Family Therapy

Table of Contents

Michelle Barratt Psychology is a Toowong and Redland Bay / Wynnum – Manly Clinical Psychology Practice, and aims to provide treatment for Family Therapy in Brisbane at the highest standard. The practice values implementing support and treatment that not only endeavours to support their clients feel safe, heard and understood, but also strives to offer effective treatment that will empower clients to learn new skills to support them in the future. If you are unsure about what you are dealing with, please don’t hesitate to contact us to support you through the next step of either working out what to do or how to proceed with an appointment.


Families often don’t look like the previous conventional family that they did 10 years ago – which is was the ‘nuclear’ family; a Father a Mother and the children. There are now many different types of family structure from:

  • Nuclear Family’s (families)
  • Blended Family’s (families)
  • Single-Parent Family’s (families)
  • De Facto Parent Family’s (families)
  • Adopted Children Family’s (families)

No matter what the size or what the shape, as many as there are success stories, many families have to transition through and adjust to many different types of situations to become those types of family’s and that can be extremely diffiuclt.  Many families experience many different types of problems that can encapsulate conflict, negative behaviour, separation, isolation, neglect, communication breakdowns, physical, psychological, emoitonal and mental abuse – just to name a few.

Most of us know that it is no easy feat managing a family. Navigating, managing, and supporting your family relationships so that they may function as healthily and effictively as possible, can be an enormous task.  It can seem an almost impossible task for parents, siblings and carers alike.  

Sometimes, people can lose sight of what it looks like for a family to function healthily and this can leave each of its members feeling alone, frustrated, angry and resentful – like all hope is lost. Fundamentally, people can easily end up feeling hopeless in these situations – whether big or small.

However, it is very important to keep in mind that no matter what the family looks and feels like to you or to another, there are always strengths and positives amongst the myriad of weaknesses.

In order to identify what a healthy family looks like – we need to look at some of the healthy characteristics – and some of these are:

  • They communicate and listen.
  • Affirm and supports one another.
  • They foster and maintain respect for others.
  • They develop a sense of trust.
  • Have a sense of humour and play, and
  • Enjoy spending time with one another
  • Exhibits a sense of shared responsibility.
  • Teaches a sense of right and wrong.
  • Try to understand misgivings and
  • Endeavours to work through their issues so that they can forgive one another.
  • Have a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound.
  • Have a balance of interaction among members, and support each other in time of need
  • Have shared goals and meaning; building a family culture.
  • Respects the privacy of one another.
  • Values service to others
  • Fosters family table time and conversation where laughter and concerns of others are  shared.
  • Shares leisure time.
  • Admits to and seeks help with problems.

It is understandable that families cannot exhibit all of these characteristicsm and or do so all the time, but many of our families today can and do work towards a goal of being ‘healthier’ families.

More often than not, family members who come for counselling usually need help with a crisis that they can’t handle, and most of the time, factor ‘a’ is contributing to factor ‘b’ which is creating situation X and destroying relationship ‘Y’.

Family counselling can be a forum where everyone can have the opportunity to feel heard, validated and understood, and begin to grow and foster connections that can maintain some of the above characteristics.

Fundamentally, family counselling can support a family communicate with each other again and thus foster relationships that restore broken relationships and uncover what’s behind the issues that is holding them back from enjoying each other.

It is very important to keep in mind, as mentioned previously that every family is different, and that every family has its strengths and that due to its own history of issues, exhibits its own ability to learn and develop coping strategies and skills so that it can function more harmoniously and positively.

Counselling Techniqes Include:  

Most of the counselling techniques utilised in therapy focus mostly on providing the family with a safe and trusting environment.

Intervention techniques lean toward a more Family Systems, Emotion Focused, and Schema Therapy counselling – all these techniques primarily support the family to understand the way in which it functioned historically; thus having a clearer understanding to why it is functioning the way it is now?? 

The strengths and weaknesses of the family are evaluated so that these elements may be utilised to support the weakeer parts of the family functioning.  Primarily these techniques help build a keen sense of awareness of how the family operates – making it plain to see how conflict develops and evolves over time.  

Counselling techniques aim to create a family that can share its problems together so that they can build better connections for the future in order that family relationships are designed to be more sustainable through the difficult times – creating a more positively functioning family. 

Family Therapy Can Involve:

  • Supporting members to reduce the distress and stress they feel that more often than not fosters conflict in the family 
  • Learn better coping skills and enable them to adopt new coping strategies and or problem-solving skills so that bonds and connections with one another are maintained or repaired if need be
  • Learn to see the situation from a new or different perspective, so that better understanding of one another is sought and forgiveness is better attainable.​

One needs to keep in mind that there is never only one factor that contributes to the discord within a family, and that amongst the differing factors, there are many layers to it and possibly well established negative patterns that have developed depending on the time the conflict has been about.

