What is Family of Origin Work?

The term, “family of origin work” may be familiar to some but not everyone.  It’s important to have an understanding of it, especially when it comes to having an understanding of how you function emotionally and in your relationships.  It’s really a therapy term, the process of looking deeply at who and why you are from a historical perspective.  As a therapist myself, this is my definition:

“Family of origin work is the process of removing the obstacles that block you emotionally or in your relationships, by healing family or other wounds of the past.” 

A range of emotional and relational issues are connected to one’s family of origin experiences with parents, primary care-givers and/or families in general, as well as past trauma.  Anxiety, depression, anger, fear and recurrent relationship problems are often tangled up in these unresolved situations. Our early experiences tend do develop the narratives we carry about ourselves, our “stories” or core beliefs about who we are, whether we can safely rely on others, etc.  I never cease to be amazed by the ways people cope with adversity.  However, sometimes their adaptations don’t serve well later in life.

Examples of early life challenges:

  • Childhood trauma (physical, sexual or emotional abuse)
  • Critical or harsh parenting styles in childhood
  • Rejecting or dismissing parenting styles in childhood
  • Living in a chaotic, fear-based environment in childhood
  • Witnessing a volatile, high-conflict relationship between your parents

Therapists will all have their own unique approaches – but my family of origin work in therapy involves an exploration of the past, understanding of how the past might have impacted you on emotional and relational levels, identifying unhelpful core beliefs you may have developed about yourself, others and the world – and shifting these.  I help people consider how changing their thinking impacts their feelings and ultimately their behavior.  A look at the quality of attachment with parents or primary caregivers is also part of the work.

People who feel “stuck” often report they’ve felt this way a long time.  But others aren’t as aware.  We are equipped with primal defenses to help protect us from painful memories.  Ultimately, there is probably a sense that something isn’t working for you personally or your relationships.

If you believe you might benefit from family of origin work, many therapists work from this orientation.  I wrote a short ebook guide called,  Family of Origin Work:  Untangle Your Healthy Roots, to empower people to start unpacking and healing their wounds.  For those with more complicated histories and deeply rooted pain, it might not be enough.  Others will be able to use their “aha” moments as a catalyst to move ahead more productively. Regardless, it’s a good starting point for anyone interested in this kind of personal work.

However you do your family of origin work, it can be one of the most deeply rewarding and life changing methods of lasting change out there.


Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in,, and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.

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