9 common techniques used in family counseling

This blog post will take us through the common techniques used in family counseling and how these are used to address conflict within the family.

There are various approaches but there are four common ones followed in family counseling are:

  • Bowenian  
  • Structural family therapy
  • Narrative family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral family therapy

The most common techniques used in family counseling are:

  • Family evaluation
  • Questions that encourage differentiation
  • De-triangling
  • Reframing
  • Tracking
  • Roleplay
  • Empty chair technique
  • Externalizing conversation
  • Deconstruction

 What is family counseling?

Family counseling can help in dealing with family problems, understanding complex family situations, improving communication, handling conflict, and creating a better home environment.

How does family counseling work?

It examines how a person’s behavior brings in changes on an individual level and also influences the dynamics within the family.  The counseling process involves multiple family members. 

Sometimes the therapist might work with an individual keeping in mind and maintaining the family therapy perspective such as the Bowenian family therapy model. 

The therapist may also choose the family member(s) to attend a particular counseling session. It’s very common for certain family members to show resistance during the counseling process. 

When the members come in for an intake session with the perception that one person is identified as the client and he/she is the only one who will be involved in the therapeutic process.

Goals of Family Therapy

  • Improve communication within members of the family
  • Strengthen certain aspects of the family system
  • Understanding and handling challenging familial dynamics
  • Differentiating and individuating members of the family
  • Improve the home environment and resolve conflicting situations

Common approaches in Family Counseling

Bowenian Family Therapy

One of the first important comprehensive theories that emerged in family counseling was developed by Murray Bowen. It was based on the balance of two concepts namely- togetherness and individuality. 

Too much together leads to fusion and enmeshed relationships and it is difficult to differentiate between each member and the sense of “self” goes missing.

This therapeutic approach focuses mainly on two areas: triangulation and differentiation.

Triangulation takes place where two people tend to involve a third party when everything between them isn’t going the way they want it to. 

It does relieve one of the two individuals from the anxious situation but it isn’t the right way to deal with disagreement as the other individual might feel alienated.

It is often used as a way to divert and dodge anxiety or conflict.

In-differentiation comes from a place where the way we think, the opinions we have, and the beliefs we hold are mostly influenced that might be both positive and negative and it may come from one’s family. 

The goal of differentiation is to free oneself from these struggles and learning to form opinions that are usually not influenced by family members.

Mastering this might enable the individual to handle family issues and recognize the role one plays in the problem and build the knowledge to react differently to situations in the future.

The most common techniques used in Bowenian Family Therapy are:

  •  Family evaluation– In a Bowenian family therapy setup, the initial sessions begin with the therapist gathering information and analyzing the emotional processes that go around in the family. 

This in turn provides information on the presenting problem faced by the members of the family. 

The most common tool used here is a multigenerational genogram, and it consists of the members of the family, the bond they share, whether they are distant or close to each other, and how they deal with anxiety within the family system. 

This will give the therapist a clearer picture of the family dynamics within the family and how to resolve the triangle that has been formed and maintained around the existing problem at hand.

  • Questions that encourage differentiation– Clients are taught to have their own stance, say and opinion about themselves and what goes on in the family. 

They are encouraged to make “I” statements and give their stance on the problem without attacking, disrespecting, or hurting another member’s feelings.

This might help in instilling a greater sense of responsibility within familial relationships.

  • De-triangling- This is one of the central techniques used in Bowenian family therapy.

The therapist uses simple open-ended questions that help members in identifying the triangle and the other implicit methods of detouring anxiety. 

The family member who is part of the triangle can divert and change the subject when s/he is invited to discuss the conflict.

This reduces the possibility of the third person taking sides and inducing excess tension and anxiety in the relationship and instead they have a neutral stance in the present situation.

Structural Family Therapy

Structural Family Therapy focuses mainly on strengthening the family system in order to ensure that parents are in charge and there are healthy boundaries set between them and their children.

This involves restricting each member’s role that they are required to play within the family after identifying the underlying problem.

