Family Therapy: Definition, Types, Benefit, how it Works and More

Family therapy is a form of psychotherapy that seeks to reduce anxiety and conflict, improving family members; In contrast, family therapists often seek to have all family members (affected by the problem) in the room, which is not always possible or necessary.

What distinguishes family therapy from individual counseling is its perspective or framework, not how many people are present in the therapy session; this type of counseling sees problems as patterns or systems that need adjustment, rather than seeing problems as if they reside in the person, which is why family therapy is often referred to as a “strengths-based treatment.”

The modern family therapist defines the “family” as anyone who plays a long-term supportive role in one’s life, which may not mean blood relationships or family members in the same household. Family relationships are considered essential to good mental health, regardless of whether all family members participate in therapy.

This therapy is an ideal counseling method to help family members adjust to a member struggling with an addiction, medical problem, or mental health diagnosis; it is also recommended to improve communication and reduce conflict.

Family Therapy

Types of family therapy

There are four types of family therapists used most often by professionals: supportive family therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic ideas, and systemic family therapy.

Boweniana (Murray Bowen)

This form of family therapy is best for those unable or unwilling to bring their family members to the therapy room. It uses two fundamental concepts, triangulation, and differentiation.

Triangulation involves the natural tendency to deflect anxiety or conflict by involving a third party (i.e., a mother complaining to her daughter about her husband). Differentiation involves learning to be less emotionally reactive in relationships with family members.

Strategies like letter writing are used to lower levels of emotional reactivity and increase connectedness between family members. See the next page for a very detailed description of Bowenian Family Therapy. (Required item)

Structural (Salvador Minuchin)

It focuses on reordering the family system according to how family members’ roles and power are distributed. Issues are addressed, ensuring that parents are in control and work as a team to set appropriate limits for children.

The therapist strengthens adult-sibling relationships by “coming together” with the family to help ensure that no one person has too much power or authority. “Joining” the family may even involve one or more members standing behind a one-way mirror so that the therapist can point out patterns of interaction among other members.

This model focuses on the meaning that underlies the behaviors of family members and proposes that family communications take place at an unconscious level. The therapist takes a neutral and distant approach but confronts the family with rituals and behaviors that allow family members to attribute a different understanding and understanding of why a problem occurs. Power is not seen as belonging to a single person in the family but rather the unconscious “game” that family members participate in to maintain a problem.

Click here for a detailed description of Structural Family Therapy. (Required item)

Systemic (Gianfranco Cecchin-Milan model)

This model focuses on the meaning that underlies the behaviors of family members and proposes that family communications take place at an unconscious level. The therapist takes a neutral and distant approach, but confronts the family with rituals and behaviors that allow an understanding of why a problem occurs. Power is not seen as belonging to a single person in the family, but rather the unconscious “game” that family members participate in to maintain a problem.

Once the therapist has a complete understanding of these areas, they can attempt to shift the problem (s), attitudes, and relationships, into a position that is more beneficial, less harmful, or simply more realistic. Read more about systemic family therapy. (Required item)

Estratégico (Jay Haley)

This is a short and direct family therapy approach, suitable for those who want results in a short period. In this direct approach, the family therapist prescribes the task to change the way family members interact with the identified person who has the “problem” or “symptom.”

Similar to other family counseling approaches, hierarchy, coalitions, and communication systems are evaluated. Standard techniques used in strategic family therapy prescribe the symptom to the family (that is, telling them to yell at each other more) and reframe the problem from negative to positive. The therapist takes the authority of the family member, who tends to dominate and control family interactions, making it possible to change communication patterns in a way that allows the “owner” of the family’s symptoms to improve. Complete content on strategic family therapy. (Required item)

What Happens During Family Therapy?

First, your therapist will talk with all family members to help you understand what is happening. They will ask questions about how each person views the problems, when they started, and how the family has been trying to handle things thus far.

Then the therapist will draw up a treatment plan; the goal is to improve conflicts in a family, not to blame anyone for problems.

Your therapist will help family members communicate better, solve problems, and find new ways to work together. Family therapy can’t always make a problem disappear, but it can give family members new skills to get through challenging situations in healthier ways.

This therapy does not have to take a long time; the average is about 12 sessions; how often you meet with a family therapist and the number of sessions you will need will depend on the specific problems you focus on during therapy.

What is a family therapist trained for?

As the different types of therapy described above show, a family therapist can be called upon to take on different roles. These many roles require you to undergo training, formal education and testing to ensure that you are up to the task.

While therapists may have different preferred treatment methods and techniques, all should have at least a minimal level of experience with treating:

To treat these and other family problems, therapists must:

  • Observe how people interact within the units.
  • Evaluate and solve relationship problems.
  • Diagnose and treat psychological disorders within a family context.
  • Guide clients through crises such as divorce or death.
  • Highlight problematic patterns of behavior
  • Helps replace dysfunctional behaviors with healthy alternatives.
  • Take a holistic (mind-body) approach to wellness.

To obtain the skills necessary to perform these functions, a family therapist usually earns a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, sociology, or social work, followed by a master’s degree.

Benefits of family counseling

Families can benefit from therapy when they experience a stressful event that can affect family relationships, such as financial difficulties, divorce, or the death of a loved one. In addition, it can be effective in treating mental health problems that affect the family in general, such as depression, substance abuse, chronic diseases, and eating problems, or everyday concerns, such as communication problems, interpersonal conflicts, or behavioral problems in children and adolescents.

Family counseling aims to promote understanding and collaboration among family members to solve the problems of one or more people. For example, if a child has social and academic issues, therapy will focus on family patterns that may contribute to the child’s performance rather than assessing the child’s behavior alone. As the family discovers the source of the problem, they can learn to support it and other family members to work proactively to minimize or alter the conditions that contribute to the child’s unwanted behavior.

How to prepare for family therapy?

It is essential to help the family member not to feel that they are alone in this; it must be understood and explained that this is a problem on which they can work as a group; support is critical, it is recommended to tell them that: « We will all be there to work on this problem, we will help you deal with this.

Family members should expect to take responsibility for problems; some can be identified as having to change their behavior patterns. In general, family therapy works best if all family members are willing to meet with the therapist and if treatment is completed and not stopped before the time determined by the therapist and the family; not all family members must attend all sessions, but treatment is most effective when everyone is involved.

Family members may receive assignments as part of therapy, such as communicating with each other differently or parents delegating more responsibilities to children.

The ultimate goal is to work together to heal any mental, emotional, or psychological problems that tear your family apart.

Georgia Tarrant
 | Website

Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.