What is Family Therapy?

Family therapy or family counseling is a form of therapy designed to help families through issues or concerns that affect the mental health of the family. Family therapy focuses on problems that affect the family unit, instead of on an individual basis. Because the problem impacts the family, rather than an individual family member, treatment involves all family members. Family therapy aims to solve conflicts among the family so they are better equipped to handle the problems.

Family Therapy / CounselingWhat is the Goal of Family Counseling?

Family therapy encourages understanding and collaboration among family members. For example, if a young child is having trouble in school, family therapy will identify family patterns that may contribute to misconduct, rather than evaluating just the child’s behaviors alone. This way, the family can learn how to support the child, and make changes that contribute to the child’s negative behavior. Also, family members who participate in the family sessions have an increased self-awareness and an opportunity to process how their family functions, in a therapeutic environment.

  • Parent-child conflict
  • Behavior issues and challenges at school
  • Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Conflicts between family members
  • Blended families
  • Eating disorders
  • Adjusting to major life transitions
    • Death of a family member
    • Divorce
    • Moving
    • Financial distress
    • Pet loss

Process of Family Therapy

During the family therapy process, the family learns about their family as a whole. The major roles of the family therapist are to: educate the family about how families function in general as well as their own family functioning; identify conflicts within the family and develop solutions to resolve them; strengthen all the members in the family so the problems can be worked on collectively; and teach effective coping skills to handle future conflicts.

Family therapists will often use systems theory as the primary treatment modality. The concept of family systems theory is that internal functioning of the family can create problems with family members. Other therapeutic modalities can also be used in family therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalytical therapy and emotionally focused therapy.

Because each family is unique, the licensed therapist would determine which therapeutic modality would most benefit the family based on presenting problems and needs. Family therapy is often solution-focused in nature with defined end goals. Regardless of the treatment modality used, family therapy is designed to help families improve interpersonal relationships, communication, conflict resolution and coping skills. The therapist may also suggest additional support outside family therapy including individual therapy, group therapy or community support such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon, grief support groups, parenting classes or medication management.

Length of family therapy will be dependent upon goals set and commitment to family therapy. Thus, it is important for family members to take responsibility for problems by accepting the problem and work to alter their behavior patterns. Though the family therapist may determine it is not necessary for each family member to attend the family sessions, it is important that each individual is dedicated in promoting healthier family dynamics. Often times, the therapist may meet each family member individually and then collectively to better understand the role each family member contributes to the family. Assignments may be given to the family outside the family sessions such as using different communication styles or asking parents to set up a reward system at home for their children.

Family therapy is a valuable form of therapy that is often used to work through any thoughts, feelings or behaviors that may be causing family distress.

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