in a safe and supportive environment, where it is important to go through therapy as a whole in order to achieve lasting change. To achieve results, a genogram or family map is drawn up with the client. “We look at three generations at a time. What are the relationships, the boundaries between subsystems, the hierarchy, the roles in the family and much more. Only the facts are recorded in the genogram and a pattern emerges. As the issues people come to address are very different, the sessions are also structured according to objectives agreed with the family.” Through the genogram’s awareness of relational patterns, clients experience an ah-ha effect, which has led them to implement changes in their lives. Hedy calls herself a practitioner rather than a theoretician, having undergone family therapy herself. “I’ve had migraines since I was a child, but thanks to family therapy I don’t have them anymore.”
A new trend
Family therapy also has clients from wall to wall. For example, new couples come together who have had their first big fight. “In couples therapy, it’s often the first time partners experience grief together. They don’t run away as has usually happened. Showing their feelings in the past has been scary for them. This fear has its origins in childhood, but can be addressed in couples therapy,” she says. Young couples coming together is a recent trend, says Hedy. “People often ask if we both come from different families, how do we make the relationship work between all the family members so that the children will be well in the future. It’s nice for young families to start asking and noticing more and not stay in the dissatisfaction phase.”
Young people as co-therapists
But there are plenty of young people too. “Lately, they have a lot of anxiety and also addiction to online.” Hedy says young people are so skilled and smart these days that they can become her co-therapists in sessions, because they can pinpoint exactly what needs to change in the family system. “I’m amazed at how they express themselves – for example, they say, ‘How can I love myself when my mum is fighting with my dad?’ They’re two of my people and if they can’t get along, how can I get along with myself. My role as a therapist is to help these conversations happen so that each family member can be heard and understood’.
You can only change yourself
However, it takes time for parents to reach family therapy with young children. “They feel a lot of guilt and shame because they think they are to blame for something, or as if they have not been good enough, and they may even fear that their behaviour has caused the child’s illness. I always praise parents for coming forward.” Hedy says both emotional and behavioural problems are typical in young children. They are also approached with a desire to understand
their young child better and how best to support them. “If a child has a diagnosis or other difficulties, it’s important to see beyond that. I’ve seen a lot of people get stuck in a problem situation with a young child. The parent forgets about their own needs, the couple relationship, and only focuses on the child. It is important for the parent to hear that the situation is not hopeless and that they are not to blame for the child’s illness. Everything that happens in families happens because of closeness and love. Some people have too much closeness and some people have too little”.
Before the sessions, there is a fairly widespread perception that in a close relationship someone else has to change. “However, you can only work on yourself, only you can change. But if you change yourself, then the relationships around you will change. I often hear: please fix my child or take away this disease. We need to look at how this disease has come into the system and what everyone can do to change the situation. Getting rid of the labels has been the first step to making change happen.” But it all starts with the first step, getting there, which is often the hardest. “I recommend coming to an appointment, from there things will start to improve,” Hedy advises.