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How to Support Your Clients Through Family Rifts  

Jun 14, 2022


Being rejected by family, or deciding to leave, can be one of the most traumatic experiences in a person’s life.” – Kylie Agllias

Our family relationships play an intrinsic role in forming who we are as people, and how we respond to the challenges in our lives. Families can act as our greatest support networks, but when rifts form within a family, it can have a tremendously negative impact on our mental health and wellbeing.


It’s not uncommon for rifts to develop between siblings, spouses, parents, cousins, or any other relation for that matter; tensions can develop seemingly overnight, and can be exacerbated by certain events – such as a death or illness in the family, or the breakdown of a marriage.


Sometimes, rifts are formed when a relationship ends, and not everyone in the family agrees with or supports the decision. This can be particularly hard for your clients if they are already facing the emotional challenges that come with a break-up, separation or divorce.


Supporting Your Clients With My Little Therapy Box


If a client comes to you following a family rift, or they experience a rift while under your care, there are plenty of ways that you can support them – one of which is through the use of my own therapy resource: my little therapy box.


My little therapy box contains 40 beautifully designed mood cards for personal and professional use. The cards can be used by clients to assist and encourage journal writing, in conversation with close family or friends, or in a professional setting – with you, for example.


The ‘family rift’ card asks the reader to consider what’s causing them to feel unhappy or distressed, while inviting them to think about whether this is a new or long-standing issue. These questions can help your client to think more clearly about the problem, and get to the bottom of the impact it’s having on their mental health and overall wellbeing.


So, how can you use the cards as a mental health professional?


The card contains useful prompts that allow you to encourage your client to explore their family rift in greater depth. Whether in conversation with you, or by writing things down, you can ask your client to think about the impact of not overcoming the rift – listing any positives or negatives – as well as identifying one action they could take to show that they would like to resolve the issue.


Resolving a Family Rift


It's important to remind your client that emotions, like anger, sadness, and feelings of being hurt, can take over and become overwhelming. When this happens, it’s easy to forget the good times they may have shared with their family, or to overlook the future experiences they may miss out on if the relationship remains broken.


While not every relationship can be repaired, successfully overcoming a family rift can be extremely beneficial for your client’s mental health – provided the situation is in no way dangerous or abusive.


  • To help encourage this process, you might want to ask them to consider their role in the estrangement: could they have done anything differently? Would they change anything? Could something have been misconstrued? Not to apportion blame or incite feelings of guilt, but to prompt a possible change in perspective.


  • If attempting to reconcile with a family member who may have caused hurt, it’s wise to advise your client to set protective boundaries for themselves: what are they prepared to accept and compromise on, and what do they need for the relationship to proceed in a healthy way? Do they need to limit interactions and the amount of time spent together? Do certain topics need to be off limits?


  • If you offer family counselling, you may want to invite your client to visit with their estranged family member if both parties are willing to talk. Having an objective perspective can really help!


Of course, if a reconciliation proves unlikely, your client may need a greater level of emotional support, along with the tools to help them move on without bitterness. Work closely with your client to understand exactly what they need from their sessions with you.


Learn How to Better Support Your Clients Through Relationship Breakdowns


The most common family rifts occur when a romantic relationship ends – affecting not only the parties involved, but the extended family, too. It’s therefore imperative that anyone going through a possible break-up has the tools they need to successfully navigate the process.


If you’re keen to extend your knowledge and deepen your skills as a mental health professional supporting clients through a relationship breakdown, you might be interested in my upcoming course: The Relationship Recovery Toolkit.


In this course, you’ll learn how to guide your clients through separation and divorce – boosting your own professional confidence, and allowing your clients to thrive.


By the end of the course, you’ll:


  • Feel more confident working with separation and divorce
  • Understand why some clients are stuck in unhealthy patterns in relationships 
  • Gain creative therapeutic tools to use in therapy (including PDF exercises and worksheets) 
  • Explore key theories that underpin the work we do with clients
  • Receive a framework to help support your clients through separation and divorce 
  • Complete 4 hours of CPD, with a certificate provided at the end 


Get in touch to find out more.


Family Estrangement: A Matter of Perspective (2016)




Access your FREE 'Creative Therapy Training'

My Little Therapy box all started with my passion for helping clients in therapy who struggle to open up and articulate their feelings into words.

In this 30-minute training session, I share the barriers some clients face in therapy and how we as therapists can help them overcome this by using creative ways to help them engage and get the most out of the therapeutic relationship.

This is the same presentation I was invited to deliver at this year’s BACP Annual Online conference.


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