Defying Boundaries: Unraveling the Barriers to Family Therapy

Posted by MST Services

Nov 9, 2023 9:00:00 AM


Families can be a person’s primary source of support as well as stress. When used correctly, family therapy plays a pivotal role in addressing and resolving familial tensions, improving relationships as well as the wellness of individual family members.  

Family therapy can help improve boundary-setting and communication skills. It can also provide a space for families to process and share their emotions, enabling family members to understand one another’s perspectives and offer meaningful support to each other. 

Unfortunately, some families can run into difficulties with family therapy. Common barriers include logistical issues, cultural beliefs and values, lack of awareness, and even skepticism or hesitancy from family members to participate. Recognizing and addressing these barriers is crucial for the success of therapeutic interventions. 

Understanding Common Barriers to Family Therapy

Although the benefits of family therapy might be well worth the time investment, it’s nearly impossible for some families to make those sessions. Busy schedules, work or school commitments and other responsibilities can make it challenging to prioritize therapy. 

For example, if a family is spread out around a city, they might not be able to meet in the same place once a week. Likewise, a family with conflicting work schedules — including single-parent families where people work multiple jobs — might struggle to find a time that works for all family members. There might also be difficulties in arranging transportation or childcare for the session. Some families just may not even have access to family therapy services in their area, especially in rural or remote locations. This can make seeking help even more challenging. 

Another potential practical issue is that of finance. Many families that could benefit from therapy might not have the means to afford it. Even if they have insurance, not all insurance plans cover family therapy, or they might only cover a certain number of sessions. Sessions can be expensive without insurance coverage, and low-income families may find it difficult to access mental health services. 

The barriers to family therapy aren’t always logistical. Mental, cultural, and relational barriers can deter some family members from attending therapy or even considering it. 

One of the most significant barriers to seeking family therapy is the stigma around mental health and counseling services. Many people associate therapy with mental illness or perceive it as a sign of weakness; such perceptions can prevent families from considering it a viable option. 

Even some cultural beliefs and values may discourage people from seeking help from outsiders or discussing personal and family issues with strangers. This can prevent families from initiating therapy or being open to the process. This goes hand-in-hand with fear of judgment, which leaves some families afraid of being criticized or blamed during therapy, which in turn can inhibit honest discussions and make it difficult to work through conflicts and emotional issues. 

Lastly, many families might lack knowledge about the benefits of family therapy or even the availability of such services. Limited understanding can make it difficult to recognize when professional help is needed or how to access it. 

No matter the issue, all family members must be willing to participate in the family therapy process for it to be effective. If one or more family members are unwilling to engage in therapy, it can hinder progress or even stop the counseling process before it begins. 

Despite these barriers, it is essential to recognize the potential benefits of family therapy in addressing and resolving family conflicts and building stronger familial relationships. By addressing these potential challenges directly, families can take the necessary steps to access professional help when needed. 

Practical Solutions to Overcoming Barriers

Facing barriers when considering or attempting to access family therapy is common, but there are ways to navigate these obstacles effectively.

Flexible scheduling options — including counselors who offer early morning, late evening, or weekend sessions — can help families with tight schedules, ensuring no family member misses out.  

The costs of therapy can be prohibitive. But in some areas, families could be connected with free or low-cost counseling services through state-run programs, nonprofit organizations, and community-based projects.

Addressing barriers to engagement or unwillingness to participate is trickier but not insurmountable. A preliminary session explaining the therapy process, its objectives, and potential outcomes can be beneficial to family members who are skeptical about its value. Drawing from real success stories, therapists can illustrate how therapy has bolstered many in building stronger family bonds. For cultural concerns, seeking a therapist with a similar cultural background or appropriate training can assure families their customs will be respected and understood, encouraging open dialogue using a cultural humility approach.

The Role of MST in Overcoming Barriers to Family Therapy

Multisystemic Therapy (MST) stands out in its holistic and proactive approach to these challenges. Recognizing the unique barriers each family faces, MST adapts its approach to each family’s needs.  

MST works by intensively focusing on multiple systems or facets in a young person's life that impact their behavior – whether in the client’s community, home, or school. It draws on a number of interventions and services, including family therapy as well as individual therapy, drug and alcohol treatment, and crisis intervention services, to name a few. The therapy's ecological approach enhances the effectiveness of intervention by facilitating easier access to services and supporting stronger family engagement in the treatment process. 

Because MST combines numerous approaches, it can help those who face barriers to family therapy. For example, a family member who is hesitant to speak up in therapy might benefit from individual sessions. If one family member is hesitant to participate because of their ongoing addiction issues, MST can connect them with appropriate treatment services. 

The unique strength of MST lies in not following a rigid, manualized treatment plan. But instead relies on nine fundamental treatment principles that form the treatment's backbone, providing therapeutic interventions that are highly individualized to each young person and their family. 

The Benefits of Engaging with MST

Opting for MST offers families more than just solutions to therapy barriers.  

By addressing the root causes of issues and not just the symptoms, MST ensures long-term harmony and understanding within the family. 

MST's community-centric model also offers a broader support system. For instance, MST can ensure that a child facing academic pressures receives consistent support both at home and in school by drawing on school-based interventions like counseling or academic support.  

There are a number of proven benefits of MST. As an alternative to juvenile incarceration, MST is more likely to reduce recidivism. Research shows that young offenders who receive MST services experience 54% fewer rearrests over a 14-year period and 75% fewer violent felony arrests over a 22-year-period. 

Because MST focuses on the families, and not just individual offenders, it benefits the families as a whole. Research shows that families that receive MST experience a 40% reduction in sibling arrests, 94% fewer caregiver felonies, and 70% fewer caregiver misdemeanors. 

Beyond this, research demonstrates that MST also prevents mental health crises and the need for psychiatric hospitalization for the family members involved in the program. 

By empowering caregivers to solve both existing and future issues, MST also ensures that the effects of therapy extend beyond the treatment period. This significant investment in skills transfer to caregivers contributes towards MST’s long-term effect, resulting in continued impact long after therapy ends. 

MST: A Practical Resource

While the barriers to family therapy are real and varied, certain interventions can help. MST Services can help families get the most out of therapy by providing flexible, comprehensive, and tailored therapeutic solutions while drawing on pre-existing services in the client’s community and school.

Because it provides a comprehensive and holistic suite of services, MST Services not only bridges the gaps in therapy access but also increases the chances of families achieving lasting harmony and understanding.

MST is an evidence-based alternative to severe system consequences due to serious externalizing, anti-social, and/or criminal behaviors. MST effectively treats young people and their families by utilizing a built-in suite of interventions within the home, school, and community settings. Treatment is tailored to the family and their individual strengths and needs, which could include but is not limited to the following types of therapies: Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Drug and Alcohol Treatment, Mental Health Services, Peer Ecology Assessment and Intervention, Trauma-informed treatment, and Educational/Vocational Support. 

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Multisystemic Therapy, contact us here.


Topics: Multisystemic Therapy, evidence-based, Family, Parents