Author: Michelle Barratt

ADoptive Families

Children live in all types of families, and one of them is when they have been being adopted. Adoptions can occur at any age. However, being adopted and living in the country of your birth is one thing, but living in a completely different country to your place of birth and in another culture altogether can at times bring about some interesting challenges.

To ensure we understand each other correctly, the definition of adoption provided by the Australian Government is that:

Adoption is a legal process by which a person becomes, in law, a child of the adopting parents and ceases to be a child of the birth parents. All the legal consequences of parenthood are transferred from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. The adopted child obtains a new birth certificate showing the adopters as the parents, and acquires rights of support and rights of inheritance from the adopting parents. The adopting parents acquire rights to guardianship and custody of the child. Normally the child takes the adopters’ surname. The birth parents cease to have any legal obligations towards the child and lose their rights to custody and guardianship. Inheritance rights between the child and birth rights also disappear (Australian Senate’s report on the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices (Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee, 2012; “the Sente Inquiry”, p 5-6, para. 2.1).

Adopted Children

In the above mentioned report, many different types of experiences by the adopted parents were recorded and that most of the support families received during the time of the adoption was from their spouse. There is no doubt about it, every family will have their own tale to tell about the trials, tribulations and joy they experience;

  • During the adoption process
  • At the times they receive their child and
  • While parenting their child
  • Adoptive children wanting to make contact with the parents of origin
  • What is the effect of contact on adoptive parents relationships, biological parents and the adoptees themselves.

No matter which part of the process you are in, the biggest issues are likely to relate to adjusting to the new changes in your life.

1. During the adoption process – many parents experience a wealth of emotions that can mirror the uncertainty they face, the length of time it takes can bring about feelings of uncertainty, frustration and a sense of relentless anticipation. As there are many forms of adopting a child in Australia, receiving the most appropriate support during this period is paramount to ensure that the child is received into the healthiest family environment.

2. At the time of receiving an adopted child can feel like nothing you have ever experienced before. Alongside feelings of joy and relief, other feelings can arise such as the fear of (especially when the child has been adopted from another country) what has this child actually or really been exposed to? For example, has this child experienced any trauma. Some children adopted from Africa have been adopted through a wealth of experiences ‘prior to adoption’. At times, some of the deep seated emotional issues can arise only years later – so often, children seeking psychological support early on is paramount to offering the child as much support and guidance as possible.

3. While parenting the child; depending on the prior experiences of the child, the age of the child, the nature of the adoptive process and the following environment the child was exposed to will determine the child’s behaviour. Many parents have reported that their child just doesn’t seem to behave like other children, or if they are older parents, their adopted children don’t behave like their previous/current biological children.

4 & 5. A wide range of emotions are experienced by both the child and the adopted family if the child would like to make contact with their previous origin and biological parents. This time can be not only a joyous experience, but be a very challenging one at that; possibly changing many dynamics in the family.

The Senate’s (2012) report found that although half the adoptive parents did not find that the adoption had any effect on the heath and well being of their son or daughter, some respondents did find there was a link, of which the most common reported were:

  • mental health problems (including depression, autism/Asperger’s syndrome and personality disorders);
  • low self-esteem;
  • attachment issues;
  • feelings of rejection;
  • abuse of drugs;
  • negative behaviours (shoplifting, stealing, “inappropriate sexual behaviour”); and
  • Embarrassment about the adoption.

Most adoptive parents in this category wished they had received psychological support earlier.

Some adoptive parents commented that it would have been useful to have known the medical history of the birth family in order to better respond to the needs of their children. Other comments on the health effects of the adoption on their son or daughter include:

He always wanted to be seen as the unwanted one and would get extremely angry and frustrated when we tried to reason with him … (1420, 2012)

The lack of more detailed information concerning the birth mother and father with respect to health and personality profiles and their family backgrounds has made it very difficult for us to respond to the many issues that are ongoing. (1770, 2012), and in addition distracted by wanting to know and meet biological family, the child appeared to not be able to apply himself to study/projects and persevere to the end. Poor decision-making, inconsistent, unsure of himself, low self-esteem also seemed to be a common theme amongst these children. (233, 2012)

It is therefore highly recommended that if you experience any behaviour of concern with your children, or would like to receive parenting skills or support yourself – please don’t hesitate to contact Michelle Adoption is a legal process by which a person becomes, in law, a child of the adopting parents and ceases to be a child of the birth parents. All the legal consequences of parenthood are transferred from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. The adopted child obtains a new birth certificate showing the adopters as the parents, and acquires rights of support and rights of inheritance from the adopting parents. The adopting parents acquire rights to guardianship and custody of the child. Normally the child takes the adopters’ surname. The birth parents cease to have any legal obligations towards the child and lose their rights to custody and guardianship. Inheritance rights between the child and birth rights also disappear (Australian Senate’s report on the Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices (Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee, 2012; “the Senate Inquiry”, p 5-6, para. 2.1).

