As therapists, we are trained to look for and focus upon family dysfunction. Sometimes though we are so caught up trying to find the maladaptive aspects of our clients that we fail to see the adaptive or healthy characteristics they possess. Perhaps, we inherited this from the medical or disease model of treatment.
Simply stated, this model encourages us to find the problem and fix it. It does not encourage us to find the good, healthy, or productive aspects of family life. Naturally, we want to make things better. However, perhaps we have been going about it in slightly the wrong way. It is much easier for families to build on their strengths rather than to try to learn completely new ones. So, what are some family strengths we could build on?
1. Accepting Influence, Repair Attempts, and Turning toward Each Other (See John Gottman’s work).
Being connected to one another and bonding are protective elements to families under stress. If family members know how to listen to each other and to accept influence, know how to turn the volume down when necessary and enact repair attempts, and can come together responsively, they can solve almost any problem. These habits cause families to be united against the struggle, not against each other. Some researchers call this trait cohesion. Strong families who exhibit a good amount of cohesion are like super glue. They stick together under pressure. They do not pull apart.
Flexibility in the family is both a strength and a benefit. Flexibility is the ability to bend or change when necessary. The term, flexible, when referring to families, extends to their ability to change roles, rules, and behaviors when necessary. Families that have this quality are more prepared to change or shift gears when trouble comes or times change. Essentially, flexible families are more adaptable. They do not keep doing the same thing repeatedly hoping to get different results. Change does not scare them; it mobilizes them to think, feel, perceive, and behave or interact in new ways. Combined with cohesion, this is a powerful trait.
Resilience is protective in nature. Resilience is the remarkable quality of being able to come out on top when the odds are against coming out on top. Families who are resilient know how to make the best of their circumstances, regardless of how grim. They somehow are able to maintain a realistic but positive attitude. They keep on going and do not give up. They take charge of the situation. Their nature or disposition draws support toward them. If no support is available within the immediate system, they know how to get it outside of the system. They seek support because they know it is important to survival. Even if they rely primarily on their own abilities to overcome, they know and believe in the importance of interconnectedness and community.