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Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Randy Withers, LCMHC
Families sometimes find themselves struggling with serious systemic issues they cannot solve on their own. Whether it’s a breakdown in communication, behavioral issues with teens, or struggles with boundary violations and enmeshment, professional guidance isn’t just helpful – it’s often necessary.And one of the ways that guidance takes shape is through the appropriate use of family therapy.
Just like individual therapy though, there are a number of different types of family therapy to consider. The one we will be looking at in this article is called a multigenerational approach.
This method is unique because it doesn’t just focus on the problems that are happening right now. Instead, it looks at the whole family’s history, considering how past experiences of parents and grandparents might be influencing the family today.
What Is a Multigenerational Approach to Family Therapy?
The multigenerational approach to family therapy focuses on both the individual, the family and the influence of extended family members across generations.
Multigenerational family therapy stems from the Bowenian family systems theory. According to American psychiatrist and professor Murray Bowen, the family is a significant resource system for an individual. The fundamental belief is that behavior patterns, emotional responses and family roles are passed down from one generation to the next.
These different traits are often transmitted subconsciously. Either way, an individual’s issues cannot be fully understood or resolved without considering the broader family context that spans generations.
How A Multigenerational Approach Differs From Other Types of Family Therapy
The multigenerational approach focuses on family history and the impact of past generations. Unlike traditional therapy that typically deals with immediate issues within the nuclear family, this method explores patterns and behaviors inherited from ancestors. It helps families understand and address deep-rooted issues like intergenerational trauma and established family beliefs.
This approach offers a comprehensive view of family dynamics, tackling not just the conflicts seen today but also the historical influences that shape them.
9 Reasons to Consider a Multigenerational Approach
Choosing the right approach in family therapy is crucial, especially when dealing with complex, multi-layered issues. The multigenerational approach stands out for various reasons, making it a compelling choice for many families.
Here, we explore some key reasons why this approach might be the best fit for your family’s needs.
Understanding Family Patterns
Understanding the underlying patterns within a family is essential for addressing deep-seated issues. A multigenerational family therapist specializes in identifying recurring themes and behaviors, providing insights that are crucial for healing and improvement. They can spot specific coping mechanisms, communication styles, or relationship patterns.
This understanding opens up hidden issues that contribute to each member’s narrative.
Addressing Deep-Rooted Issues
Deep-rooted family issues often transcend generations. The multigenerational approach brings these to light, enabling families to find more effective and long-lasting solutions.
This approach is particularly beneficial in addressing issues that have become entrenched over time. It addresses a variety of issues stemming from generation gaps and helps to provide a thorough and lasting resolution.
Here are some examples:
- Living situation: Having three or more generations living under one roof can create fond moments, but there might also be some issues. About 20% of the U.S. population has a multi-generational household. If you have experienced an issue like privacy problems, differing lifestyles or strict curfews, try to bring up these concerns.
- Social issues: About 70% of Gen Z shows a notable commitment to social change, often advocating for causes through digital platforms and social movements. This enthusiasm can clash with older family members who may not share the same level of engagement or might dismiss these efforts. Such differences can create family tension. Encouraging honest and respectful discussions about these varying perspectives can bridge this generational gap, leading to mutual understanding and respect.
- Cultural values: Multigenerational families may also struggle with cultural values. According to the Pew Research Center, Asian, Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to have multigenerational households compared to white Americans. More recent generations may show less regard for their background, which can upset a more traditional family member.
- Religious affiliation: Families may argue about following a certain religion. About 34% of Gen Z are religiously unaffiliated compared to the 18% of baby boomers. If family members try to push their religious beliefs and practices on you, it can feel rather off-putting. Open discussion should help clear the air about these kinds of disputes.
- Financial Management: Money matters can be tricky to deal with, especially in a familial setting. In financial psychology, transgenerational beliefs can influence a person’s core beliefs regarding money. Some may prioritize saving for the future, while others believe spending on the present. Certain families may also prefer sharing accounts while others would prefer to hold their money separately.
Bridging Communication Gaps Across Generations
Effective communication is key in resolving family conflicts. The multigenerational approach excels in facilitating better understanding and dialogue between different generations, helping to reduce misunderstandings and foster a healthier family environment.
A multigenerational family therapist can lead the discussion, creating a space for open and honest dialogue.
Coping with Intergenerational Trauma
Addressing and healing from intergenerational trauma is a significant aspect of the multigenerational approach to family therapy. This method recognizes that traumas, often unacknowledged or unresolved, can be passed down through generations, subtly influencing family members’ behaviors and interactions.
The therapy aims to uncover these hidden traumas and provides a safe space for families to process and understand their impact. By doing so, it helps prevent the continuation of harmful patterns and facilitates a collective healing process.
This approach not only aids individual family members in dealing with personal traumas but also strengthens the family’s ability to support each other in overcoming these deep-rooted challenges.
Building Stronger Family Bonds
The multigenerational approach in family therapy plays a key role in strengthening family ties. By discussing shared history and experiences, families find common ground and develop a deeper understanding of each other.
This process often resolves underlying tensions and fosters a sense of unity. As families work through their historical and current issues, they often discover new ways to connect and support one another.
This approach not only resolves conflicts but also builds a foundation for stronger, more supportive relationships going forward. As a result, family members often find it easier to empathize with and appreciate each other’s unique perspectives and experiences.
Individual Growth Within the Family Context
The multigenerational approach to family therapy encourages each family member to grow individually while still being part of the family unit. It acknowledges that personal development is crucial and can happen alongside family healing.
This therapy helps individuals understand how their family history influences their personal choices and behaviors. By resolving family issues, it allows each person to focus on their growth and self-discovery.
Support from family members becomes a source of strength, not a barrier, allowing everyone to progress and develop their own identity within the safety of the family network.
Tailored Strategies for Diverse Family Structures
Families come in all kinds of structures. There are single-parent families, adoptive families, same-sex families and more. A multigenerational family therapist can identify the correct technique suitable for your family.
For instance, they may deem emotional triangulation to apply best. This concept can help your family understand stable relationship networks and support.
Enhanced Emotional Resilience
Enhancing emotional resilience is a key benefit of the multigenerational approach to family therapy. This method equips family members with the ability to handle stress and challenges more effectively.
By understanding and addressing past patterns and traumas, families learn to anticipate and manage potential stressors better. This fosters a supportive environment where family members feel more capable of tackling new challenges. It also promotes a shared resilience, where the family as a whole becomes stronger and more adept at protecting each other’s mental health and well-being in the long run.
Facilitating Healthy Role Definitions
Often, traditional or outdated role expectations can limit personal growth and create stress. Family therapy encourages each family member to express and explore their own identity, leading to a more flexible understanding of family roles. It helps break down rigid expectations, allowing individuals to contribute to the family in ways that align with their true selves.
This freedom from predefined roles fosters authenticity and mutual respect, enhancing the overall dynamics of the family.
The multigenerational approach to family therapy offers a comprehensive way to address family challenges. Unlike other methods, it looks beyond immediate issues, exploring how family history shapes current dynamics. This approach can reveal hidden patterns and inherited behaviors, offering insights that lead to lasting change.
Understanding these deep-rooted connections helps families develop stronger, more empathetic relationships. It also empowers individuals to grow within their family context, respecting both their shared history and personal identities. Each family member gains the tools to build resilience, face new challenges, and contribute positively to the family’s future.
For families considering therapy, the multigenerational approach is more than a solution for current conflicts; it’s a pathway to understanding and growth that benefits generations. As you weigh your options, consider how this approach could bring a deeper understanding and stronger bonds to your family.