Family Therapy or Counselling:

Michelle Barratt is a Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychologist providing therapy or family counselling to adopted children for low self-esteem, social skills, mental health issues, negative behaviour and parenting skills or any other issues your child or adolescent might be experiencing. Please feel free to contact Michelle to make an appointment to work out whether your child or family might benefit from therapy.

Author: Michelle Barratt

Coping with MEntal Health as a family Member

It can be difficult to see a loved one struggle with mental illness. You may worry about their well-being, struggle with your own difficult thoughts and feelings or not know how to support your loved one in a meaningful way. Often mental illness affects not only the individual with the diagnosis but their whole family. This may create tension, uncertainty, anger or grief over how your loved one or your lifestyle has been changed by the illness. It’s important to understand that although difficult, these feelings are normal. Acknowledging and talking about them can help you come to terms with the illness and overcome challenges.

If you are a parent, family member, friend or partner of someone who is struggling with mental illness, you may have noticed changes in your loved one’s behaviour, mood, perception, relationships or ability to manage daily responsibilities. Understanding these changes and supporting your loved one as well as managing your thoughts, feelings and responsibilities can sometimes be overwhelming and can even lead to your own mental health illness. 

If you are becoming overwhelmed here are a few tips for coping with mental health as a family member:

  • Educate yourself: Learn as much as you can about the illness. This will help to reduce misconceptions and assist you to determine what you can reasonably do to support your loved one.
  • Be patient: Your loved one may be struggling with accepting their diagnosis or exhibiting challenging or complex behaviours. It’s important to remember that getting better takes time and your loved one can’t just “snap out of it.”
  • Listen: The power of listening is often overlooked. You don’t always have to know the answers, sometimes listening without judgement is just as effective. Giving your loved one uninterrupted time and space to talk can be calming and reassuring.
  • Motivate them to seek help: Encourage your loved one to be involved as much as possible in seeking treatment, looking after themselves physically, taking part in daily activities and socialising.
  • Offer support: Let your loved one know that you love them and are available for support. Some ways you may be able to support your loved one include offering to talk to them about how they feel, taking them to appointments, encouraging them to take their medication, helping to create low stress environments or organise fun activities to do together.
  • Make an emergency plan: If your loved one experiences suicidal thoughts, self-harming or becomes aggressive towards others it may be helpful to create an emergency plan together including what to do and who to contact should these behaviours occur. It may also be helpful to discuss this plan with a health professional such as a doctor or psychologist.
  • Self-care: Supporting a loved one with a mental illness isn’t easy. It is important to look after yourself and to set clear boundaries on what you are willing and able to do. Make sure you make time for your own hobbies, physical activity and friends. Remember it’s okay for you to seek your own support such as talking to a psychologist, joining a support group or confiding in a trusted friend.​

When a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness it will take some time to accept and establish a new routine. Ensure you are looking after your own physical, social and emotional needs. Look out for signs that you are becoming stressed and consider talking to a mental health professional. Speaking to a psychologist may benefit you and your loved one by helping you to better understand and manage situations and behaviours that may arise. Role modelling this behaviour may influence your loved one to also access professional help.

Author: Michelle Barratt

Creating healthy Families after a seperation or Divorce

Families these days exist through many different means, whether it’s a nuclear family, single family, step-family or blended family, but the breakup of any family can be extremely painful for every member of the family.

Unfortunately, more often than not, there are many reasons why a family might have to/need to separate and some of these are:

  • The result of high conflict
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse
  • Couples that simply drift apart
  • Infidelity External pressures or stresses from work
  • The stress of parents having to live away from home for long periods of time
  • A sick child
  • The loss of a child or parent
  • Financial stress

… and the list goes on.​

No matter what the reason, this time for a family can be extremely stressful and insecure; often leaving parents or other members of the family with many decisions to make. The impact of family breakdown often leaves family members involved feeling overwhelmed, confused and sometimes very fearful of what their future might bring; leaving them with a sense of vulnerability. Often it is through this time that family members need support.

Michelle Barratt can offer individual counselling, or counselling for parents, couples or just the children/or adolescents and for the family.

Michelle’s counselling techniques cover a wide range of interventions and strategies to assist either family, individuals, parents, couple’s, children and or adolescents process and deal with the massive changes they are experiencing.

Family separation or divorce does not mean the end of that family

Many families through therapy can find their way to building more positive relationships through the art of listening, more positive communicating, negotiation, etc.

Family therapy can provide the support and skills a family and its members can learn and discover to functioning as a new or ‘different’ family, however the relationships in the family can still become and remain as positive.

Michelle Barratt’s counselling is entirely client-focused as she supports and guides her clients through their therapy and journey to healing and recovery. Depending on the issues presented in therapy, will thus depend on the style of intervention she uses, but with families, family-systems therapy and emotion focused therapy is mostly utilised as well as many other types of styles, but this can be discussed with Michelle when you meet with her.

Author: Michelle Barratt

Email Contact Form

Please be advised that you’ll receive a response within 24 to 48 hours

If in Crisis please call 000