As a family therapist, Dr. Paul Standal’s first job is to assess what is happening in the family or marital system that is creating the problem. Often, other factors are underlying the chief presented problem. What the family brings to the counselor is often the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
Some essential questions underlying the presented problem might be determining who is involved in the problem and who needs to participate in the solution. Another might be to determine what the nature of the stress and resistance to change are and what is causing the problem to become unmanageable. Why someone does something is sometimes much less important than what the payoff is for the person. In many cases, deterimining who holds the power and control in the familiy is essestial before prgress can occur.
We each belong to different social systems: family, work, social networks and our church or neighborhood.We have an innate need to belong and be one with others, but also a need for our own space, freedom to act, sense of personal control and independence.
Our relationships and family impose on us rules and roles designed to reduce the conflict between these two simultaneous, but conflicting, needs. They are designed to cut down on internal and external friction and anxiety between family members and others.
People must compromise to some extent their wishes, needs, wants and feelings to allow the family system to function. At the same time, the family must be flexible enough to allow for change and growth in members of the family and also maintain a peaceful and satisfiying environment.
Families under stress cope through the use of addictive behaviors, anger, conflict, or conduct disorders. They have less flexibility to deal with individual needs. Family members can move from stress to distress with emerging anxiety and major depresson if the family system is either inflexible or lacks good boundaries.
Some stress is an opportunity for growth and change by increasing motivation and creative problem-solving, making options and alternatives viable. However, too much anxiety leads to inertia, confusion, panic, and fear, leading to crisis that effects all members of the family. The values and conditions of worth that may have structured the family can be threatened.
As a family counselor, Dr. Standal helps to redirect and resolve anxiety by identifying and helping the family cope with both the “presenting problems” for which the family has come in and also bringing awareness and resolution to deeper issues, like resistence to power and control, distrust and fear or lack of commitment as the underlying issues fueling a crisis. He helps families see solutions to problems more clearly, providing necessary information and feedback to deal with the problem and with feelings involved. When necessary, he helps obtain a referral for special help, such as medication.
Ultimately, Dr. Standal is committed to helping the family find the solution that works for them and rebalancing both formal and informal sense of connection and concensus within the family. By doing so, he brings concensus for positive action back into the family. Areas of help and change include redifinition of family roles, improving communication skills between family members, training in effective reinforcement to ellicit behavior change, anger management, dealing with addiction in the family, and learning coping skills to assist with anxity or depression in the family.
Three areas of change and coaching that Dr. Standal finds are quite important for families to be aware of are:
Family roles are ways family members are expected or required to act in order to protect the balance in the social system. Family roles are affected by birth order, trauma, addiction and other expectations imposed in order to protect the balance and structure of the system. Roles can become unhealthy, but are sustained in order to reduce individual and family anxiety and increase functionality of the system. When a role is changed it is important to determine what the role was, its purpose, and clarify its underlying meaning.
Communication Skills Training
Dr. Standal teaches and coaches family members how to convey information to each other in an effective manner. He helps the family become aware of how information is conveyed and how individuals influence other individuals in the system, through both verbal and nonverbal communication. He helps the family use nonverbal cues like posture, gesture and tone to convey their message in an assertive manner that shows mutual respect. He esposes methods that encourage democratic, verses autocratic, decision making.
Effective Reinforcement For Behavior Change
Maladaptive behaviors are, for the most part, learned behaviors. This makes them amenable to change. Dr. Standal teaches family members how positive behaviors can be learned and maladaptive ones changed using effective, appropriate, positive or negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement makes it more likely that a behavior will happen again. Negative reinforcement makes it less likely a behavior will happen again.
Ultimately, family therapy is a way to hasten a family through a crisis situation into a place of growth and change.
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