Exploring Family and Systemic Psychotherapy in pregnancy and beyond

We are delighted to publish this informative article written by Ms. Sreety Das.

She is a renowned Family and Systemic Psychotherapist from S.R Das Consultancy Limited (London, UK) and a Social Worker. She has been working with individuals, couples, and families for the last 14 years, particularly with families who have multi-agency or social care involvement. (Correspondence details: please send your correspondence by email to Sreetydas@gmail.com)   

Please find the article below:

Family and Systemic Psychotherapy

This is also known as family therapy and can help individuals, couples and families explore their close relationships to better understand and support one another.

Different people may have different ideas about what ‘family’ means to them. So we can have different groups of people describe themselves as a family. I think it is important for a family to include who they feel is important to them. So as well as couples, parents, and children, I feel that it would be important to involve grandparents, parents in laws, siblings, uncle, and aunts, cousins, friends, carers and other professionals.

At critical moments in our lives, it may feel helpful to speak with somebody who can offer a non-judgemental and safe space for us to talk about some difficult feelings and experiences. I have been working with children and families for the last 16 years. I work with individuals, couples, and families on an open-ended basis or for an agreed time period, with the aim of enabling you to enhance your life and to live it more fully. I offer my private practice on Friday afternoons and weekends only. I am able to offer online therapy sessions via Skype as well as sessions in your own home environment too.

I work with systems such as in larger groups and organisations as much as with families, in a safe, confidential and non-judgemental environment.

Language support – I offer family therapy sessions in a number of Asian languages: in Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu as well as in English.

When is family therapy useful?

1) Family therapy is useful for families and relationships that may be facing all kinds of difficulties and experiences, such as,

2) When couples transition to becoming parents and explore how parenting happens as a couple.

3) Families who are facing particular challenges like a life cycle transition, family conflict, communication breakdowns, alcoholism, physical illness, bereavement, mental illness, trauma, cultural adjustments, etc.

4) Families who would like someone to help them talk about difficult things together in an open safe space that is helpful and useful.

5) Families who are worried about their children’s behaviours and wellbeing.

6) Parents who want to separate or divorce in a way that focuses on their children’s wellbeing and happiness.

7) Families or couples who want to build closer and positive relationships.

How might a family therapist help me and my family?

Family therapy may be a useful space for individuals, where children and adults could be seen on their own. Sometimes a mixture of individual and family appointments help family members to come together and talk together about their difficult thoughts and feelings to begin to understand each other. In this way, one may be able to appreciate one another’s views, needs and beliefs, and build on the family’s existing strengths.

Where one person in a family suffers from difficulties and experiences, the effect and impact this makes on their loved ones and carers are seriously underestimated and under-represented in the evidence that is reflected through research. However, there is a growing body of evidence on the usefulness and effectiveness of family therapy. Research has shown that the benefits of engaging in family therapy for couples, families and therapists alike are improved outcomes for individuals, couples, and families. Research has shown that there is a marked improvement in client engagement with other therapies and interventions following on from their engagement with family therapy. In my experience, sometimes family therapy interventions are brief where families engage in 3-6 sessions, whilst others have longer-term input.

The use of Family therapy with mothers to be and couples

A woman may experience many mixed emotions and thoughts before, during and after their pregnancy. Factors such as the ones listed below are some of the experiences that may lead a woman, a couple and a family to explore family therapy together.

1) difficulties in conceiving, the ability or inability to have or make a baby, assisted conception, an unplanned pregnancy, miscarriage,

2) loss and bereavement,

3) migration and the loss of family and community support,

4) complications during pregnancy

5) having a baby/children with additional needs

6) birth experiences, post-birth experiences

7) new relationships, co-habiting, marriage, separation, and divorce

8) single parenting

Couple therapy

Couple therapy invites couples to create an open and respectful space in which they are invited to explore their transition to becoming parents and talk together about what it may mean for them to become parents and yet how they identify as being a couple together. How the new role as a mother or father fits into their own expectations of themselves or not can add pressure at a transitional period in a couple’s relationship.

A partner may have their own expectations of how they imagined the other to support them, and how they would like to do family life. The ideas of a couple may require some unpacking to see how they can fit together and work together.

The couples often find that how they imagine they would transition into family life with children and how this may happen practically is different. Expectations of the other parent and the wider family support can bring support and be a great bonding phase as well as invite new stress and anxieties to their relationship.

As a couple moves into transitioning from being a twosome to taking care of their children, a fundamental shift occurs in their relationship. New negotiations, responsibilities, and decision-making processes are placed at the forefront in becoming parents to their child. This time of transition may bring up thoughts and reflections from the parents’ own child-rearing experiences. Both the good and the difficult experiences may lead a person to want to use the same parenting approach as their parents used and they experienced as children or want to do something very different. So as two people and their families adapt to welcoming children into their families, a talking space in couple therapy can be utilised to explore ideas and experiences which can be very helpful and ease the way forward. 

Please find further information on this topic below:

1. The Association of Family and Systemic Therapy (AFT) website

2. Research into the effectiveness of Family Therapy

3. What is Family Therapy?

4. The evidence base for Systemic and Family Therapy

5. Paper: Stratton, Peter & Silver, Emma & Nascimento, Natasha & Powell, Gwen & Mcdonnell, Liz & Nowotny, Ewa. (2011). Review of family, couples and systemic therapy outcome research 2000-2009.