Interfamily Therapy

Presentation delivered by Javier Sempere and Claudio Fuenzalida, on Saturday 20th June 2015, to the International Attachment in London, N19.

Written by Deborah Rodriguez

Javier and Claudio travelled all the way from Elche, Spain, where they successfully hold interfamily therapy groups, to deliver the workshop in North London on interfamily therapy. The aim of this workshop was to provide an overview of interfamily therapy, from the underlying theory through to the practicalities of running these groups. We, the audience, had many questions for them as the workshop progressed, and Javier and Claudio encouraged us to pose these throughout, as well as facilitating group discussions around interfamily therapy and how it may have a place in the UK.

In brief, interfamily therapy involves a group setting where multiple families can attend a two hour session; this can involve several members of the same family; nevertheless, it is not just limited to family members. For example, it may be helpful for a school teacher to attend one or more of these sessions if the ‘focus’ of the therapy is on the child. The interfamily group setting is not prescriptive and different people may attend different sessions. Interfamily therapy groups tend to take place in addition to individual therapy, but Javier and Claudio also offer free group sessions in their private practice in Elche where anyone can attend, and there is no requirement for individual therapy as well.

After introducing the concept of interfamily therapy to us, Javier and Claudio asked us what words sprang to mind. The prevailing sense among us was that of chaos – it was difficult to comprehend how so many families and individual members in one group setting would each find space for their voices. Nevertheless, there are group therapists who act as facilitators to ensure that there is space for everyone who would like to speak; they also help to introduce new ways of thinking and encourage the group to work together. The role of the therapist is to support group members to support other group members – therapists are not viewed as experts in the room. As you may imagine, it is multifamily therapy with multitransference, in relation to the therapists as well as in relation to the other group members. Further, the therapists help to create a space for reflecting on all the narratives that emerge in the group setting; these are often thought of as narratives that may take place within the home, and the group provides a space to reflect on this. This also gives group members the perspective of what a similar situation may look like in other families, and they can use this opportunity to reflect this similarity and its meaning back to oneself: it is easier to reflect about others than it is to reflect about oneself, and so the interfamily therapy facilitates self-reflection in this manner. Interfamily therapy also works as a way to introduce a new narrative about oneself.

‘Things are not always as they seem’ was a key message from Javier and Claudio’s presentation. For this reason, members of the group are encouraged by other members of the group and supported by the therapist(s) to consider alternative scenarios, perspectives, feelings etc. In a video snippet of an interfamily group we saw an impromptu role-play between a man from one family and a woman from another family as a way to help the woman understand what it may feel like for her adult son when she goes through his drawers. This is all carried out in a non-confrontational and safe setting, where everything is up for discussion, including things that may seem inappropriate for a particular group. To illustrate this, an example was provided about an interfamily therapy group where a couple who were also parents discussed their sex life in front of their young children. The other members of the group questioned the appropriateness of discussing this particular topic in front of their young children (who were also present in the group at that time), and helped the couple to understand why this was not appropriate and how their children may feel when hearing about this as well as how it may impact upon them. This particular situation that came about during the interfamily therapy group was mirrored in this family’s everyday life where the couple would freely discuss their sex life at home in front of their young children. Through the dynamics of peer to peer support, the other group members helped the couple to consider their children’s perspective and to consider what they could do at home instead – other group members gave examples of what they did as a way of showcasing alternative possibilities.

In sum, through this well presented workshop on interfamily therapy, the audience learnt about its value and we discussed where it might have a place in the UK. In fact, the Institute of Psychiatry has just delivered a four day intensive training course in Multi Family Therapy, and the Anna Freud Centre is also delivering a Multi-Family Therapy course in February 2016.

If you have/will embark on any of these trainings, or others, we would love to hear your thoughts about this exciting therapy making its ever-increasing presence on the therapy scene.

Deborah Rodriguez

ian 1 Fairbridge Road, London N19 3EW (Near Archway Underground)

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