Consider the range of problems that can affect families. This is not a definitive list; the problems within families are as individual as the families themselves.

Potential problems may be associated with any of the following:

  • Divorce
  • Separation
  • Loss of a parent
  • Loss of a child
  • Loss of other family member
  • Step parents
  • Step siblings
  • Step children
  • Disabled family member
  • Abuse – sexual, physical, mental
  • Redundancy
  • Homelessness
  • Substance abuse by parent/child
  • Alcohol abuse by parent/child
  • Extra-marital affair

There are, of course, other problems not listed here which you can probably think of.  All of these will not only have an impact on the child and the parents within a family, but also within the wider family.  

Support Services in many countries are available and geared to helping people with family problems.

As well as family therapists, a range of support structures may be required to support a family with problems. The other services available will vary from country to country, location to location and culture to culture.  Whilst receiving support benefits families in different ways it is usually the quality of support rather than the quantity of support which determines the overall well-being of the family. As such, the support received needs to be appropriate and adequate if it is to meet the needs of the family. 

Extended Family
An important support system for some families may be the extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and so on. Sometimes they may be able to offer help and support to the family members. They may also become involved in family therapy in some situations.

Social Workers
The role of the social worker varies from country to country. You may find it useful to determine the role of the social worker within your own country, as the legal definitions of a social worker vary. In the UK for example, a social worker can be involved in supporting the family, removing children at risk, undertaking court procedures, offering support in parenting skills, arranging foster care and so on.

Community services may be offered, this can include a wide range of things such as –

  • Nursery care
  • Help with childcare
  • Help with housework
  • Educational support
  • Parenting skills
  • Help with cooking skills
  • Help with transport 

Support for Families who have a Member with a Disability

Families which have a family member with a disability will often experience much worry and stress and may encounter problems getting the help and services they need for caring for their disabled family members, particularly at the times when help is most needed.

There are many organisations which support families of children who have some type of disability or special health care need. These groups help families to meet everyday challenges. Most strive to provide the necessary information, resources and support required to help these families make informed choices for their children. In doing so they try to ensure that families of these children have the knowledge and assistance needed to support their child's health, education, and ongoing development. Services included might also include peer support for families, as well as offering information and education not only to the families, but also to health care professionals and the wider community. Many of the staff members, volunteers, and board members of these groups will often belong to families which include children with disabilities and they are therefore able to draw on their own experiences when helping others. 

Support for Families with a Drug User

There are many support groups aimed at providing support for families where a member may be using illicit drugs. The focus of such support groups is generally to improve problem solving skills, emotional management, relationships within the family, management of drug use, and the well-being of the drug user and their family. Typically these organisations seek to educate the family with regard to such issues as:

  • Services available to the drug user and their family
  • Detoxification options and their impact on the user and family  
  • Physical, emotional and psychological issues including drug dependence
  • Pharmaco-therapies including methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine
  • Needle exchange programs which also provide information, support, advice, and referral
  • Life after drug use and its impact on the user.

They may also offer advice on ways the family can cope such as:

  • Understanding the stages of change for the drug user and accepting lapses as a challenge but not a time to give up
  • Understanding the family’s stages of change and finding achievable options
  • Carrying on with life as usual
  • Avoiding confrontation
  • Setting achievable boundaries with acceptable consequences 

Support for Families with an Alcoholic Member

Whilst alcoholism represents a very serious problem for the individual, it is also a problem for the family and many organisations treat it as such. Alcoholism is insidious by its nature and often the individual and their family members do not recognise that there is a problem until the person’s behaviour becomes untenable. Alcoholism is regarded as a family disease given that each family member can be affected by the alcoholic in ways they often do not even realise.

As the alcoholic's disease progresses, so too does the dysfunctional thinking of the family, and it is often so slowly that no family members notice until the situation becomes a crisis. Typically support for alcoholics and their families includes; the identification of the problem and associated behaviours, education, and setting goals for change.