Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C. C.A.D.C. N.C.C.

When I was a teenager I read “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy wrote with a profound appreciation of the human condition. His insight is demonstrated with the first line of “Anna Karenina”; He posits that “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Family counseling practiced at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center agrees with Tolstoy’s position on the uniqueness of a unhappy family. It is the uniqueness of the distressed family that demands an examination of the whole family system. This is our basis for treatment planning. Our belief is that the family system is a singular social system. Each member of the family system has its own structure and pattern of communication. Emotional “unwellness” in one family member must be assessed in the context of the whole family system. Family therapy rejects treating only the one family member identified as “unwell.” Instead the whole of the family patterns of interaction are identified. This is accomplished to determine which familial influences are assets to emotional wellness and which are impediments.

We begin with the well-researched premise that any change in one member of the family affects both the family structure and and each individual family member. In sequence this is what the family can expect when family sessions begin: We educate the family on how families function in general and how they function when positive change is introduced. Then we help the family focus, not on the single identified unwell member ,but rather on the family as a whole. When this concept becomes more and more established each family members’ part in the conflict is identified. The family becomes aware of the origin of the fear, discord and anxiety and what supports its continuance. This is effective because the family member identified as unwell, no longer bears the stigma of being the cause of the family’s dysfunction. The re-framing of the causes and what supports the family dysfunction offers all of the family members more effective strategies that improve the family’s emotional wellness. The insight is clear: All of the family members take responsibility for their part in the emotional “unwellness of the family.

Family members that agree to family counseling will experience sessions that are  very active and directive. During the sessions the family’s strengths are identified an used to address the “unwellness.” All of the family members take responsibility for their part in the dysfunction. Some family members are guided to the conclusion that they may have to change their communication style or behavior.
If you think that your family may benefit from family counseling consider asking yourself the following questions:
1. Does the family go to unreasonable lengths to maintain the family “harmony,” “balance,” or “homeostasis?”
2. Is the primary marital relationship painful and how does it manifest itself. What are coping methods used?
3. Have there been any significant and jointly experienced events. i.e. deaths, childbirths, illness or geographical moves?
4. Along side of the pain are other dangerous emotions present like resentment, shame and guilt?
What I look for when the family commits to family counseling is signs of discouragement or even despair.  Identification of how the family is structured and how the family communicates.  This stimulates hope.  Two behaviors usually result initially: The first is that the identified patient has become the sole focus of the family dysfunction.  The second is, that, to some degree, the family will resist any effort to change the focus.  The guidance toward the remediation to both behaviors is my responsibility.  I serve as a model while I guide all of the family members to examine the truthfulness of the family history and correct  communication techniques that may have resulted in long-standing family history errors.  The “unreasonable homeostasis” that I mentioned in #1 question is likely to be, a very real fear, by family members, to maintain a balance between engulfment and abandonment.  This is the origin of the family dysfunction.  Instead family counseling seeks to establish “connectedness” and “differentiation.”     The chronic fear of engulfment and abandonment is replaced. An increase in trust is experienced along with the likelihood of repairing ruptured relationships.

There are a few variables that contribute to the effectiveness of family counseling. The first is: the severity of the dysfunction. The second is: the level of willingness of the family members to participate in therapy. Our strategy at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness is that the outcome is worth the effort. The expectation is that family members that participate with enthusiasm and candor will learn more about themselves and how their family functions. That knowledge is what Tolstoy meant when he wrote about the universality of happy families.

Edward L,. Oriole is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center. The Lighthouse, located in Schaumburg Il., was the first emotional wellness center to be established in the Midwest over 15 years ago, serving as a guiding light towards healthy relationships. Our counseling services are provided for couples, families and individuals. To assist them in creating happy, healthy and empowered lives. For more information check us out at, or call s at 847 253 9769