How Thinking Systemically Can Help LGBT Families
Have you ever heard of systemic therapy? Do you know what thinking systemically entails? Have you ever given any thought to how many systems exist in one family? If you have never heard of these concepts, it is completely fine (I had never heard of them until my Master’s Program). This form of therapy is relatively new as compared to the much more established Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or the ever infamous Freudian psychoanalysis.
This form of therapy actually broke away from the standard one-client treatment modality where the patient was being diagnosed with a disorder by a therapist. Instead of a doctor sitting in a cushy chair and analyzing a single client’s dreams and primal sexual urges, the therapist instead began to practice therapy in the here-and-now. The client began to be asked what was going on for them in the present moment while in session instead of being asked about past childhood experiences. The therapist also began seeing families instead of just the individual patient and treating the family unit as the client rather than just one person. This was very taboo especially in Freudian times as it was considered unusual or outlandish to have more than two people (the patient and the therapist) in session at one time.
This concept became a postmodern form of treating clients as it was very cutting edge. Even currently, this form of therapy is still considered rebellious by some as it denounces the therapist being the educator but instead the collaborator. Systemic family therapy takes into account ALL aspects of one’s life—emotional, psychological, past and present family history, the client’s family of origin, and attachment styles. It can feel overwhelming and complicated to a beginning clinician but it allows the therapist to view the family client in a more complete and holistic perspective. This will allow the family to undergo a much more effective and deep-rooted treatment that can have perhaps a lifelong affect on the family system so that it can permanently alter for the better.
For these reasons that systemic family therapy is such an effective, cutting-edge tool, it is appropriate for LGBT couples and families. Since a therapist who takes into account all that goes into a family system (warmth, family illness, emotional cutoff, etc.), this is the most effective way to understand how such factors can affect an LGBT-centric family such as the attitudes toward same-sex parents, a heterosexual parental unit with a child who has just recently come out as gay or lesbian, or a married man with a wife and children who has just come out as gay. Having a thorough understanding of the way that a family system operates can be extremely beneficial and sometimes lifesaving for a client who feels that they are never listened to and have a therapist who is able to convey empathy, warmth, and allow for the entire family to have many perspectives on one specific issue.
As a member of the LGBT community and as a systemic therapist, I only wish I did not go 25 years of my life without understanding the concept of family systems. (Again, I was not exposed to these concepts until graduate school.) My family of origin was rigid in nature, and this made my coming-out experience emotionally trying. Had I understood the complex ways that a family system operates or if I was seeing a systemic family therapist when I came out initially, I would have discovered answers to questions about my family of origin and I would have a stronger sense of self much sooner than when I initially learned about systems. As an LGBT-affirmative systemic therapist, I ensure that I help my client families discover as much as possible about their families of origin so that they are able to make changes that will permanently benefit their emotional family unit to ensure positive mental health benefits in a world so opposed to LGBT family systems.