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Bulletin Spring 2018

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WITHIN A FAMILY SYSTEM

WITHIN A FAMILY SYSTEM ALYSON YEARSLEY, MSWA COUNSELLOR “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” Alex Haley. In my years of working with families, I have learnt the importance of keeping the entire family in mind when counselling individuals, couples or the family as a whole. When one member is suffering, it will most likely impact the entire unit. When a family member receives a diagnosis of MS or other chronic or terminal illness, it has the potential to affect all members and can often change the course of the family story. The best way to think of the family affected by illness, is of a tapestry altered by a change in its pattern. Sarah Burton MacLeod MD from Canada describes the family as an interactive system: • families contain and interact with many subsystems based on relationships • a change with one of the members of the family will influence the entire system • emotional interdependence has evolved to promote cooperation to protect their members (Mehta et.al., 2009) The predictability of the family surviving or managing an illness can be found in how resilient or healthy the family is to start with. Questions to ask may include: • how has the family adapted to change in the past? • how supportive are members of each other? • what complications are getting in the way? Complex family systems with multiple challenges such as economic, mental health, family conflict or multiple health issues may complicate navigation through a new family health challenge. Stresses within the system may need to be addressed before anything else will change. Often the core strengths of the family based on love, caring and shared family values will motivate members to go the extra mile to do what is needed to promote positive change. Sometimes this shared challenge will bring the family together. Strategies to help families cope can include: • improving communication within the family • educating family members on health issues and what to expect • creating awareness of how each member is affected • learning practical skills to decrease stress and promote a healthy lifestyle • accessing professional help for members of family that are most affected Counselling individuals who are dealing with a chronic illness can have a positive impact on the entire family. When a Member is feeling supported and heard, stress levels can decrease. Most of our counselling at MSWA is on an individual level but can incorporate a family systems approach or family inclusiveness. This can lead to cooperation within the system, increased resilience and shared understanding. What if someone is isolated or has an unsupportive family? Counselling can often bridge the gap or to help the client build a larger support network. MSWA Groups for Members or carers can expand this even further, as meeting others affected by similar challenges can help someone feel more connected or bring about change on a community level. What I have learned learnt from my experience working with families is that there is an emotional bond between Members based on the history of the family and the need for the family unit to survive. Most families I meet love talking about their family, even the dark side of the story over generations. The past traumas, conflicts and challenges are noted as what made the family stronger or in some cases fall apart. Talking about the past can often uncover what may have contributed to family stress to begin with. Whether promoting positive change, companioning along a journey or supporting family during loss and grief, MSWA counsellors are here to help. References: The Family as the Unit of Care: Challenges & Rewards; Sarah Burton MacLeod, MDCCFP & Kim Crowe, BSW RSW Mehta, A., Cohen, S.R., & Chan, L.S. (2009). Palliative care: A need for a family systems approach. Palliative & Supportive Care, 7(2), 235-243 12 | MSWA BULLETIN SPRING 2018

WHEN CHANGE IS NOT A CHOICE KATH BUDZINSKA, MSWA COUNSELLOR We are told that change is inevitable and that may be so, but sometimes we have change forced upon us in a most unexpected manner that leaves no room for choice. I remember my then seven-year-old son having an “I’m not going to school today” moment, as he very unhappily got out of the car, he said to me with a big scowl “you always say we’ve got choices!” “Yes” I reply, “you can do this willingly or unwillingly.” When I relay this story, it is usually greeted with sympathetic laughter, because I think we can all relate to his frustration. Some research suggests that there are phases we go through on our way to a different life. In the beginning we may not recognise a need to change or be unaware that change is about to be put upon us. This is regarded as the Precontemplation Phase. The Contemplation Phase is when we begin to recognise a possible change, then comes Preparation, Action and Maintenance. That is, if the change was a personal choice. When change is thrust upon us, there is often little or no time for the luxury of contemplation before action is required. However, there are still some things, such as those listed below, which people may find helpful. These are responses where we potentially have a choice, at any given time, of taking an action or not, according to whether we perceive that action as making matters better or worse. Staying focused in the present and working with what is right in front of us at any given moment, is helpful in not becoming overwhelmed. However, a broader awareness is also helpful in planning ‘where to from here.’ The following suggestions may be of some help when facing a situation beyond our control. 1) Knowledge. Do your homework; what do I need to know right now? Do I need to have a witness or a guide to help me understand the situation? 2) Emotions. Honour our feelings, how do I feel right now? Remember feelings are not right or wrong – they just are. 3) Situation. Is there something going on around me that I am a part of? Can I make a difference? 4) Self-awareness. Am I focused on reality or am I distracting myself with fantasy and illusion? What do I need right now to be able to stay in reality without being overwhelmed? 5) Community-awareness. What outside supports are available to me? Who best can help me with access to support? 6) Fear. Sometimes the only way to deal with things is keep moving through them (maybe at an angle – like swimming through a rip – just don’t stop swimming). Doing ‘the next indicated thing’ or ‘forward movement’ can be aided by skills such as meditation and mindfulness. There may be times that we fall flat on our face but that is still forward motion. 7) Alternatives. What small thing can I do differently to simplify my life at this time? Am I getting enough sleep? 8) Humility. People will want to help, and we need to let them. It’s good for all of us, sometimes being the giver and sometimes the recipient. 9) Gratitude. Acknowledge the good in our life. The good fortune to have food and shelter. 10) Set the scene. Create the space of our desire. Make our environment work for us. Is it a time of quiet or a time of stimulus? Do we have a place that meets those needs and helps keep the balance? None of these tasks are set in concrete, they have their own pattern and their own time frames. Some things we can manage easily and simply, others maybe not, or not at this time. Sometimes we need to ask for help, whether we want to or not and sometimes it is more beneficial to get help from outside of family and friends. If you would like to talk freely and in confidence to someone who has skills in helping, please contact the Counselling Department at MSWA on 9365 4888. Reference: www.prochange.com/transtheoretical-model-of-behavior-change MSWA BULLETIN SPRING 2018 | 13