This therapeutic approach came into being when it was identified that the root of many childhood problems comes not from the child but often from the dynamics and the issues that go unresolved within the family.

The most common techniques in Structural family therapy are:

  • Reframing– This technique is commonly used by therapists in order to connect with family members and also in an attempt to provide the members with a different perspective on the problem at hand. 

Reframing basically involves removing a component from an existing position and placing it in another category. It is where a negative thought can be reframed as a positive one.

For instance- constant questions received from a partner can be seen as genuine concern rather than a lack of trust.

  • Tracking– Tracking includes the therapist noting down the sequence of events narrated by members of the family.

This helps in identifying the sequence of events that takes place within the family and gives a better understanding of how the family functions.

Narrative Therapy

The main objective of family therapy is to externalize issues faced by the family rather than each member internalizing it as their fault.

It allows members to tell their story and later processing the same becomes easier.

It also is based on the belief that individuals and families are capable of rewriting their stories and thus, they can change an unhealthy narrative to a healthy one, in a way that is comfortable to them. 

The goal in narrative therapy is to unleash opportunities for the development and growth of each member and the family as a whole and find meaning and understand aspects in a healthy manner.

The common techniques used in narrative therapy in a family counseling setting are:

  • Externalizing Technique– This technique enables clients to view their problems as a possibility of external factors and not as something that is unchangeable about them.

Often clients tend to personalize and define themselves based on the problem. By using this technique it becomes easier for one to embrace oneself and build self-identity and confidence as well.

  • Deconstruction technique- Often while faced with a problem, it tends to make an individual feel overwhelmed, confused and it makes clients feel as though the problem is unsolvable. 

In deconstruction, the client is encouraged to see the whole picture rather than focusing on just the problem. It helps in clarifying what the core issue is based on or where these issues have stemmed from.

Cognitive-behavioral family therapy

According to the cognitive-behavioral approach, negative core beliefs are a result of thoughts, emotions, and behavior of each family member impacting each other. 

These negative core beliefs come into being as what each member holds true about themselves and these are often unconsciously held beliefs than conscious. 

These beliefs constitute and play a major role in the conversation the members have with each other leading to conflict and disagreement.

The most commonly used techniques in cognitive-behavioral family therapy are:

  • Roleplay– Role play takes place where-in members of the family are asked to play out real-life problems and the therapist also plays a part by modeling positive interaction and communication methods, in the role played.
  • Empty chair technique In this technique members of the family are individually asked to place their problem on the chair and talk it out as a way to resolve the problem at hand. 

They can feel free to express an emotion that comes to them without feeling guilty or placing the blame on themselves. 

This helps in relieving tension and clients tend to open up about how they are actually feeling and use this space to vent out and address issues and feelings that they otherwise might not.


In this blog post, we discussed the common techniques used in family counseling and how these are used to address conflict within the family.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the five approaches to family therapy?

The five main approaches to family therapy are Strategic Therapy, Structural Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Milan Therapy, and Trans-generational Therapy. These approaches to family therapy seek to improve stability and the family environment.

What are the three goals of family therapy?

The goals of family therapy are to help deal with family problems, understanding, and handling complex family situations, improving and learning to communicate, handling conflict, and creating a better home environment.

What are the four key elements of a family system?

The family systems approach focuses on four main elements that include: characteristics, interactions, functions, and the life cycle of the family.

What is the difference between family therapy and individual therapy?

In individual counseling, the individual seeking therapy is the client while on the other hand in family counseling the family as a whole unit is part of the counseling process.

What are the basic goals of Bowen’s approach?

The goals of Bowen’s approach to family therapy are- to understand and apply basic Bowen principles and concepts in order to develop effective alternatives for decreasing chronic anxiety and inculcating effective self-management skills within relationships, increasing resilience to encounter challenges.

Which of the following is the goal of family therapy?

One of the main goals of family therapy is to change irrational cognitive perceptions that people hold towards problems within the family and help individuals cope and adapt to their respective family environments. 


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