When I work with a family, I begin the first session with everyone in the room. In the first half of the session we explore what has happened to bring you to therapy. In the second half of the session, I work with the teens in order to establish a connection. My experience suggests if I do not connect with the teens in the first session, they may not talk in later sessions. This appears to be due to the concern that as an adult, I am onside with their parents.
Usually in the next session I will split the session between the teens and the parents. As we progress we move to a place with everyone is in the room. Generally I will continue this rotation of the family together, the youth, the parents and more family time together. The order of this process may vary (with the exception of the first session). Please note; if your child is 12 or over, it is important to bring your teen to the first session. When the parent(s) come to the first session alone, the teen comes the next session assuming the cards are stacked against him. This only works to shut the teen down and is not helpful.
The process I use is to begin by connecting with the parents and the teens. This helps me come to an understanding of the paradigm of the family. The second step is to create enough harmony to make room for better communication. My experience is when there is disharmony in a family it often shows through one or two family members. It may appear through a child/teen acting out or disengaging/withdrawing with/from the family when the issues may lay with the lack of structure, routine, or reasonable limits. Sometimes it relates back to how the parents relate to each other and that tension is picked up by one or more of the children. This may create uncertainty for the child (children) that leads to a feeling of insecurity which in turn leads to the acting out. Therefore, one would be remiss to only seek help for the one or two identified as having “an issue”. Generally, when there is an issue in the home it is often not an individual issue, but a family issue.