Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water

When and how to start your search for a therapist for you and your family when on the journey of care.

How can I start to explore ways to get help for my family?

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When you start your child’s treatment journey the direct care team likely will be your first and best source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Support services are a critically important part of your child’s care because they help to fortify the holistic elements of care for your sick child and your whole family. These resources might include nursing services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, and/or spiritual help. Several families who have lived the treatment journey and several healthcare professionals have explained that often the best way to start your exploration of these resources is through the social work team assigned to you and your child at the hospital where the diagnosis was made and/or where initial treatment ensued. The Department of Social Work and Spiritual Care, at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for example, is staffed by nearly 100 masters-trained social workers. They provide services to families during inpatient hospitalizations, when visiting an outpatient office or clinic, and even after a child returns home after treatment.

Support groups and organizations like The American Cancer Society also have programs and services – including lodging, support groups, and more – to help your child get through treatment. They also can serve as a good referral source for ideas related to therapy options and emotional support.

How do I know when we need professional help?

Deciding if marriage and family therapy is right for a family can be an enormous decision. While it may feel initially like admitting defeat, failure or weakness, in truth choosing family counseling can be a sign of strength. Perhaps Wayne Parker said it best in his blog post entitled “When Do I Need a Family Counselor?” posted on The Spruce back in March 2017, when he suggested that one should think of family counseling as adding additional tools to your family’s relationship and coping toolbox. You can learn new ways to communicate effectively, examine and adhere to your values, to work through challenges together, and disciplines which will help you relate to each other.

Wayne went on to say that if your family is experiencing and of the following symptoms, it may be time to consider engaging the services of a qualified professional marriage and family therapist.

  • Family members have difficulty functioning in their normal capacity. Do you feel an “energy drain” in your family? Things that used to be routine and normal are now burdensome?
  • Family members tend to have extreme emotional reactions. Do members of your family exhibit excessive anger, fear, sadness, depression or other emotional reactions?
  • There is a significant breakdown in communication between family members. Do you find it harder to communicate than usual? Are you experiencing the “silent treatment” more often than usual?
  • Family members are withdrawing from family life. Is there a new pattern of one or more family members going into seclusion?
  • There are symptoms of violence or the threat of violence to oneself or other family members. Beyond normal “horseplay,” do you feel that violence is a problem? Is there behavior that would be considered “assault” if it weren’t between family members?
  • Family members express feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Do you feel that you have reached the end of your rope? Is coping with the stresses just too much to bear? Do you wonder if your family will ever recover?
  • There have been changes in the children’s behavior at home or school. Are grades taking a nosedive? What about attendance problems or disruptive behavior at school? Is one of the children out of control at home?
  • The family has had a traumatic experience by way of the diagnosis. Are family members are having a hard time coping or difficulty adjusting to the new reality while on the treatment journey?
  • Family members have substance abuse problems. Are there challenges with alcohol or drug use? Is there a family member with an eating disorder?

Many families who have gone through the treatment journey have expressed that therapy or counseling has helped them gain perspective, remain effective at work and even helped the family grow closer together emotionally.

Stay tuned for our follow-up blog post entitled “Help!  I need somebody…” where we will share insights related to how to interview and select the right counselor or therapist for you and your family while on the journey of care.

Tom Nieman is a Founder and President of The LIV Foundation and a financial services industry veteran. The best place to reach Tom is on LinkedIn at

or on email at

If you want to learn more, need help or know someone who needs help check out the following resources:

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Department of Social Work and Spiritual Care:

The LIV Foundation:

References used for this blog post:

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