From Dr. Jane's Notebook
What is Medical Family Therapy?
I recently returned from this year's Annual convention of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. This
organization, which has certified over 18,000 Clinical Members, celebrated its 50th
Anniversary. Perhaps the most thought-provoking new concept of the entire conference was
Medical Family Therapy. Here are a few thoughts on the subject.
- Chronic medical conditions lead to intense relationships with the medical community.
When a member of the family becomes ill, all priorities become reorganized to center on
health issues. This may mean a long string of appointments and medical tests, absence from
work and plenty of worry. Health issues become the priority, and the future becomes even
- When one member of a family is sick, the entire family is sick. In effect, when one
member of the family becomes sick, all members become part of the medical situation.
Emotional concerns and financial responsibilities are shared. Family members must
communicate accurately with each other and decisions must be made together. Recovery from
illness is, indeed, a family project.
- Emotional adjustments are necessary for all. The sick person must adapt to "being a
patient". Usually we resist giving up control of our lives and plans, even for the
shortest periods of time. But when illness occurs, we must trust others to care for us and
make the right decisions. This process changes roles within the family, self-concepts,
creates fear, and often leads to depression. All members may find themselves on an
"emotional roller coaster".
- It is essential to communicate well with your Doctor. Emotional upheavals, the shock of
diagnostic reports and lifestyle changes can create tremendous resistance to treatment.
Communicating accurately and personally with your physician can eliminate much of the
frustration of this experience. When communication is angry or terse, the situation
- Regaining health is a cooperative effort. Medical family therapy offers the patient and
their family the opportunity to communicate accurately among themselves, express feelings,
coordinate efforts, and delegate tasks. When a patient feels the emotional support of
family, and the doctor receives cooperation, hope is facilitated on both sides. Medical
family therapy can take place in hospitals, at home when the patient is bed-ridden, or in
the office of the family therapist.
When illness strikes, there is always the temptation to lash out at the caretaker.
Malpractice suits have had a destructive impact on our medical care delivery system.
Patients are angry and frustrated about becoming patients, and their families are stressed
out. Medical family therapy is a way to help families through the emotional process and
improve relations with the medical community. I believe it is the wave of the future.
ęCopyright, 1992, 1995, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated October 17, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon,