Cognitive behavioral family therapy has proven to be extremely helpful to families seeking therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychological treatment for many different mental challenges including anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, marital issues, and more.

The goal of CBT is to help an individual change their thinking which leads to positive emotional and behavioral changes. CBT is self-empowering in that it teaches a person that although they may not have control of their life circumstances, they can change their perception.

Even though CBT is widely known as a therapy for “individuals,” it’s commonly used to help families. Family therapy’s aim is to help families who may be having difficulty with different concerns that affect the family as a whole.

Different issues family therapy can address are:

  • Marital problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Parents’ relationships with their children (of any age)
  • Family members with a mental illness
  • How a family member’s substance abuse problem affects the whole family

In this article, you’ll read about why cognitive behavioral therapy is useful, and how it works.

  • Why cognitive behavioral family therapy is used
  • How cognitive behavioral family therapy works
  • The benefits of cognitive behavioral family therapy

Why Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy is Used

Family units can be complex because of the intertwining of different relationships that exist within it. It’s easy for a family dynamic to become “unhealthy” which can have a negative impact on each individual within the family.

If you are having relationship trouble with your children, spouse, siblings, or other family members, cognitive behavioral family therapy can help.

Family therapy is extremely effective when used in tandem with other forms of mental health treatment. It’s very common that family therapy is used when a member of the family is struggling with mental illness or substance abuse.

Here’s an example:

Your sibling has schizophrenia. They are able to function normally when they take their medication as prescribed. However, they don’t like the way the medication makes them feel, so they abruptly stop. This leads to serious episodes that leave you and your family feeling helpless.

Cognitive behavioral family therapy can give families guidance on how to deal with situations such as this. It can also show you how to be supportive of your family member that is struggling with mental illness, while at the same time taking care of yourself.

Here’s another example:

Your family has noticed changes in your daughter’s behavior lately, but they don’t know where it’s coming from. She seems moody and she stays up for days on end. You come to find out that she’s addicted to crystal meth.

Your family pleads with her to stop and she promises you that she will. However, you notice that she’s still getting high. At this point, members of the family become angry and try to control her behavior. You may even put a GPS tracking device on her car.

Again, this is a situation that can leave a family feeling extremely overwhelmed and helpless. Cognitive behavioral family therapy can help you navigate a difficult situation like this.

This type of therapy is very effective if the family member with a substance abuse problem attends an IOP or checks themselves into a residential treatment center for an extended stay. As a part of their individual program, family sessions may be included.

Family sessions can help you and the other members of your family learn about the disease of addiction. It can also help you create healthy boundaries as well as how to be supportive without being an enabler.

Coping skills taught in cognitive behavioral family therapy can greatly improve a family’s dynamic, which will have a positive effect on each individual member.

How Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy Works

Cognitive behavioral family therapy’s focus is how each members’ thoughts, emotions, and behaviors can have a negative impact on one another. This can lead to members of the family feeling hurt or scared which can have a negative effect on each member’s core beliefs.

Core beliefs are a person’s beliefs (conscious and unconscious) about themselves that they deem to be “true”. Negative core beliefs lay the groundwork for unhealthy communication. This can cause family members to deeply resent one another.

Here’s an example:

  • You: Core belief: I’m by myself; Thought: I’m thirsty; Behavior: I’ll pour myself a glass of water; Emotion: neutral
  • Your spouse: Core belief: Nobody likes me; Thought: why didn’t my spouse get me something to drink? Behavior: Storm out of the house; Emotion: Irritated, upset
  • You: Thought: My spouse is upset but isn’t telling me why; Behavior: I’ll go to the garage and isolate; Emotion: Loneliness, fear of abandonment

With this type of dynamic, both family members are reinforcing each other’s negative core beliefs. In cognitive behavioral family therapy sessions, a therapist will help each member of the family to identify their core beliefs and examine their thinking patterns.

The therapist will then help each family member see the connection between core beliefs, communication, and family dynamic. Many families go through their entirety completely unaware of an unhealthy dynamic. Becoming aware of this unhealthy dynamic creates an opportunity to create a healthier one.

Each individual can then work on themselves by challenging their negative core beliefs.

The Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy

Cognitive behavioral family therapy is solution-focused. This means it can lead to positive changes quickly. Family members are encouraged to immediately start applying what they are learning in therapy to everyday scenarios.

Cognitive behavioral family therapy does more than just help the family dynamic. It gives you tools, strategies, and coping mechanisms that can be used in many different areas of your life.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you have healthier relationships in the future. Relationships that you develop outside of your family often mimic relationships within your family.

Holding onto resentment towards one family member can cause you to feel angry towards anyone that may remind you of that particular family member.

Once again, cognitive behavioral family therapy is self-empowering as it helps with the one thing you can control; your perception.

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