Table of Contents

What is Family Therapy?

Family therapy (also known as family counseling) aims to address the psychological, behavioral, and emotional issues that cause family problems. This type of therapy is used to help everyone involved to deal with a difficult period, a major transition, or the mental health challenges of a family member. Family therapy can be conducted in a therapist’s office, during home visits, or virtually, through online telehealth visits, phone and video calls, and text messages.

What Can Family Therapy Help With?

Family therapy can help improve relationships with partners, children, and other family members. People often go into family therapy to address specific issues such as marital or financial problems, conflict between parents and children, or the impact of substance abuse or mental illness on their family. Specific issues
often addressed include:

  • A family member’s illness or death
  • Parent separation or divorce
  • Caring for a family member with special needs
  • Behavioral problems at home or school
  • Issues with extended family members

Different Types of Family Therapy

There are several types of family therapy. A few that you might encounter include:

Systemic Family Therapy
This therapy approach looks at your family as a whole and considers how each member’s actions affect the family. This type of therapy helps you better understand your family functions, how you influence each other, and how this changes over time; with the goal of improving your family’s interactions.

Structural Family Therapy
This kind of therapy is based in the idea that emotional and behavioral concerns in children and teens are often connected to dysfunctional family structures. The treatment focuses on understanding boundaries and systems within a family so that everyone can interact in more productive ways. This type of therapy helps you to develop appropriate boundaries and strengthen the relationships among your family  members.

Strategic Family Therapy
The goal in this kind of therapy is to identify and restructure the family interactions that lead to the problematic behavior of a child, teen, or young adult. Your therapist will focus on strengthening positive patterns and making changes to the family behaviors that aren t helpful particularly for a young person in crisis.

Techniques Used During Family Therapy

Techniques used in family therapy focus on improving communication and collaboration, developing emotional awareness, and helping people accept things they cannot control. Some of the techniques that may be used fall into these categories:

Behavioral techniques focus on learning the skills that help family members address specific problems. For example, role playing might be used to help family members see an issue from someone else s perspective.

Psychodynamic techniques assess how each family member interprets and responds to problems. Your therapist will work with your family to develop emotional insights and explore more positive ways of responding.

Structural techniques help family members understand the boundaries and power dynamics within the family. These techniques can help families create new boundaries and establish routines to improve how your family functions.

What to Expect During Family Therapy

Your therapist will begin the process by identifying the issues that are causing problems in your family. They will work with you to formulate a plan of treatment, and propose ways to meet the treatment goals you set. From there it is a matter of communicating, learning, and committing to change.

For virtual sessions, the process is the same, but you may want to consider where you will do your sessions. We suggest choosing a quiet and private space where everyone can easily participate, and feels free to join the conversation.

Signs Family Therapy May Be Beneficial

There are some telltale signs that a family should seek therapy:

  • It’s unclear who is in charge in the household
  • A family member has become disengaged
  • There is a clear lack of communication
  • There is constant drama in the home
  • Your family get-togethers are emotionally-charged
  • Violence, or the threat of violence is present

Benefits of Family Therapy

The benefits of family therapy can include:

  • Gaining a better understanding of each other
  • Improving communication skills
  • Stopping conflicts before they happen
  • Learning important coping skills
  • Reducing chronic stress and anxiety

Family Therapy vs. Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling focuses just on couples, while family therapy focuses on any combination of parents, children, grandparents, and caregivers. If you are mainly having relationship difficulties you may want to work on those together as a couple. However, if your issues extend into the family, then family therapy may be the better option. Many families ultimately benefit from participating in both marriage and family therapy programs to improve their relationships overall.