Family Therapy and Yoga: A Connection? By Andrea Woodburn, LCSW on 11/26/18 - 12:49 PM

Family therapy and yoga; what interesting companions. Through both, one seeks to move towards a union or connection - with self, others or the wider world.

Working for over 30 years as a family therapist in public schools, with thousands of families and students on a myriad of issues, I have promoted positivity as a means of achieving mental health. Many families are referred to me due to their child’s current and/or past difficulties functioning in the classroom, although I know that they usually also struggle in the home. Many of the parents do not make the connection that their child is a member of a family, just as they are members of a school community. Their view is often that “this is a school problem,” unaware of the connection between the child’s behavior in school and at home. They don’t see the connection, and there is that nagging word again! Connection. Helping these families, and particularly the parents, to shift their perception so that they may make the connection is the challenge.

In a similar vein, people often participate in my yoga class to gain physical, mental and at times spiritual flexibility. Or they may come for a sense of connection to something larger than themselves, both within and outside of the yoga space. Just as in the family therapy context, many of my yoga students do not make the connection that what they do in the room, so to speak, is directly connected to what they do outside of it. And just as with my school counseling clients, I try to guide them to focus on their total positive wellbeing.

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Whether in therapy or yoga, people are seeking a shift, a change and a positive connection with something or someone. Or maybe, it’s simply yet powerfully the therapist or yogi with whom they want to connect. Maybe it is their spouse or child. The common thread is that all are seeking positive mental, physical and/or spiritual health.

Typically, I do not get to choose who enters the journey of therapy or yoga. and I rarely know the impact, influence or outcome. I do know that I trust the process, which is easy to do when all is going smoothly. But it during the challenging times when the real work takes place. The process of building connections, whether with self, others or the larger world is just that, a process. One step at a time, one intervention at a time, one breath at a time.

I recall working with an extremely angry 16-year-old who was resistant to change, connection or being in therapy. She grew up in poverty, witnessed domestic violence and lived with her grandmother as a result. Her reactions to peer conflict were swift and impulsive and like those she experienced in her family of origin- she’d yell and hit, no questions asked. While I attempted to build a relationship by connecting with her intellect and desire to graduate, she rarely came by my office unless in crisis. On one of those days as I waited to begin my mindfulness class, she ran to me in tears over a friend’s domestic crisis much like those she had experienced earlier in life. Particularly susceptible in the moment, she agreed to join my yoga class where I took her through some grounding, breathing and movement exercises into a final guided meditation Seizing the moment, I was able to connect with her and begin her on a path towards connection her with herself, the moment, and the possibility of positive change within herself. She left happy and connected. Who knew how long the impact would last? However, when I visited her class later that semester, she voluntarily stood up and recalled that moment aloud, proudly explaining its positive impact to her classmates. A connection was made. 

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, Child & Adolescent Therapy