Why choose family therapy? African American adult experiences that led to their engagement in family therapy

Holloway, Felicia
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The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of African Americans who choose to attend family therapy. African Americans are often overrepresented in groups that are most at-risk for psychological distress. Most African Americans do not utilize family therapy due to a variety of barriers and negative perceptions about family therapy. Despite the underutilization of family therapy by African Americans, some are overcoming barriers and negative perceptions and engaging in family therapy when distressed. A phenomenological study was used to gain a rich understanding of the experiences of those African American adults who attended family therapy. Through convenience sampling, 39 African American adults who had attended family therapy within 18 months of the study participated in the research. The following four research questions were addressed in the study: (1) How did adult African Americans decide to go to family therapy? (2) How did adult African Americans perceive family therapy before they entered therapy? (3) What were the motivating factors and/or challenges, if any, they experienced in their efforts to utilize family therapy? (4) How likely is it that African Americans who attended family therapy will return to family therapy in the future?

Using an online anonymous survey, data were gathered and analyzed to formulate themes. Five themes were generated: (1) Life Experiences that Led to Family Therapy, (2) Negative and Positive Perceptions of Family Therapy, (3) Positive Experiences that Encouraged Participants' use of Family Therapy, (4) Factors that Caused Participants' Hesitancy in Attending Family Therapy, and (5) Commitment to Attend Family Therapy in the Future. In addition, coping mechanisms used before participants engaged in family therapy were identified, such as, talking to family members about the problem, avoiding the problem and relying on spirituality or religious practices. Also, participants' perceptions of family therapy before and after attending therapy were analyzed. This analysis provided evidence that a positive experience in therapy typically changed a negative perception of therapy to an affirmative belief in the therapy process. Likewise, it was found that a positive perception of therapy was further solidified by a supportive family therapy experience. Based on the findings, recommendations for overcoming barriers to family therapy and implications for future research are introduced.

Psychology, African Americans, Family therapy, Help-seeking behaviors, Marriage and family therapy