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The Role Family Plays in Individual Counseling

By understanding the context in which an individual lives, counselors can provide better insight and care for their clients.

When you ask Dr. David Capuzzi, a counselor, author, and Walden University faculty member for online degree programs within the School of Counseling, how he believes the family structure has changed over the years, you’re likely to hear an amusing story of how the world of television has taken us from Leave It to Beaver—in which the “perfect housewife” spends her days vacuuming and ironing in pumps and pearls—to Modern Family, where adopted children, same-sex marriages, and smarter-than-they-appear trophy wives are the norm. Yet, regardless of whether your life circumstances fall into traditional or less conventional categories, we are all shaped by the influences of the relationships we have.

Psychology professionals, including those who hold a counseling degree from an online university, learn about the importance of family structure early on in their studies. Over the past 60 years, a number of different family scenarios have evolved. In a recent publication written by Dr. Capuzzi and two of his colleagues, he shares a list of scenarios that shape individual experiences in new ways. Here are a few:

The Role Family Plays in Individual Counseling

  • Single-parent families, consisting of either a mother or father and children.
  • Child-free families, consisting of a couple with no children.
  • Interracial or multicultural families, consisting of individuals with varying cultural backgrounds and/or ethnicities, usually as a result of marriage or adoption.
  • Same-sex or transgendered families, with or without children.
  • Living-apart-together families, which consist of couples who are in marriage-like relationships but live in separate households, often for career purposes.
  • Dual-career families, comprised of couples who place a high priority on career advancement and mobility—many have children, and those that do not are colloquially known as DINKS (dual income, no kids).
  • Aging families, headed by those 65 or older, where issues such as spousal loss, raising grandchildren, and/or diminished income levels come into play.
  • Multigenerational families, in which two or more generations live in the same household—this might include a young married couple living with parents, a single mother moving back in with her own parents, or recent immigrants living with family members while they adjust to a new culture.
  • Military families, who often live with uncertainty about deployment and how the world situation will affect them.

“Forty years ago, all the emphasis was really on individual counseling. Even if you’re counseling a person one-on-one, when they go home they are part of a system that impacts them—starting with their family,” said Dr. Capuzzi. “It’s hard to do one-to-one counseling out of context. You’re influenced by your family, your neighborhood, your job, and even by the geographical area and its culture.”

Earning a master’s in counseling from an online university can help qualify and prepare you to make a difference in the lives of individuals from a wide variety of family dynamics and backgrounds. Walden is an accredited university offering online counseling degree programs, so if you are interested in online learning, consider exploring our MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program with a specialization in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling program and related degrees.

Though family counseling may not be the best career path for everyone, in many instances, expanding an individual’s counseling session to include family members can be very beneficial. A counselor has the opportunity to understand how individual family members interact with one another and might gain insight into larger problems such as unresolved trauma, interpersonal problems, cultural barriers, and more. “There are all these different systemic variables that influence what you do, so you really can’t depend on one-to-one counseling without considering the context in which your client lives,” says Dr. Capuzzi.

Dr. David Capuzzi is a Walden University faculty member. He is also a frequent keynote speaker and presenter at professional conferences and institutes. Dr. Capuzzi has facilitated the development of programs related to suicide prevention, crisis management, and postvention throughout the United States. In addition to being a former president of the American Counseling Association (ACA), Dr. Capuzzi was the first recipient of the ACA’s Kitty Cole Human Rights Award. He was inducted as an ACA Fellow in 2008 and received the ACA’s Gilbert & Kathleen Wrenn Award for a Humanitarian and Caring Person in 2010. Dr. Capuzzi has written, cowritten, or coedited nine textbooks and contributed to numerous professional journal articles. Dr. Capuzzi has a book on this topic, which coauthored with Mark D. Stauffer.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,