Characteristics of healthy families

Successful families have certain characteristics, an understanding of which can give the family doctor a basis for assessing the health of the family and a goal to help set targets for change in disrupted families. Such characteristics are:

• Healthy communication. In this situation family members have freedom of expression for their feelings and emotions.

• Personal autonomy. This includes appropriate use of power sharing between spouses.

• Flexibility. This leads to appropriate 'give and take' with adaptation to individual needs and changing circumstances.

• Appreciation. This involves encouragement and praise so that members develop a healthy sense of self-esteem.

• Support networks. Adequate support from within and without the family engenders security, resistance to stress and a healthy environment in general. The family doctor is part of this network.

• Family time and involvement. Studies have shown that the most satisfying hallmark of a happy family is 'doing things together'.

• Spouse bonding. The importance of a sound marital relationship becomes obvious when family therapy is undertaken.

• Growth. There needs to be appropriate opportunities for growth of individual family members in an encouraging atmosphere.

• Spiritual and religious values. An attachment to spiritual beliefs and values is known to be associated with positive family health, supporting the saying 'The family that prays together stays together'.

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