Counselling Frameworks

Family Systems Theory as adapted by

Family Systems Theory views issues (e.g. relationship problems, teenager behaviour, substance use, depression, etc.) in terms of the whole family instead of a ”troubled” or “bad” individual.

The focus of Family Systems work is to help families move away from the tendency to blame the individual (youth or caregiver) and help everyone understand and accept his/her share of the responsibility for the conflict.

This theory implies that if one member of a family can change his/her emotional behaviour, the whole family will improve. Therefore, “Family therapy” does not necessarily mean counselling sessions with the whole family present. Working with individual members of the family can bring about a change in the whole family.

A 17 year old young woman was referred to the Family Reconnect Program via a frontline staff member at the shelter. She had called a number of times asking for support and resources around leaving home, however she did not want to enter the shelter. After an assessment on the phone with the Family Reconnect Program the young woman shared that she would like counselling support however in her culture you did not go outside with your problems. She was afraid to tell her parents she was seeking support with the conflict at home. This young woman met with a Family Intervention Worker for over a year, and at no point did the counsellor meet with her family. However, her home life shifted drastically. By making some small changes in how she responded at home to her parents and sharing information with them, the conflict reduced and her family is now very supportive of her as she pursues her degree in psychology. This is an example of using a Family Systems Framework, in that if one person makes change it can change the whole family.

Brief Therapy/ Mediation as adapted from

In Brief Therapy/ Mediation, the approach is less about how the problem emerged, and more focused on identifying the current issue/ pattern of behaviour and finding solutions. As a result, the length of counselling is dependent on the work involved in dealing with the specific issue.

Some important things to consider:

  • Youth and families are the experts of their own lives
  • Youth and families have the strengths and resources to change their own lives
  • Repeated negative experiences often get in the way of family/youth recognizing their strengths and resources

A young man and his family came to the Family Reconnect Program because the family was frustrated with the young man not coming home on time, and skipping school. Parents shared that they had tried a number of interventions including removing privileges, not giving money, etc.  The young man and his family fought throughout the first session. However, over 3 sessions, a counsellor worked on stopping the yelling by asking the young man and his parents to write down requests they had of each other and post them on the fridge for the day. Once the yelling had stopped, the parents were able to hear what was happening for the young man at school and his struggles with friends. The counsellor only saw the family for 6 sessions and then they felt they were able to move forward on their own. In this example, supporting the youth and family in changing a pattern in their lives with simple suggestions on how to communicate differently shifted how the family functioned.


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