Got the winter blues? You're not alone, say family therapists


Feeling low after the excitement of the holidays? You're not alone, say Drs. Siegfried and Ingeborg Haug, a husband and wife family therapy team who are in private practice and teach in Fairfield University's graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy. Each January, the number of people they see who are seeking family therapy increases.

In spite of the Norman Rockwell-like anticipation of returning home for the holidays, "people can come back from the visit refamiliarized with the many things they didn't like when they lived at home," Siegfried observes. "One of the hardest things is trying to deal with the dichotomy of all the good things that being part of a family generates and the actual pain that can result from being together."

The problems don't occur only with Uncle Harry drinking too much or Aunt Nettie instigating an argument with her criticism. Sometimes it's something as simple as the old family dynamics kicking in. Younger women return to the fold to find that, in spite of their education and successful careers, they are relegated to the kitchen while the men retire to the living room. Especially in strong ethnic environments, Siefgried points out, there can be an established culture that is difficult to change. "The wife who thought she had a liberated and supportive husband can be chagrined to find he wants her to revert to an earlier role for women for the sake of family harmony."

It's a therapy that clinicians love to work with, say Ingeborg and Siegfried, "because families come fresh from their experiences and we can help them to adjust their relational behaviors rather than trying to change their personal feelings."

Adults are not the only candidates for the January let-down. Young people as well can suffer from depression during the dull days of winter that follow the brightly decorated homes and festive malls of December. Ideally, all members of the family will take part in the therapy sessions, says Ingeborg. "Our whole approach is to bring in all the people involved. When someone in a family is having difficulty, it affects everyone in the family. Everyone has a role to play in changing the situation for the better."

Two concerns that keep many families from seeking help are the cost and the fear that parents or adults will be embarrassed. "Eighty-five percent of the initial calls come from women who say, 'Well, I don't think my husband will come,'" observes Siegfried. "Men are concerned that their faults will be pointed out, but that is not the approach used in systemic therapy. There are life skills that people can learn to help them deal with relationships. We coach the individuals for future behavior."

Ingeborg says the same concerns affect parents, who think they will be blamed for any problems their children have. "We try to empower parents. There are so many important steps that can be taken when children are young: fostering conversation, establishing family values and rituals, reinforcing who we are as a family."

And while some parents see their child enter adolescence and feel, "I woke up and I don't know who this person is," Ingeborg suggests, "Maybe it's good to be challenged again." As parents address issues from the internet to violence in movies and dealing with sexuality, they reinforce a habit of communication and can help their children make sense of it all in a positive way.

Because Fairfield University's Marriage and Family Therapy Counseling Center is a teaching center as well, fees are kept to a minimum. Most visits cost $10 to $20, although when necessary, the fee has been even lower. The master's degree program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Therapy is conducted by a team comprised of a licensed faculty member with many years of clinical experience and advanced graduate students. For information or to make an appointment, call (203) 254-4000, ext. 2306.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on January 15, 2000

Vol. 32, No. 139