Family therapy tends to view change in terms of the systems of interaction between family members. It emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health.

What the different schools of family therapy have in common is a belief that, regardless of the origin of the problem, and regardless of whether the clients consider it an "individual" or "family" issue, involving families in solutions is beneficial. This involvement of families is commonly accomplished by their direct participation in the therapy session. The skills of the family therapist thus include the ability to influence conversations in a way that catalyzes the strengths, wisdom and support of the wider system.

Depending on the conflicts at issue and the progress of therapy to date, a therapist may focus on analyzing specific, previous instances of conflict, as by reviewing a past incident and suggesting alternative ways family members might have responded to one another during it, or instead proceed directly to addressing the sources of conflict at a more abstract level, as by pointing out patterns of interaction that the family might have not noticed.

Family therapists tend to be more interested in the maintenance and/or solving of problems rather than in trying to identify a single cause. Some families may perceive cause-effect analysis as attempts to allocate blame to one or more individuals, with the effect that for many families a focus on causation is of little or no clinical utility.

Family therapy uses a range of counseling and other techniques including:

  • communication theory
  • psychoeducation
  • psychotherapy
  • relationship education
  • systemic coaching
  • systems theory
  • reality therapy

The number of sessions depends on the situation, but can range anywhere from 5-20 sessions. A family therapist usually meets with several members of the family at the same time. This has the advantage of making differences between the ways family members perceive mutual relations as well as interaction patterns in the session apparent both for the therapist and the family. These patterns frequently mirror habitual interaction patterns at home, even though the therapist is now incorporated into the family system.

Therapy interventions usually focus on relationship patterns rather than on analyzing impulses of the unconscious mind or early childhood trauma of individuals as a Freudian therapist would do - although some schools of family therapy, for example psychodynamic and intergenerational, do consider such individual and historical factors (thus embracing both linear and circular causation) and they may use instruments such as the genogram to help to shed light on the patterns of relationship across generations.

The distinctive feature of family therapy is its perspective and analytical framework rather than the number of people present at a therapy session. Specifically, family therapists are relational therapists. They are generally more interested in what goes on between individuals rather than what one or more individuals feels, although some family therapists - in particular those who identify as psychodynamic, object relations, intergenerational, EFT, or experiential family therapists - tend to be as interested in individuals as in the systems those individuals and their relationships constitute.

Pros for this therapy

Psychotherapy can help you make dramatic changes in your life. Psychotherapy seeks to discover and address the underlying causes of psychological issues. Psychotherapy allows you to explore your symptoms and defenses in a constructive manner. Psychotherapy is a great tool to lead you to awareness, which can allow you to make the dramatic changes that will help you to move forward.

Family therapy has been used effectively in the full range of human dilemmas. The conceptual frameworks developed by family therapists, especially those of family systems theorists, have been applied to a wide range of human behavior, including organizational dynamics and the study of greatness.

Cons for this therapy

There are very few cons for psychotherapy, however patients who are in an acute psychotic state or severely depressed and suicidal may need hospitalization and medication to be initially stabilized. Patients with anorexia, severe personality disorders, or other organic brain diseases such as schizophrenia may need medical attention as well. All courses of psychotherapy should be supervised by a psychiatrist as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. 

Family Therapy can raise issues based on the individual views of the therapist who is leading family therapy. Since issues of interpersonal conflict, power, control, values, and ethics are often more pronounced in relationship therapy than in individual therapy, there has been debate within the profession about the different values that are implicit in the various theoretical models of therapy and the role of the therapist’s own values in the therapeutic process, and how prospective clients should best go about finding a therapist whose values and objectives are most consistent with their own. Specific issues that have emerged have included an increasing questioning of the longstanding notion of therapeutic neutrality, a concern with questions of justice and self-determination, connectedness and independence, "functioning" versus "authenticity", and questions about the degree of the therapist’s "pro-marriage/family" versus "pro-individual" commitment.

Formal interventions with families to help individuals and families experiencing various kinds of problems have been a part of many cultures, probably throughout history. These interventions have sometimes involved formal procedures or rituals, and often included the extended family as well as non-kin members of the community. Following the emergence of specialization in various societies, these interventions were often conducted by particular members of a community – for example, a chief, priest, physician, and so on - usually as an ancillary function.

Family therapy as a distinct professional practice within Western cultures can be argued to have had its origins in the social work movements of the 19th century in England and the United States. As a branch of psychotherapy, its roots can be traced somewhat later to the early 20th century with the emergence of the child guidance movement and marriage counseling. The formal development of family therapy dates to the 1940s and early 1950s with the founding in 1942 of the American Association of Marriage Counselors (the precursor of the AAMFT), and through the work of various independent clinicians and groups who began seeing family members together for observation or therapy sessions. There was initially a strong influence from psychoanalysis (most of the early founders of the field had psychoanalytic backgrounds) and social psychiatry, and later from learning theory and behavior therapy - and significantly, these clinicians began to articulate various theories about the nature and functioning of the family as an entity that was more than a mere aggregation of individuals.

From the mid-1980s to the present, the field has been marked by a diversity of approaches that partly reflect the original schools, but which also draw on other theories and methods from individual psychotherapy and elsewhere – these approaches and sources include: brief therapy, structural therapy, constructivist approaches (e.g., Milan systems, post-Milan/collaborative/conversational, reflective), solution-focused therapy, narrative therapy, a range of cognitive and behavioral approaches, psychodynamic and object relations approaches, attachment and Emotionally Focused Therapy, intergenerational approaches, network therapy, and multisystemic therapy.

Family therapy is a branch of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is a general term referring to therapeutic interaction or treatment contracted between a trained professional and a client or patient; family, couple or group. The problems addressed are psychological in nature and of no specific kind or degree, but rather depend on the specialty of the practitioner.

Psychotherapy aims to increase the individual's sense of his/her own well-being. Psychotherapists employ a range of techniques based on experiential relationship building, dialog, communication and behavior change that are designed to improve the mental health of a client or patient, or to improve group relationships (such as in a family).

Family therapy, also known as couples therapy, family therapy and family systems therapy, works with families and couples in intimate relationships to nurture change and development. It tends to view change in terms of the systems of interaction between family members. It emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health.

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Review Date: 
February 15, 2012