Family Therapy and Building Blocks
When was the last time you played with Lego blocks? Recently, I have rediscovered this nostalgic childhood activity. There is a certain relaxation that comes with just sitting and building. Although there are no real rules or expectations (despite what the strong Type-A people might argue!), it is an opportunity to engage our creativity, imagination and innovation (areas of our brain that are often neglected).
Being around children and Lego has definitely inspired this analogy — the family is like a box of free-play Lego. Just as there are lots of colourful pieces with endless building possibilities, every family unit is full of different building blocks of personality traits and temperaments, preferences and passions, skills and life experiences, thoughts and feelings, cultural values and beliefs, and hopes and dreams that also carry the potential to create something amazing!
Along the way, you may have figured out some effective building strategies but you have probably also inherited some building instructions. Some of these are clear and helpful and will create something you actually want and need. However, other instructions in your collection may be scribbles on a tattered napkin, strict and limited in their use and application, often creating something you don’t want and even causing more problems.
In a sense, entering into family therapy requires bringing all the instructions you have accumulated up until this point and assessing which ones work, which ones do not and which new ones may be helpful to try. It is not about assigning blame or determining what is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do things necessarily. It is more about clarifying and protecting each family’s unique goals and vision and trying to maximize each family member’s strengths, how to best support one another and hopefully to have some FUN in the building process.
Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario #1: You want to build something specific but don’t have access to the instructions.
In this case, families experience challenges in solving specific problems (i.e. roles and responsibilities, money, intimacy in relationships, child rearing, etc.) or need help with decision-making (i.e. what is the best option?, what are the pros/cons?, how else can we handle this?, etc.). Family therapy can provide some clarity and specific guidance as you build.
Scenario #2: Something is getting in the way of the building process and you’re not sure what it is.
Family therapy can help you look at the building process. This is examining the ‘how’ of working together. Families commonly experience this as being communication problems. Perhaps:
- the same issues or feelings seem to re-occur in your family relationships despite multiple discussions and/or heated arguments;
- there are familiar relational rules, expectations and tendencies that leave family members feeling frustrated or disconnected;
- or there are cultural assumptions, expectations and differences (whether it be between different cultures, within a specific culture or intergenerational issues) that are causing confusion and heartache.
With a deeper understanding of the interactional patterns that typically cause conflict and tapping into the underlying emotional information as a guide, the family can learn how to adjust, accept and create a stronger experience of unity and cooperation.
Scenario #3: Something in life has come and destroyed parts of your creation and you need help rebuilding.
This can be quite stressful and exhausting. It can include:
- navigating through life transitions or social norms related to school, dating, career, marriage, raising children, supporting aging parents, retirement, grief and loss, etc.;
- repairing and/or establishing relationships between parent-child or siblings, after divorce or remarriage, etc.;
- or handling unexpected crisis or chronic stressors.
Family therapy can be a safe place where you can openly share your struggles, receive much needed support and find hope in the rebuilding process.
Scenario #4: You don’t know what to build but want to get started.
It is understandable that your experiences of family may be messy and full of pain. Perhaps you feel like you don’t have a lot of pieces or maybe the ‘right’ pieces to build with but you have a longing for healthy and meaningful relationships. Family therapy can also be a place where you can gain skills and strategies, experience care and compassion, but perhaps more importantly, discover your own purpose, passion and potential.
Every family is unique and packed with potential.
The building process may require you to adopt new blueprints, obtain a specific piece, try building with different coloured blocks or adjust the plans instead of insisting certain pieces fit when they do not. Family therapy can help you put the blocks together and build something you have always imagined!