Family therapyWhen a child suffers with mental illness – or starts to exhibit signs of a mental disorder – it’s important that the whole family knows how to respond.

New Zealand children and adolescents – according to the Mental Health Commission and the Youth 07 survey of secondary school students – are highly likely to confront mental illness before they are 18.

11{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} of students had significant depressive symptoms, and 27{7e66f01e68c52d858b59d425bd8f3886b02d30322136bee7d8e459b39be00af4} were depressed for two weeks in a row over the past 12 months according to the Adolescent Health Research Group 2008. Female students were more than twice as likely as males to have significant depressive symptoms.

And the Mental Health Commission recognised that as well as coordinating services throughout the country to help deal with mental health issues for children and adolescents, it was vital to their strategy to include family and whanau involvement.

Your first and most important step is to seek help from a qualified expert in child psychology to help your child, but there is clinical evidence that family therapy is also of huge benefit to how your child responds to their treatment.

In 2005 Guy Diamond, PhD, director of the Center for Family Intervention Science at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Allan Josephson, MD, of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, studies a decade’s worth of random clinical trials which included parents in the treatment of child and adolescent mental health disorders.

Their findings suggest including family in therapy helps treat treating substance abuse, depression and anxiety disorders and can reduce academic and behaviour problems in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Diamond told the American Psychological Association that “families are the medicine”.

“The misunderstanding of family therapy is that it’s about blaming parents… They are curative-if we can help them develop the right skills and postures.”

This co-operation can certainly begin at home and there are practical considerations which families might have to learn to help a child with mental illness in order to help to provide structure, support and an opportunity for the child to remain connected to others.

But family therapy also allows members of the child’s family to understand, accept and live with a family member’s diagnosis of mental illness.

Significant features of family therapy include:

Education: It’s important for family members to understand mental illness to avoid contributing to its stigma in society.

Support: Mental health professionals are best suited to provide practical support for families.

Underlying issues: Family therapy can address issues within the family which could create significant negative consequences for the child’s treatment.

Family therapy provides a framework whereby your family can communicate about its issues and learn to deal with conflict, behaviour problems and adjustments to new environments or family setups.

And realising that someone in your family is battling mental illness provides a time when each of these issues comes to the fore. By talking to a family therapy specialist you are not only helping your child with their treatment, but you are also helping your family gain coping strategies for a difficult situation.

  • For more information on how family therapy can help your child deal with mental illness and to see how our specially trained experts at Robert Street Clinic work, call us on 09 973 5950 or contact us via the website.