When 1 Person in the Family is Symptomatic Others are Affected

In the past I have been honored to share the perspective of my friends and colleagues as they write a guest blog for Cognitive Connections.  Today I am excited to introduce you to Andrea Maloney Schara.  Andrea is a Family Systems Coach and author of “Your Mindful Compass”.  She specializes in coaching people to have more fun and be more creative as they seek to define a self in their family and social systems.


Thank you Andrea for sharing your thoughts!  If anyone is interested in reaching out to Andrea you can find her at:  http://thelearningspacedc.com/pages/staff/andrea

Your Mindful Compass Coaching with Andrea Schara from a Family Systems Perspective

Families with symptomatic members are often frustrated in looking for ways to understand the issues facing the family as a whole. People who have a symptomatic member know that suffering is not confined to one individual.  Often family members ask: “Am I making things better or worse?”  Despite years of research on the impact of relationships disturbance, there is precious little available in today’s mental health cafeteria to enable an understanding of the family as a unit, which absorbs and reacts to suffering in automatic and or primitive ways.

 Families are given individual solutions to system’s level problems. What is acceptable, standard, “scientifically” tested treatment today has not yet caught up with the research on relationships done back in the sixties.[1],[2]  Partially this is due to the difficult of measuring systems level change in a social group. 

What a tremendous leap it is to go from understanding the impact of death, divorce, cancer or addictions as a problem in one person, to seeing how the family system reacts to suffering.  What a challenge for those trained in the medical model to perceive the family as an ancient emotional unit. Shakespeare saw the family as a primitive unit guiding the behavior of its members, but he was unable to provide solutions. Solutions require a focus on building a more resilient psychology and physiology in order to break patterns of emotionally programmed reactivity.

Often people who have been frustrated with the individual approach can make the leap to systems thinking.  Those who have both courage and curiosity are able to observe the family as a more primitive organism with goals of its own. There is no blame once you see the family as a system. There is simply personal responsibility to find ways to become a stronger self.

When coaching a family leader (the one who is willing to change self in the system) I add NeurOptimal neurofeedback training as a way to allow the integration of feelings and thinking, and promote an increased ability to observe.  The training takes place over the sensory motor neuron strip.  Old ways of seeing the world are often replaced with a calmer, more realistic understanding of the various social systems people inhabit. This enables one to redefine how they will participate in these social systems.  Over time people are less threated by changes in important relationships. Most people to do ten sessions of neuorfeedback and then reassess. Those I coach over the phone rent neurofeedback personal systems. The basics of my approach can be found in my book Your Mindful Compass detailing how each of us has a compass that automatically guides us in specific directions, which are compatible with the rules that worked in the past.  When we are dealing with new and difficult problems, often our compass needs to be recalibrated. As people figure out what they believe and where they stand, they are better able to speak to the emotional system of the family.  Family members can be stuck in the past way of reacting, believing and being.

In the initial coaching session, we develop a family diagram of three generations. This gives us an overview of the system and a different way of understanding how problems arise and are maintained.  Most people find it useful to meet every week or two and then move to once a month consulting. Some people have an immediate response and a different view of problems after the first session. Others take more time to report a breakthrough, and still others find a system’s approach and neurofeedback too challenging.  The beautiful thing is that when one person in the family can use knowledge of the family system to change self they are breaking old patterns which will eventually benefit the entire family.

Andrea Maloney Schara

[1] In 1967, psychiatristsThomas Holmes and Richard Rahe examined the medical records of over 5,000 medical patients as a way to determine whether stressful events might cause illnesses. Patients were asked to tally a list of 43 life events based on a relative score. A positive correlation of 0.118 was found between their life events and their illnesses.

[2]Family Therapy in Clinical Practice by Murray Bowen, 1978