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More often than not, ADHD affects the entire family. People with ADHD can be emotionally demanding, wrecking havoc on a family’s fragile energy reserves. ADHD children can exhaust their parents to say nothing of the stress they can place on their siblings. Children with ADHD can also be a source of parental polarization with one parent placing “the enforcer” and the other, “the marshmallow.” 1 Is it any wonder why the divorce rate is three times higher for parents with ADHD children than for the general population? 2 Similarly, ADHD adults are more likely to have problems in their marriages. ADHD also runs in families, meaning that children with ADHD are more likely to have a parent with the disorder. Thus, it’s not uncommon for a family to have more than one ADHD-afflicted member.
Effect of Family Therapy on ADHD
Family therapy is ideally suited for people with ADHD. According to Gabor Maté, author of Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It, family therapy is superior to other types of psychotherapy due to its ability to see the patient’s problems within the larger context of a multigenerational family system. Family therapists also “encouraged people to take responsibility for their own feelings rather than imagining that these feelings arise from the failures of ill will of their partners, friends or co-workers—a liberating perspective that helps a client shed the garb of victimhood.” 3 Frank Lawlis, author of The ADD Answer: How to Help Your Child Now, echoes this sentiment. “The treatment for ADHD begins with the healing home … If a child’s parents and other family members do not invest their time, effort and love in his treatment, there is very little doctors or teachers can do.” 4
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Research Evidence on Family Therapy
Research supports the efficacy of family therapy. In a review of family therapy treatments, researched showed the family therapy was superior to other types of alternative therapies in the treatment of ADHD.5 Similarly, Jose Szapocznik et al. showed that family therapy was superior to psychodyanamic child therapy in protecting family integrity with ADHD boys.6
How to Use Family Therapy
Depending on the situation, family therapy can be used to treat individuals, couples, certain family members or the family as a whole. The specific treatment plan varies per situation and is generally short term. Family therapy’s primary purpose is to explore the family ability to solve problems and express thoughts and emotions.7
In The ADD Answer, Lawlis lists three steps to success for families dealing with an ADHD child. Parents should first determine their parenting style. Using something called “The Family Dynamics Audit,” 8 Lawlis describes six types of parenting styles including the Teacher, the Supporter, the Molder, the Guide, the Dependent and the Monarch. Each of these styles works differently with ADHD children; the key is for each parent to know their strengths and weaknesses.9 Secondly, parents will want to host a family meeting to determine each member’s strengths. To do this, family members take turns sitting in the “hot seat” while the rest of the family shares three positive perceptions (with at least one example of each perception) of the person. Following a full round of sharing, the person in the hot seat is then allowed to comment on their family’s feedback. The point of this exercise is to deepen family intimacy.10 Finally, Lawlis recommends parents form a “healing team” by identifying family members to fulfill specific needs such as listening, deciphering medical advice, providing inspiration and offering honest feedback.11
“The success of any therapy depends of the willingness of the people to seek more productive behavior,” Lawlis states. “All members of the family must be willing to change their behavior patterns” to promote change.12
Types of Professionals That Would Be Involved with This Treatment
Family therapists should be accredited through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Primary doctors, health insurers, employee assistance programs, clergy, local mental health agencies and trusted friends are all good sources for recommendations.13
Family therapy is a low-risk treatment. While therapy sessions could bring up strong feelings for a client (i.e. anxiety, stress), it is unlikely to lead to any adverse effects down the road.
- Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D., Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005): 286.
- Frank Lawlis, Ph.D., The ADD Answer: How to Help Your Child Now, (New York: Viking, 2004): 21.
- Gabor Maté, Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It. (New York, NY: A Plumb Book, 2000): 281.
- Frank Lawlis, Ph.D. The ADD Answer: How to Help Your Child Now, (New York: Viking, 2004): 20.
- Mark D. Hazelrigg, Harris M. Cooper and Charles M. Borduin. “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Family Therapies: An Integrative Review,” Psychological Bulletin 101, no. 3 (May 1987): 428–442.
- Jose Szapocznik et al. “Structured Family Versus Psychodynamic Child Therapy for Problematic Hispanic Boys,” Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology 57, no. 5 (October 1989): 571–578.
- Mayo Clinic staff. “Family Therapy,” MayoClinic.com. (October 10, 2009). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/family-therapy/MY00814
- Frank Lawlis, Ph.D. The ADD Answer: How to Help Your Child Now, (New York: Viking, 2004): 22.
- Frank Lawlis, Ph.D. The ADD Answer: How to Help Your Child Now, (New York: Viking, 2004): 24–28.
- Frank Lawlis, Ph.D. The ADD Answer: How to Help Your Child Now, (New York: Viking, 2004): 30–31.
- Frank Lawlis, Ph.D. The ADD Answer: How to Help Your Child Now, (New York: Viking, 2004): 31.
- Frank Lawlis, Ph.D. The ADD Answer: How to Help Your Child Now, (New York: Viking, 2004): 32.
- Mayo Clinic staff. “Family Therapy,”* MayoClinic.com*. (October 10, 2009). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/family-therapy/MY00814
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