The parent-child relationship has gotten the bulk of attention in the world of psychology and family therapy, and for good reason. This relationship is crucial to an individual’s survival as well as their psychological development. However, one thing that tends to get overshadowed by the parent-child relationship is the nature of the connection one has with their sibling(s). Like the parent-child bond, sibling relationships can be complex; eliciting everything from hurtful emotions and responses, to grounding each other in a deeper sense of security and connection. Strained sibling relationships can be hard to navigate because they are a reflection of the larger confusion stemming from the whole family dynamic. It is easy for to a person to slip into a role in the family, but it can be extremely challenging to attempt to alter that role. For example, the youngest child can frequently feel infantilized by older siblings even well into adulthood because s/he will always be the ‘baby’ in that context. Sibling counseling can be extremely helpful in healing your relationship with your brother(s) and/or sister(s), so as to create more lasting relational healing with family members and yourself.
Perhaps the hardest thing for siblings to realize is that their relationship is in many ways a reflection of their parents’ relationship (i.e. with means of communicating, power dynamics, ability to problem solve together, etc.). Siblings can be so busy trying to win an argument, avoid confrontation, or wanting to seem like the victim to each other that they very seldom are able to take a step back to examine the bigger picture of what is happening between them. When this happens, siblings get stuck in troublesome patterns that reinforce many of the personal qualities they are struggling to change or improve. This is why so many siblings get trapped in the same patterns for years. The dynamic becomes especially difficult towards the end of their parents’ lives when it comes time to make difficult decisions around their elderly parents’ care and estate planning. Unless their issues are addressed early on they will cause major riffs later in life.
Sibling counseling can help in ways that family therapy or individual counseling cannot. First, it gives the children (young or old) a chance to address their problems without their parents present. This is helpful because it provides the space to work on and improve their relationship with their sibling(s) without influence or distraction from their parents. It allows the children a chance to step out of the larger family situation and address what is happening between them.
Secondly, there are few things parents hate more than being criticized as parents. It can very easily ignite their defenses and they can quickly back out of family therapy. Any detected criticism on their ability to raise children or be a supportive spouse are taken incredibly personally. Often times when a couple or family come to counseling they expect the other person(s) to change, but struggle to see any changes they are needing to make. Therefore, sibling counseling can be helpful because it offers the children a chance to look at the whole family unit without the pressure to dance around issues that they know will upset their parents. This allows them to delve deeper in understanding how some of their parents’ struggles have been affecting their personal life and relationship with their brother(s) and sister(s) while allowing them to see areas for change.