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  • Writer's pictureJarrod Carter

Family Therapy and the Family Court

Family therapy is a relatively new field of mental health treatment. While the concept of working with families to address issues has been around for centuries, the modern field of family therapy as we know it today really only emerged in the mid-20th century.


One of the pioneers of modern family therapy was a psychiatrist named Murray Bowen, who is credited with developing the theory of "family systems." Bowen believed that the family was a unique social system that played a significant role in the development and maintenance of an individual's problems and behaviors. He developed a set of principles and techniques for working with families to address issues and improve communication and relationships.


Today, family therapy is a well-established and widely-recognized form of mental health treatment, and it is used to address a wide range of issues and problems within the family. It is recognized as an effective treatment for a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and relationship problems. Family therapy is also commonly used in the context of family law proceedings to help families resolve disputes and address issues related to parenting and child custody.


In family therapy, the therapist works with the entire family or a subset of family members to identify and address the issues that are causing problems within the family. The therapist helps the family to communicate more effectively, to resolve conflicts, and to make needed changes in their relationships and behaviors.


Family therapy can be helpful in a variety of situations, including:

  • Improving communication and problem-solving skills

  • Resolving conflicts within the family

  • Addressing issues related to parenting and family roles

  • Dealing with problems caused by changes in the family, such as separation, divorce, or remarriage

  • Repairing estranged parent-child relationships

  • Coping with mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or substance abuse

  • Teaching parents how to effectively co-parent following separation.

Family therapy can be conducted in individual sessions, group sessions, or a combination of both. It can be short-term, focusing on a specific problem or issue, or long-term, addressing more deeply-rooted patterns of behavior within the family.


How does the family court utilize Family Therapy?


The family court in Australia may utilize family therapy in a number of different ways. Here are a few examples:

  • As a means of resolving disputes: In some cases, the family court may order the parties to attend family therapy as a way of resolving disputes or addressing issues that are causing problems in the family. For example, the court may order the parties to attend therapy to address issues related to parenting and child custody, or to address conflicts between the parties.

  • As a condition of a court order: In some cases, the family court may make attendance at family therapy a condition of a court order. For example, the court may order a parent to attend therapy as a condition of receiving parenting time with their children.

  • As a recommendation by a family consultant: In some cases, the family court may refer the parties to family therapy as a recommendation by a family consultant. A family consultant is a mental health professional who has been appointed by the court to assess the needs of the family and to provide recommendations to the court on how to address those needs.


What is Reportable Family Therapy?


Reportable family therapy refers to family therapy sessions that are conducted in the context of family law proceedings and are reported on by the therapist to the court. These sessions are typically ordered by the court as a way of addressing issues or disputes within the family, and the therapist is required to provide a written report to the court outlining the progress made in therapy and any recommendations for the parties.


Reportable family therapy is typically conducted by mental health professionals who are experienced in working with families and have been specifically trained to work in the context of family law proceedings. The therapist is required to follow guidelines in conducting the therapy and reporting on it to the court.


A report from a Family Therapy can provide important insights into the dynamics of the family to assist the Court in making appropriate orders as the therapist is a neutral third party. This is contrasted with the evidence of the parties who tend to present themselves in a positive light while denigrating the other party.


Reportable family therapy can be a useful tool in helping families to resolve disputes and address issues that are causing problems within the family. It can also be an important source of information for the court as it makes decisions about matters such as parenting arrangements and property settlement. However, it is important to note that reportable family therapy is only one of many tools that the court may utilize in addressing family law disputes, and it is not appropriate in every case.


Does Family Therapy treat Parental Alienation?


Parental alienation is a term that is used to describe a situation in which one parent attempts to undermine the relationship between the child and the other parent. This can take many forms, including badmouthing the other parent, withholding access to the child, and encouraging the child to reject the other parent. Parental alienation can have serious consequences for the child and the targeted parent, and it can be a significant issue in family law proceedings.


Family therapy can be an effective treatment for parental alienation in some cases. By working with the entire family or a subset of family members, a therapist can help to identify and address the issues that are causing the alienation and to develop strategies for improving communication and rebuilding relationships. Family therapy can also provide a safe and neutral space for the child to express their feelings and concerns and to begin the process of rebuilding their relationship with the targeted parent.


However, it is important to note that treatment for parental alienation can be a long and difficult process, and it may not be appropriate in every case. It is often necessary for the therapist to work closely with other professionals, such as lawyers, social workers, and child psychologists, in order to address the complex issues involved. Additionally, it is important for the therapist to be aware of the potential for counter-alienation (where the targeted parent attempts to alienate the child from the other parent) and to take steps to address this issue as well.


Dangers of Family Therapy


Like any form of therapy, family therapy carries some potential risks and dangers. Here are a few examples:


Disclosure of sensitive information: In the course of therapy, family members may be required to disclose sensitive or personal information about themselves or their relationships. This can be emotionally challenging and may cause discomfort or embarrassment.


Conflict within the family: Family therapy may bring to light issues or conflicts within the family that have previously been hidden or unresolved. Working through these issues can be emotionally difficult and may cause tension within the family.


Re-traumatization: For some families, the issues that are addressed in therapy may be related to past traumas or abuse. Working through these issues can be emotionally challenging and may cause the individuals involved to re-experience some of the pain and trauma of the past.


Dependence on therapy: Some families may become overly reliant on therapy as a means of resolving their problems, rather than learning to cope with and address issues on their own.


Overall, while family therapy can be an effective and beneficial form of treatment, it is important for individuals to be aware of the potential risks and to be prepared to work through any challenges that may arise. It is also important for individuals to choose a therapist who is appropriately qualified and experienced in working with families.


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