Family Therapy is a method of treatment for families and their relationships. A family therapist can help families to identify issues, overcome challenges, improve communication and be stronger for it.
Family therapy is a type of psychotherapy, usually led by family counselors, social workers, or psychologists. Family therapy treatment aims to assist families in working through challenging times in the short term. In the longer term, family therapy hopefully helps to develop and improve communication between family members, set appropriate boundaries, and empower them to deal with challenges in the future. While it’s useful for all members of the entire family to be involved, there are still benefits to be gained if only some family members attend the sessions. Sometimes family therapy is also referred to as family counseling.
What is the primary goal of family therapy?
The primary goal of family therapy is to treat family relationships. Family therapy helps family members improve their relationships with each other, so the family functions in a more effective way. Family therapy also allows a family to process and navigate challenging times. These challenging times can take many forms, such as illness, mental health conditions, relationship troubles, stress, past experiences, and conflict. Family therapy helps family members deal with the challenges rather than trying to eliminate them. In the long term, family counseling can help families communicate better, set appropriate boundaries, learn coping skills, and be stronger for it.
Family Therapy can also:
- Help the family improve how they function together
- Be effective even if not all members of the immediate family choose to be involved
- Use a variety of approaches
- Improve problem-solving
- Identify behavioral patterns
- Create a better understanding of a family’s strengths
- Help understand mental health conditions
- And help with any other family issues
Family therapists are a specialist branch of psychotherapy and may not be appropriate in all instances or for the whole family.
How does family therapy work?
Family therapy works by helping families identify problems as they arise and deal with those issues in a healthy and constructive way. Family counseling also helps families learn how to communicate with and relate to each other more positively and constructively.
Family therapy allows family members to talk about their issues in a supportive environment. The family therapist’s role is to remain neutral and not choose sides. The therapist works with the family members to identify what they hope to get out of attending, identify the key issues and help the family agree on an approach to dealing with them. Sessions can be held as a group or individually and aim to be culturally sensitive.
Family therapy works best if all family unit members are willing to participate. However, it can still be worth doing if only some family members are willing to attend the sessions. Some family members may feel more comfortable starting with individual therapy or couples therapy sessions to identify patterns and a treatment plan for themselves before working on the interpersonal conflict and family therapy.
What are the different types of family therapy?
Family therapy comes in several different formats to suit the participants and the issues they are dealing with. There are a number of different approaches, with a few outlined below.
Supportive family therapy facilitates open communication so all family members can talk about their feelings on an issue, such as trauma, mental health, chronic illness, or behavioral problems.
Systemic family therapy aims to identify key problems in the family, let individuals express their feelings, help the family with coping skills and reach a more positive way of dealing with the issues.
Transgenerational therapy enables the therapist to assist families across generations and help the family members understand each other. This can help avoid family patterns of behavior just because it was once acceptable.
Structural family therapy aims to manage problems arising around the family structure to work on a functioning and balanced hierarchy within the individual family roles. The key difference being the therapy focuses on the structure and not specific behaviors or behavioral problems. This may be difficult for families with traditional family roles.
Family therapy can use one or a number of approaches to assist the family in developing and becoming stronger. Therapists may also prefer which therapy session approach they feel will suit the family’s dynamic.
What are the strengths of family therapy?
Family therapy has many benefits, such as enhanced communication and empowering family members to effectively manage conflict. It may also help redefine the way family members interact with each other and help to create healthy boundaries between family members. Having happy children in a family dynamic can help them grow into happy adults. This means helping to resolve conflicts and identifying coping skills to improve family life and family relationships while it is still fresh in the front of the mind.
More specifically, family counseling can help the family process things such as behavior issues, emotional problems, mental health problems, and major life transitions that negatively impact or cause interpersonal conflict in the whole family.
How do I know if my family needs family therapy?
Every family has its ups and downs. However, sometimes ongoing trauma or conflict such as substance abuse, mental health issues, or behavioral issues can wear people down over time. So what may have been manageable at first becomes harder to deal with. Other times, an major life event like death or divorce may happen.
While some families may have the resilience to deal with challenges as they arise or can resolve conflicts, others may find this difficult and may benefit from family counseling.
Red flags that may indicate when a family may benefit from family counseling include conflict, communication breakdown, emotional problems, family members withdrawing, diagnosis of a mental health condition or chronic illness, or voicing feelings of distress. A family therapist with clinical experience can help with a treatment plan for better understanding and improved communication within the family unit.
When is family therapy not appropriate?
While family therapy has its benefits, there are sometimes when it is not appropriate.
If the issues are between the adults, it may not be appropriate to include children in the sessions if they are too young to understand what is being discussed. Involving children may also prevent adults from expressing their issues on adult topics, so a family counseling approach may not be the best strategy.
Marriage counseling or couples therapy may be enough to help the family system and improve the home environment before involving children in therapy sessions. Individual therapy may also be relevant if one family unit member is struggling more than the others.
Family therapy may not be appropriate if a key family member doesn’t want to take part or if there is a history of domestic violence, ongoing substance abuse, or some mental health problems. Family therapy may not be suitable if a family member looks to blame someone for the problems rather than working towards a constructive resolution.
Sometimes a family counselor may end family therapy if they feel there is a risk of abuse, domestic violence, or other reasons that would be unethical for them to continue. The family therapist may refer one family member or members to other mental health professionals or other licensed professionals that may be better suited for their situation.
How do I find a family therapist?
Family therapy is a specialist field in psychotherapy. Family therapy is a post-graduate qualification available to psychologists, social workers, or psychotherapists. Some of these professionals may have studied further for a master’s degree or Ph.D. in their chosen field.
If you are looking for a family therapist, there are a number of ways to find one. An excellent place to start is the Australian Association of Family Therapy. There is an American association, and similar associations will be in most countries. Or you can ask for a referral from your family doctor.
How much is family therapy?
In Australia, Medicare covers some of the cost if you are referred by a GP and have a Mental Health Care Plan. Private Health Insurance may also provide a rebate for family counseling sessions.
Generally, a 50-minute session costs about $190 before rebates. Some counselors may also offer concession rates or bulk bills.
Family counseling is generally more expensive than individual therapy sessions as there are more clients per session, which raises the hourly rate.
If you require emergency counseling, there are free 24/7 counseling services like Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 551 800), Beyond Blue (1300 224 636), or Headspace (180 650 890.) These are fantastic services, but please note they are for emergency use only.
Family therapy is a specialist area of psychotherapy practiced by psychologists, family counselors, or social workers. Family therapy aims to treat families and help them overcome their conflicts and challenges while creating healthy family relationships. Family therapy also aims to develop and improve the way the family communicates and the communication between individual family members.
Even if some family members choose not to be involved, family therapy could still be helpful to those who attend the sessions. However, family therapy may not be appropriate in all circumstances, and traditional therapy may be more appropriate.